Working in the nation's capital can be quite the experience. Movies like National Treasure and TV shows such as NCIS and Bones make Washington, D.C. seem like the place to be if you're in search of nonstop action and excitement. It very much so is, no matter what field of work you're in. There is always something to do, whether it's a networking event, a gala or banquet, a conference, or playing frisbee on the National Mall, it's hard to be bored in this city.
Since I moved to D.C. two years ago, friends and family are always asking me what it's like to live and work in such a vivacious city. I tell them of the neat experiences I've had and all that I've learned from my experiences, but specifically for this article, I wanted to get a new perspective. So I reached out to Peter Burns, another young professional in D.C., to get his take on this unique city. Peter is the Government Relations Director at an advocacy organization representing targeted Christians in the Middle East.
1. What first brought you to D.C.?
I'm originally from Illinois, so I first came out to intern in the Senate. Before that, I took a gap year between high school and college to work for a media company, thinking that was the direction I wanted to go. I realized that the work I was doing wasn't what I was passionate about, so going into college I transitioned to politics and government, which was a totally new world for me. That led me to work for an Illinois state representative, and my boss there suggested I intern in D.C., so I did.
2. What made you want to stay in D.C.?
The city is so electric, and you can feel that everywhere you go. People are here with a mission and they are set on accomplishing big things. Most of the people attracted to D.C. are deeply passionate about what they do and believe they will make the world a better place. So if I wanted to make a difference in government and policy, D.C. was the place to be. I once heard someone say: "Five years of experience in D.C. is worth 15 years everywhere else."
3. What is your favorite thing about D.C.?
This city is beautiful, and there is some great food here if you know where to look, but I have to say, the people. D.C. attracts a lot of driven, passionate people who know what they believe. It's a fun environment to meet new people, which you do constantly. Every week I meet someone and think, "Wow, they're so cool!" The city always has something really exciting going on. It's such a focal point for convening people, nationally and internationally. You have to be pretty intentional about how to spend your time.
Yet, a lot of D.C.'s greatest strengths can also be its fatal weaknesses. People who come here come here to work, not live. Very few people "live" here. In the Midwest, where I grew up, people spend a lot of time living and enjoying the rhythms of life. The rhythm in D.C. is often too rushed to slow down and live. Your life is oriented around your career while you're here. It's very easy to become burned out if you don't guard your time.
4. What is your least favorite thing about D.C.?
The air in D.C. is toxic. If you're breathing in D.C. you're consuming the message that you're defined by your job. The first question people ask here is, "What do you do?" There is a "pecking order" and people walk into a room thinking "who is the most important person in the room?...who is influential?...who can I know who can help me in the future?" People basically wear their resume on their sleeve, and what we wear begins to become our identity. A job is a terrible identity because no matter how successful you become, most of your life will be spent in the rugged valley between distant mountain peaks. As a Christian, I have to preach the Gospel to myself every day that my worth is in the eyes of Christ, not in my work. And you have to remind yourself that others' worth is not in their work, either. Don't run over people with your own agenda.
5. To students and recent graduates who are looking at the possibility of coming to D.C., what advice do you have for them?
The most important thing about D.C. is just being here. Just get here. Getting an internship isn't that hard, and once you're here network, network, network. It's all about relationships. Build relationships. D.C. is run on relationships built on trust. No one can do it all here, it's impossible. So people are going to pick up the phone and make a call, and they call people they trust. You can't be an expert in everything. Pick your lane.
6. What's one thing you wish you knew before coming to D.C.?
I should have been conscious of the fact that once you come here, Twitter is a very important means of communication. So much information happens on Twitter, so much of it never gets out to major news sources. Saying "Twitter's important" is the coldest hot take in the city, but I'm amazed how many interns I meet that are not on it. Start following the journalists who drive the conversation on the issues that you care about.