Lessons from Capitol Hill: How One Huge Risk Seriously Paid Off

When I moved to Washington, D.C. eight months ago for a Capitol Hill internship in a Senator’s office, my mom told me I should keep my options open and that I could stay for the summer if the opportunity arose. I immediately pushed the idea aside. I had a job as a summer teller at a credit union waiting for me at home in upstate New York. It paid pretty well, wasn’t stressful, and I liked my coworkers. I couldn’t see giving up a sure thing. Plus, I had just finished a semester abroad in Denmark and I figured that by the end of the semester I would be more than ready to just have a relaxing “last summer at home before I graduate from college.”

Less than a month later I had been asked to stay and work in the Senator’s campaign office after my official Hill internship ended in May.

I definitely struggled with this choice, although almost all the outside advice that I got was to go for it. Ultimately, I listened to those voices and felt that I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to continue working on issues that interest me and for a person who I believe in. The opportunity to beef up my resume sweetened the deal.

Ultimately, once this opportunity arose I knew it wouldn’t be smart to turn it down. I can say for sure that I don’t want to be a bank teller “when I grow up.” I don’t know exactly what I what I want to be, but I do know that my time in our nation’s capital inspired me to want more for myself and I felt like I fit. For the first time I was surrounded by other people my age that wanted to talk about politics, or what was going on in the world, or what made us happy or mad or sad. Our elected officials, even in the midst of the “do-nothing congress,” inspired me, and I had the opportunity to see them in person, passionately speaking on important issues in hearings or on the Senate floor. I rode in an elevator with John McCain and I ran into Barbara Boxer struggling with her luggage at Union Station. For a political science nerd like myself, it was heaven.

hannah cohen CJ pic 1

My experience had low points as well. At the end of the spring semester, most of the amazing friends that I made left for the summer. Some of the new-ness of the experience wore off and reality set in. I decided that I wanted to come back to DC after I graduate in December, but I started to realize how many amazing, smart, talented people have the same plan that I do. It is definitely not going to be easy to move back to a city where I don’t know many people and try to start a life. The blueprint I have in my head for that life is definitely blurrier now than it was in March or April.

Here’s what I know: I’m going to give it a shot. The past eight months have been an experiment in stepping outside of my comfort zone. This is not something I have been historically known to do, but I decided it was time for me to make a little bit of an effort. I have also had to stop and cut myself some slack and remember that I am only twenty years old and I have time to figure things out. There have been moments where I have been so uncomfortable or nervous that I wanted to quit, but I have gotten through those moments and I am proud of myself for that. So that is the headspace I am trying to maintain. A lot of smart people have told me to have a plan, but to be flexible, because life is an unpredictable beast. As I start my last semester as an undergrad and make plans for afterwards, I am keeping that in mind.