Posted on Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 at 11:23 am under Comments

by
Alex, Class of 2013
(originally posted on November 28, 2012)

It seems that each time I have a conversation with someone they ask me what I have learned since being in Washington. Given the broad nature of that question, I never know quite how I should respond. I have learned quite a bit in my time here! Therefore, I have decided to compile a list of the top 5 most important life lessons I have learned since being here:
1)      Happy Hour is the most important hour (…or 3) of the day!
 This is actually one of the most important lessons I have learned since being here. The one word that you will hear over and over again in Washington is ‘network’. When and where does a good amount of this networking occur? Usually between 4:30-7:00pm at a bar in Washington, DC. Living and working right here on Capitol Hill, I have a lot of great opportunities to network with Hill staffers after work at local bars.
2)      Always carry your business card…you never know who you may meet!
This one kind of goes along with the above mentioned importance of networking. Working at the RNC, there are always important people coming in and out of my office. My first few weeks I was star struck every time I saw a Congressman or Senator come through our doors (Who am I kidding..I still am!). However, I quickly realized that I should take these opportunities to put myself out there and start conversations with these people. How often does Michele Bachmann tap you on the shoulder to ask how to get to a particular person’s office? How many people can say they had a one-on-one conversation with Paul Ryan in an elevator? I have learned to seize these opportunities, and strike up conversations. Then, I am always sure to close the conversation with a firm handshake and a business card.
3)      There are two types of people in Washington: Those who are here to advance themselves, and those who are here to help advance you.
I must admit, someone gave me this little bit of information in one of my first weeks here. I did not quite understand it at first…but I certainly do now. I have had the opportunity to meet literally hundreds of people in my time here. However, it is apparent that many people in Washington are here to advance their careers, and not to be friends with you. That’s not to say people aren’t nice. In fact, the people here are very nice! (After all, they are looking to make connections that lead to jobs!) However, you will stumble across someone once in a while who is legitimately willing to help you get your foot in the door here. These people are usually veterans of their field. They have already advanced themselves, and now they are more than willing to help the young, eager job seekers start their careers here.
4)      Fake it ‘til you make it!
This is another borrowed piece of information. However, I have discovered that it is a very important thing to keep in mind. Becoming successful in Washington really all comes down to how you present yourself. I don’t just mean how you dress, or what kind of a car you drive. It is all about how you present yourself as a whole. Walking into a room with confidence and purpose, simply commands attention. You may be nervous when you walk into your first networking event, but walking in with a smile on your face and an air of confidence is the best thing you can do. I have learned to embrace this ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ motto. I was thrown into leading a campaign volunteer weekend in Virginia. Of course, I was terrified that I was going to mess something up. Then I realized that I was in the position of leadership, and I had 30+ volunteers expecting me to pull things together. So, I got up in front of them and introduced myself as the one in charge for the weekend. Our Political Education director (the one who put me in charge of this group) clearly had more faith in me than I had in myself, and she was thrilled with the way things went!
5)      Smile!
This one seems simple, but don’t take it for granted. I have learned that a smile can get you places in this city. Ever since my first day I have been sure to smile and say hello to the security guard at the front door of my office. It paid off one day when I forgot my ID and he swiped me into the building. When I lead the trip to VA, our bus driver was less than friendly at the beginning. Then towards the end of the trip, I needed him to take a detour to another Victory Office to pick some people up. I was sure he was going to give me a hard time and let it be known he was not happy about doing it, but he told me that because I hadn’t stopped smiling since he met me, he would do it (I then saw him smile for the first time!). These things seem trivial, but something as simple as a smile really is important.

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