Guest Post by: Chris Huntley, Past President of PRSSA; SUNY Plattsburgh
For as long as I can remember I’ve been told that I was great. To my mother, everything I did was great, to my teachers my outgoing character and public speaking skills were great, and to my college professors my ability to write and lead were great. Quite naturally after constant reinforcement, I believe them all, I was great and to a degree I still believe them. Coming to D.C. has challenged that idea from nearly every perspective, and I now have a different understanding of what it means to be great. While interning on Capitol Hill I have learned so many lessons but the most outstanding lessons that come to mind concern my work ethic, the necessity for inquiry and the capacity to let go.
The more I experience D.C. and working on the Hill I am overwhelmed by the amount of greatness in this city. Everyone is smart, everyone works hard and there are more geniuses than one can count on nearly every subject area. Washington D.C. is the pulse of democracy and everyone that comes here works to make a huge impact on the world. The perception I held of myself was backed by somewhat of a mediocre work ethic prior to beginning my internship. Don’t get me wrong, I always performed at 100% when it was necessary, but I took shortcuts, procrastinated and depended upon my natural charisma to achieve success. This formula worked at every stage of my life, but I found out my first day interning on the Hill that it would not work in the pulse of democracy. Here there is always someone who is doing the bare minimum, and doing it well. The bare minimum “doers” are usually shoe-ins whose family, friends or networking connections have landed them positions. As a D.C. outsider building my network I don’t have that luxury, I have to work 10 times harder. I’ve discovered that laziness on any level shows here and those who are most successful take the time to do substantive research and approach every task with a sense of excellence.
In order to perform in such a fast paced, deadline driven environment a certain knowledge base is required of interns. When I arrived I was immediately intimidated by the breadth of issues I would be expected to communicate, but I soon found a solution. Ask questions! I found it was much easier to ask questions before hand than to make a mistake that could have been prevented. The hard part about asking questions is tucking your pride and ego aside as you reveal your ignorance on a particular issue. But I realized that just because I wasn’t knowledgeable on certain issues I was not a hopeless cause. Everyone will tell you here that the best way to approach legislative understanding is to learn a bit here and there until you have a general knowledge of the process and the issues. Time teaches all things and I’ve welcomed the fact that I am young and I have much to learn.
While learning I have two choices, I can stress out or I can work hard and trust that my work will fulfill me and make provision for my life. While everyone in this town is extremely intelligent they are also extremely stressed. Everyone is concerned about what’s next. How will this lead to my dream career? Will I find a job? When will I move up? Am I networking enough? How long can I intern without income? D.C. is run by interns so these conversations are not only nauseating, but they’re stressful. I have made a conscious decision to make a plan and work my hardest to bring it to fruition, but I am by no means locked to a linear career pathway. What I know is that I want work in political communications either on the Hill or in an organization that interacts with education, healthcare and economic development policy daily. As I begin to apply for jobs, I am keeping this at the forefront of my mind. I am motivated, I am inspired and I know that as long as I work hard and avoid shortcuts one day I will be great.