“I always had this connection to the community and connection to people, which is odd because I’m a very strong introvert.” (Joseph Victor Stefanchik/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

I was always the person that wanted to be in charge. That didn’t necessarily mean government, but it did mean that I wanted to be in a position of leadership. I was always pulled to some service-related thing, whether it was student council [or] volunteering at my church. I wanted to do something that had meaning. When I was in business school, thinking about working in the private sector, I just kind of got bored with what I thought my career trajectory would be, ’cause I wanted to do something where I felt that I could help people. As I started to work in local government [as an] intern, I had this bright-eyed perspective about how I was going to change my city and make it better and help people have a better quality of life.

I think [Alexandria is] the best of both worlds. It has sort of a small-town kind of feel to it. You go to the grocery store and you see your neighbors, but it has big-city issues. I don’t feel lost in the community, but I certainly am professionally challenged by the things that we work on and the things that we think about every day. The thing that keeps my attention is the diversity of what we do. I can spend one day and cover six different issues that are seemingly unrelated — from social services, to economic development, to public safety, to transportation. It can be a little dizzying, and sometimes you feel like, Gosh, I can’t spend enough time on any one issue to feel like I’ve been effective. But I can tell you everything you want to know about garbage collection, snow removal, police and fire kinds of issues, medic issues. I really like the fact that there are all these different things that are flying around, and my job is to figure out how all those pieces come together. I remember, I met my neighbor and I told her I’m the city manager, and [I got] just a blank stare. Just didn’t even resonate what that was. A couple weeks later she said, “What is that again? Is it a planner?” I said, “Well, no, not really.”

I always had this connection to the community and connection to people, which is odd because I’m a very strong introvert. In this role, the light’s always on you. Whether it’s speaking to a room full of 200 people, giving welcoming remarks, or whether it’s talking to a room full of department heads about where you’re going to go. I go to a ton of receptions. And I don’t like them, usually. It’s just the room is so big, and you always sort of have to be on and the focus of attention. But I still enjoy and like to engage with people and connect with people. I deal with that conflict on a daily basis.