#NCLGBA20 Recap Series: More Than Spreadsheets – The Human Side of Budgeteers

Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring reflections on the 2020 Virtual Winter Conference. If you would like to share your experience, please email admin@nclgba.org.

Our first #NCLGBA20 Conference Recap comes from Janice Hillanbrand, Budget and Management Analyst, Forsyth County.

“…looking at our members as whole people, and not just budget professionals, was something that was really important to me while planning this year’s conference.”

This was a line spoken by Heather Curry, our third Vice President, during the opening of the session “Stress and Wellness in the COVID-19 Local Government Workplace.” It was a powerful line, one that stuck with me both as a conference attendee and as a Board Member, on the thought that went into this conference and the external factors surrounding it. As someone who was part of the planning discussions for this year’s winter conference, I participated in the discussions for more holistic programming. At the time of conference planning, I would not have predicted that this kind of programming would be delivered at the peak of the pandemic (so far) in this state and nation, nor would I have been able to predict how badly I would have needed such holistic programming at the time of the conference.

I am not saying anything new or revolutionary when I say that all of the cumulative events that have occurred in 2020 have led to a hard year – not just for local government professionals, but for all of us as people. At this point it’s an accepted fact, one that we laugh and make jokes as a society about how to cope. 2020 has been a year of isolation, separation, and loss for us all. Whether it’s been choosing to work from and stay at home for our coworkers’ and loved ones’ protection; watching the reactions (or non-reactions) of those around us to the continued racial injustices and inequities bred into our society and its institutions; or the rhetoric flung between neighbors during the election – 2020 is a year that has constantly put neighbors, coworkers, friends and family both physically and mentally at odds. Despite the rhetoric you follow, this has been a shared experience felt by all. It is a never-ending battle that has taken a toll on my mental health, as well as the mental health of those around me.

The resources and takeaways that I have from this conference go beyond improving my skills as a budget professional; they are lessons that I can use to grow as a person. There were, of course, enlightening and engaging sessions related directly to me as a budgeteer – the opening economic outlook, how Charlotte is tackling climate change, monitoring financial condition, and selecting the right visualizations. Attending a conference continues to be a great resource for a young Budget Analyst like myself, not just for networking opportunities but to learn valuable lessons from my neighbors and colleagues. From each of these sessions I was able to hear and hold onto important, tangible information to bring back to better my work, effective immediately.

The sessions that have stayed with me and that have lived in my thoughts rent-free since the conference ended are not those that just impact me as a professional, but those that impact my personal self too. Attending the session on stress and wellness not only gave me tips on how to manage the personal stress I have been having, but gave me a much-needed assurance that I am not alone and that we truly are all just trying to make it one day at a time together. “Leading through Adversity” taught me that no matter how much you think you have prepared, there are some events you can never be fully ready for. What matters in those moments is how you respond and respecting your personal integrity before outsider opinions. The introduction to mindfulness gave me the much-needed reminder once again that despite how overwhelmed you are, how defeating any particular day may be, there should always be time for self-care, no matter how small.

Leaving this year’s conference, I am going into the new year with a renewed hope for my colleagues and myself. Going into 2021, my personal goals are to learn to give myself more grace, not to harbor on my perceived failures, and to continue to learn to trust and have confidence in myself and my abilities as a person and a Budget Analyst. My hope, for anyone who struggles with perfectionism and anxiety as I do, is that you find the same as we all embark into the new year together. Luckily for all of us, we are part of an association that has provided the perfect materials on where to start.