This summer I had the pleasure of working in local government, which basically means I answered constituent calls from 9-5 and drafted legislation for three months straight.
In all seriousness, working for a councilmember in my hometown’s city council both helped me learn about local politics and gave me guidance towards my future career path.
I’ve worked an array of “political” jobs over the past couple of years, from election campaign work to working in an office, some free and some not. In the past, I chalked up the time and energy I volunteered as true political passion. But looking back, an unpaid position caused more stress for me than the joy of jotting down another bullet point under my resume.
There’s a specific “in the know” status about politics. Whether you know about the election race enough, or if you’ve worked for high-profile congressmen in the past, working within the sphere of government comes with a mandatory side of relevant experience and knowledge.
When I first began working for a campaign, bright eyed and bushy tailed and more than content that I had some hand in a real life election, I was immediately slammed with the reality that I had to hold casual conversations with constituents, going door-to-door explaining my limited knowledge to hopefully cast a successful ballot.
After I began landing in-office positions, I noticed the immediate shift to an expectation of a polished young person, contrary to the down-to-earth character I played in my canvassing days.
First, the professionalism. Dressing up with the limited amount of business casual clothing in my closet was harder than I expected, mostly because it’s not acceptable to wear usual campus attire — sweats and crop tops — into the office. In an effort to dress grown up, I wore a full suit on the first Friday of my summer internship. Unbeknownst to me it was “casual Friday,” and compared to the jeans and sneakers I felt uppity in my heels.
Second, age. My college status, though it sometimes left a good impression, was usually used as an excuse to use my naivety against me. Others assumed my schedule was open to staff any last-minute assignments, automatically vetoed my ideas and questioned my age. Though it’s a tale as old as time that interns are meant to do “grunt work,” I was disappointed that, many times, I wasn’t able to use my strengths in spite of it.
I see a lot of politically motivated peers, many who are majoring in political science and public policy, take interest in working in politics. And a lot of them (including me) find out that working in politics might not be for them.
Sure, it’s great to understand the process of government first-hand, but to actually be a part of it? It’s both a grueling and rewarding task. Just because I enjoy reading about our political climate doesn’t necessarily mean I want to be the person in charge of it.
One of my biggest takeaways from the internship was understanding the difference between liking and pursuing. Though my time working for and in politics will always remain valuable to me, my career path moving forward likely won’t be anything near the White House.