My favorite moment at work
A few years ago I worked on Capitol Hill for a Member of Congress. As a press secretary for a busy freshman member, my life revolved around the office. My days would start between 7:00-7:30 (time I got into the office, not wake up time) and I was often there until late into the evening. Weekend work was common and the only time my blackberry was off was when I accidentally dropped it into the washing machine inside a pair of jeans. One evening, my boss approached me and told me I was not permitted to write press releases when I was in the office. That task was to be done ‘on (my) own time.’ I didn’t ask when this mythical ‘personal time’ was — my average work day was over 10-12 hours but I agreed. That night I was a bitter, bitter person. I had the Daily Show on, my cat was begging for attention and I had a press release on military appropriations to write. I am not even sure bitter adequately describes how I was feeling.
Long hours, low pay and almost no positive feedback, sounds like a recipe for an awful job, right? I have never been happier at work. I felt like I was part of something bigger than me. I was part of something that could make the world better. It was a great feeling.
Now, I am also a huge dork. I LOVED the weekly press secretary meetings and policy briefings. Loved getting talking points from the leadership offices. My boss was a hard taskmaster but he worked just as hard as his staff. I feel like the time I spent in that office was exactly like what Crash Davis talked about when he spoke of going to ‘the show.’ Working in Congress is the political equivalent of going to the show in baseball.
My favorite moment in my career came that year. It was a Saturday. Our work day started at the regular time. The House of Representatives had taken up debate on reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). It was a bad bill. The reforms it made went too far. I did think my boss should NOT vote for it. The Legislative Director disagreed. We argued. We yelled. He felt that a vote against the bill would make our boss look weak on terrorism. I felt our boss had enough street cred, for lack of a better term, to be able to take a principled stand. When he went to the floor, we didn’t know where he would finally come down on the issue. I wrote press releases for both a yes and a no vote.
Then a quote came to me; “Those who would give up liberty for security deserve neither” — Benjamin Franklin. The LD told me to text our boss. I did and he repeated that line on the floor of the House. He voted against the bill. It passed but when I left the office that night — after 1:00 am, I felt I had fought the good fight. I didn’t win that fight but as they said in “Mr. Smith goes to Washington,” the only flights worth fighting are the losing ones. To date, that is the most proud moment of my career.