When I was in high school, I planned to major in drama when I went I college. But then I didn’t get the lead role – or any role for that matter – in the senior play, crushing my Broadway dreams. I went to the other extreme: I decided to major in pre-law.
My step-mother talked me out of it. “Do you really want to be a lawyer?” she asked. “You’re too diplomatic for that.”
Diplomacy wasn’t a major so I went with International Relations. “What kind of job are you going to get as an IR major,” the adults around me asked. I didn’t really know. I figured I’d travel the world and eventually become a diplomat.
Senior year, the need for a respectable job looming, I took the Foreign Service exam.
(As an aside, my creative writing instructor encouraged me to become a writer. “You’re talented. You should really consider this writing thing.” His words still ring through my brain on a loop.)
On the Foreign Service exam, I scored one point lower than the cut-off for an interview. (14 years later, pregnant with Colin, I was offered that interview as part of the settlement of a class action lawsuit, but I wasn’t really in a position to take a post in a third world country, as amazing as that sounds to me now.)
I wanted to go abroad, mostly because I was in love with a foreigner. I applied for the Peace Corps. Got an interview. Was told my liberal arts degree didn’t arm me with any applicable skills. “I want to volunteer,” I pleaded. “I can teach English as a Second Language.” I needed experience to prove it.
So I applied to a program to teach English in the Czech Republic for a summer. It was a fabulous experience. This was the answer. I’d go home, get a Master’s degree in Education, travel the world teaching English.
I got a job teaching ESL in Boston and went to school at night. But three days after graduating with my M.Ed., I had an epiphany: my lifelong dream was to work on Capitol Hill.
I didn’t know the first thing about how to get a job on Capitol Hill. I flew to DC. Walked unscheduled into Senator Susan Collins’ office.
“Hi, I’m from Maine. I’ve always wanted to work on Capitol Hill and was wondering if someone could talk to me about the process.” That “talk” ended with a job offer.
I moved, driving solo in a U-Haul truck with all my worldly belongings to a city where I knew two people. I made friends. I figured out what “recess” meant and how to get to the Senate floor. At some point I was given the responsibility of writing letters on environmental issues, which led to a job on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
A moderate republican environmentalist was born. The rest is on my LinkedIn page.
Everything opportunity I’ve had in DC happened by accident. I’m some weird poster child for being in the right place at the right time. But were all these career moves right?
While I balance consulting for myself with writing my novel, more and more of my passion flows toward the latter. Just have coffee, lunch, a drink with me and time how many minutes I spend talking about the book versus talking about lobbying. I don’t picture myself pounding the marble halls of Congress forever. In an ideal world, I don’t picture myself pounding the halls of Congress next year. I know how dangerous it is to put that in writing; some future employer or client could use it against me. “She’s not dedicated enough to policy. She just wants to write her book.”
But that’s far from true. I’m still passionate about my issues, and as long as working on them helps me sustain this dream of being published, I’ll continue to pursue energy work with gusto. It’s admittedly hard. This isn’t a town that embraces the unconventional. By my own invention, I don’t fit the norm.
But for now I’ll wear the label of wacky lobbyist-slash-aspiring-writer and hope that my professional luck continues. Maybe someday, that long ago writing instructor will see my published book and remember my name.