Post by Amen Jafri.
The Secret Lives of Public Servants is a three-episode documentary web series that explores the creative hobbies and careers of public employees outside the 9-5. Each episode profiles a different person and looks at what they do for their day jobs and then what they do in their “secret life”. The ultimate goal is to humanize public servants in a fun way and showcase a narrative other than the stock one we hear, that they are boring, lazy or corrupt. We are an official selection for the Mirror Mountain Film Festival and were nominated for two awards at Brooklyn Web Fest.
I knew Janet’s work long before I ever met her person. It was 1995, I had joined the Canada Post Stamp Club and the first official stamps to arrive in my mailbox were from the Canadian superhero collection. During the course of interviewing Janet for this series, I learned that she was part of the team that brought those to life. It’s funny how things come full circle sometimes.
Janet is a prolific comic book creator whose work you have probably come across too. She’s worked on everything from Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, to her own Eternal Romance series (a throwback to 1950s romance comics) to The Secret Loves of Geek Girls. She frequently collaborates with her partner, illustrator Ronn Sutton, an established artist in his own right.
While the title of this series is The Secret Lives of Public Servants, it’s tongue-in-cheek and not necessarily a literal fact. So I was surprised to learn that until Janet signed up to be featured in her episode, she generally maintained a clear separation between her two professions.
In my experience, one of the unspoken rules in many offices is to avoid discussing anything too aberrant for small talk. There are the standard topics that come up when discussing plans for the weekend: errands, sporty activities and socializing, for example. Anything that veers away from these is to go off-script and potentially place you as an outsider, one not likely to move up in rank. This is a general characterization, of course and there are exceptions to the rule. I also believe that revealing an intensive secondary interest to colleagues can signal dissatisfaction with your existing position and future plans for a career change. These are a few reasons why some of the public servants I researched for this series were uncomfortable revealing their hobbies or secondary careers while at work.
There are other unspoken rules too. There’s the lack of official dress code in the public service; you have to gauge what is appropriate by studying your colleagues. And while there is technically a flexible hour policy in most offices, most people tend to stick to a 7-3 or 8-4 schedule, leaving those working 9-5 or later subject to implied critique about their supposed tardiness.
I mention all of the above because while they may seem innocuous, added up these factors can affect mental health. So I encourage you to think about that the next time you are at work and someone asks about your plans for the weekend. Go off-script and switch up the conversation. Create a space for others to feel comfortable sharing more of their true selves in the workplace.
For more information on the series, as well as my background as a filmmaker, former public servant and now coach to aspiring creative entrepreneurs, be sure to visit amenjafri.com and follow the series’ updates on on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The final episode, The Cosplayer, is coming to Apt613 November 14. Stay tuned!
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