Okay, now that the blogger hiatus apology is out of the way…
For the last month, I’ve been taking a class at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy. It was a graduate course on American history and public policy. I know, are you freaking out yet? If you’d told me two years ago I’d be working at a law firm, let alone taking graduate school classes about the Constitution and public policy, I would have slapped you in the face.
To make a long story short: life is crazy and God has better plans than I do. But to make a long story a tad longer…
A dear friend and mentor told me about the class and encouraged me to apply. I was apprehensive for many reasons, not least of which that I’ve been out of school for five years. The idea of going to a four hour class after an eight hour work day was terrifying. But, as I’ve said before, when Matt and I moved to D.C. we promised each other that we would, “Always go to the thing.” And after I was able to get a full scholarship for the program, I really had no excuse not to participate.
I am so glad I did.
To be honest, an hour into the first lecture, I almost ran out of the room to puke. The amount of knowledge the professor was rattling off at warp speed was stupefying. But after a short break and a pep talk from Matt, I got into the school groove after five years and had one of the most enjoyable educational experiences of my life.
The two professors had a contagious passion for the Constitution and its influence on our society. I found myself thinking about our country in ways I never had before. I’m not sure if I’ll go back to school just yet, but this was certainly a toe in the water. And the water is just fine.
As I get to the end of this post, I realize it’s very different from the ones that precede it, most of them from three or four years ago (I’m positive that this is my first reference to the Constitution… ever on here). But before moving to Washington, I wrote a post about how I wanted this blog to become more personal. This season of my life doesn’t have the cutest clothes or a consistent skin care routine. But it has challenges and opportunities for growth. And an occasional fancy restaurant experience. I hope you’re cool with that.
So we made a promise to each other that we would “always say yes to the thing.”Meaning that if we were invited somewhere or got an invitation to something or found out about an interesting event — no excuses — we’re going.
Man, has that paid off.
I’m an extrovert, but I’m also a homebody. I’m a big fan of relaxing days at home, naps, and cleaning out closets. On work nights, there’s nothing I love more than coming straight home after a long day at the office, fixing myself a gin and tonic, and cooking a nice dinner.
But that’s not how you meet people. And in this city there are a lot of people to meet.
Forcing ourselves to always go to the thing has led to the incredible job I have now. It’s led to meeting like minded couples, who’ve gone from double date buddies to some of our closest friends. It’s led us to meet government officials, former political prisoners, and women who may be able to help Matt and I adopt a baby (more on that soon!).
Just this past Friday, we were at an engagement party for a couple that we met at another friend’s engagement party. Sitting around the fire in the backyard, I overheard the girl next to me mention she’d walked the Camino de Santiago by herself last summer. I was incredibly impressed and inspired; we struck up one of those deep conversations that stays with you. We talked about her Anglican faith, her job as a highschool teacher in D.C., and her love of Ethiopian food. We’ve already planned a double date at an Ethiopian restaurant.
That’s why I love D.C. Not just because the people here are interesting, earnest, and driven. But because this is the place where I get to meet them.
Since starting my new job almost two years ago, I’ve gone to a smattering of various forms of the work event with alcohol and important people. There’s something that happens at every single one of these events that really gets under my skin.
I will be in the middle of (what I think is) a good conversation with a new acquaintance and instead of looking at me or actually engaging in conversation in any sort of meaningful, human way, they will look around the room for someone else they could be talking to.
I get it. When you’re at a work event, you’re sort of on a mission to talk to, and connect with the most important people there. Both to expand your own professional network and further the goals of your organization. I also get that at this point in my life I’m pretty low on the professional totem pole. I’m only twenty-five and I look even younger. Do not take this as false modesty when I say I’m a nobody at these things.
But, you know what else? I think I’m a pretty cool person.
I’m friendly (especially one G and T in). I dress well. I don’t smell. I’m a good conversationalist. I think I’m pretty freaking nice and generally “good” at parties. Sure, I’m not the person to talk to to get your think tank funded, connect you to top political consultants, or get your oped placed in the The New York Times.
But I will be someday.
And when I am, I want to be the kind of person that talks to the communications assistant the same way I talk to the hedge fund manager. Life’s too short to constantly look over your shoulder for something better.
I consider myself to be an independent person. But I was a little anxious about a five day work trip to a massive convention with no wing man or company. When you’re awkwardly waiting for an event or talk to start, there’s comfort in knowing you can turn to someone for some easy small talk. The solo alternative tends to involve some awkward half smiles at strangers and using the go to line of, “So, what brings you here?” to fire up a conversation.
There’s a misconception about extroverts: that we never have social anxiety. I draw energy from being with and talking to people, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get the stress sweats when I’m in a new place with new faces. I think that’s just being human. I told myself heading into this trip that even though it might be uncomfortable, I would talk to every person I sat next to. Whether it was sitting next to someone at a panel instead of finding a seat by myself or going out to get dinner instead of eating in my hotel room, I’m really glad I made the effort to barrel past any angst and just connect with people.
View from inside a convention center.
On my second night, I didn’t have dinner plans so I wandered over to the closest restaurant and grabbed a stool at the bar. I ordered a glass of wine and watched CNN on the bar TV. Then an energetic woman in her sixties with a flannel shirt and great jewelry sat down on the stool next to me. She commented how good the flatbread I was eating looked and I riffed that the restaurant’s menu was the size of a phone book. She laughed and we started talking. We talked about our love of northern California and the TV show This Is Us. She shared that she lost her husband five years ago and she has a daughter who’s married with a little boy. I told her about my family and my work. We talked for over an hour. Before I left, she gave me her card and wrote the address of her beach house on it. She told me to come for a vacation anytime.
On my last night, Bernie sat next to me. He’s a CVS district manager and was in town for training. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and has been in management his entire career. He told me he was a manager of several Staples stores in Manhattan on 9/11. When his assistant told him a plane had hit one of the World Trade Towers, he didn’t believe her. He told me how strange it was to board an almost empty train into the city a few days after the attack. We talked about healthcare. How the Affordable Care Act has affected the pharmacy industry and private doctors like my Dad. Before I left he gave me his card and said if I ever have any problems at my CVS to give him a call…definitely a good get given my CVS habit 😉
I really like my co-workers. But if I’d been traveling with them, I never would have met Art or Bernie, or any of the dozens of interesting people I met at the conference. It’s not easy to push past insecurities and connect with strangers. But I’ve found you can meet some really great people if you try.