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Lessons from The Hill: Life Skills

This is the second entry of a three-part series on lessons from interning on Capitol Hill. The views expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the office for which I worked.

In this post, I want to share some life skills that I’ve learned from working on the Hill. I call them “life skills” because I think these are skills that would benefit anyone in any phase of their life, whether you’re a student, looking for a job, working right now, or in the middle of your career. But I think they’re especially helpful for anyone in my position right now: a student who moved to a big city in pursuit of a career in government or politics.

I grew up in a suburban town of Greenville, South Carolina. I was schooled there from elementary school all the way to college. I had little experience elsewhere then—a short summer stint in my birthplace of Jakarta, Indonesia, and a fall semester in Brussels, Belgium, but nowhere else in the U.S. I loved living in Jacksonville, Florida while serving in Teach for America, but living in a beach town was a completely different experience than in a metropolitan hub like Washington, D.C.

Moving here was an adjustment; some of these skills were born out of learning how to adjust to life here. Some were born out of embarrassing mistakes and failures–when I say it was a learning process, it really was a process. And some of these were born out of serendipity and a positive mindset. I hope that these tips, laced with my personal anecdotes, will serve to help you in any and all of your future endeavors.

Always be at your best! You never know who you’re going to meet…

The Congresswoman was introducing a bill on the House floor. Naturally, it was a super hectic day at the office. The intern who was tasked with delivering the bill to the “Hopper” (where bills are dropped off on The Hill) was asked to help the press team with the press conference. The other intern was also helping with the press conference. I got a text message asking if I could deliver the bill at 4:30pm. I was happy to go since Congress was in session and there’s a chance that I might run into some famous legislators.

To get to the Capitol from our office, the fastest way was to use the underground subway. When I got to the subway, I saw none other than Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She had gotten on the subway with her Chief of Staff just a few seconds after I did. (There’s a Members Only section so I didn’t sit with them.) My mouth dropped. Her Chief saw that I was fangirling (see: freaking out, but like calmly) and secretly recording her to put on my Instagram story.

When they got off the subway, her Chief signaled for me to come closer and held open his hand, palms up, the way people do when you asked them to take your photo. I got to talk to her, I thanked her for all she does in Congress, all that she represents and fights for, and especially for standing with her friend and colleague, Representative Ilhan Omar.

After that day, I decided that I was going to put some effort to be at my best every day. The day that I met her, I was running late and didn’t have a chance to wash my hair. I still regret that I wasn’t at my best, but I was glad that I had put some effort into my appearance that day. Now, I want to make sure that I would be ready for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities at any moment. 

There’s something to be said about recognizing society’s unrealistic (at times also Eurocentric) expectations of beauty. But there’s also something to be said about simply being at your best. The simple truth is that first impressions matter; therefore, our presentation matters. So, make it your best one. Or at the very least, make an effort to make it a good one each day. You never know who you will meet. It could be someone who can help you in your career. It could be your future boss. It could be Alexandria Ocasio-freaking-Cortez.

The power of saying thank you

Small gestures matter. There’s a sort of ethic that comes from living in a big city, where people know people and will help you meet your personal goal(s), without hesitation, out of the goodness of their own heart. But they’re also busy with their own things, so it’s important that we take the time out of our day to thank them for taking time out of their day to help us.

That means, yes, the good old-fashioned thank you notes can go a long way. A follow-up email works as well, but there’s nothing like putting pen on paper and hand-delivering them to someone.

But in an even simpler way, treat everyone graciously and say thank you for the small things, like thanking your supervisor when they tasked you with something important, when they give you feedback on something you did to make it better, when they answer your question, or when tell you that you’re doing a great job. Thanking the custodian or cafeteria workers for doing their job, because without them, you can’t fulfill your basic needs. Thanking everyone you meet, even your friends, for their time. These are simple things that not only will make the other person feel appreciated, but also cast positivity into the Universe that I wholeheartedly believe will eventually be returned to you.

Advocate for yourself

Along with being at your best, dress for the job you want. I don’t know about you, but when I dress up and put more effort into how I look on the outside, I also feel good on the inside.

The reverse is also true, which is why despite my full work and school loads, I try to get 7 hours of sleep each night and I don’t skip meals. Yes, that also means, take your lunch break! I understand some days where it’s so hectic that you forget to eat. But when your supervisor tells you that you have a 30-40 minute lunch break each day, take it! No, you aren’t losing precious work time (if you can’t accomplish a task without taking 30 minutes out of your day, you’re not doing it effectively). No, you aren’t going to be talked about or perceived negatively for taking lunch (this is just silly, also it’s inhumane). Simply put, you’re only hurting yourself when you don’t take your lunch. SO TAKE YOUR LUNCH BREAK AND EAT.

Something I learned on The Hill in particular was to let people know that you’re looking for a job. I was thankful that my office held resume and cover letter workshops for the interns, so that they can learn some ways that they can enhance their resumes and cover letters for Hill jobs. I was shy about letting the staff members know that I was looking for positions, but the fact that I hadn’t let them know early on meant that I had lost some precious time in learning some valuable skills at the office that could be helpful in future jobs. So, for anyone else in my position, don’t make the same mistakes that I did! Wherever you are, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and advocate for your personal objectives and career goals.

Envision the outcome you want

Manifesting is the practice of intentionality. It means thinking about what you want, saying what you want out loud, putting together an action plan, and living your life with the vision of what you want in mind. Everything else will fall into place. Your mind will attract the things that you want.

There are many books written on this practice, and they take on many names, like the law of attraction, the power of positive thinking, etc., but they all essentially say the same thing in principle.

Manifesting is something that I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. My mom has always influenced me to think positively, for a positive mindset is the key to achieving my goals. When I was a teacher, my coach from the very beginning emphasized the importance of having a vision for your classroom–from individual student outcomes to class outcomes and more. I’ve since started to put this into practice for myself, and I manifest these outcomes by thinking positively each day and make it a practice to say my goals and objectives so that everything that I do will lead me to what I envision myself and my life to be.

It’s also important that these manifestations are positive, because whatever we think, we become. A manifestation in the negation of something–I hope this doesn’t happen to me—might just turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It may take a bit of practice to do this “mind aerobics” of turning something negative into a positive, but it makes a difference and becomes easier over time.

That’s it for the second entry! I hope that you found these tips helpful, or at the very least they sparked some thoughts in your mind. Stay tuned for my last entry coming next week!

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