A friend from Gustavus was in town this week on a visit sponsored by his graduate program at the University of Minnesota and we had dinner a couple nights ago. I asked him how is week was going, hoping to hear that he had met a bunch of people like my friends: mission-driven people working for organizations that are trying to make a difference, however small, in the world. People who, when asked what they do, lead with their life work, not their stratification in the DC hustle. I was incredibly sad to hear he heard from few people who represented the DC I know.
Instead he saw a DC where people take jobs because they know it will get them closer to their next, more important job. They work extreme hours and attend happy hours every night so that they don’t miss the next opportunity. They represent their jobs and industries as impossible to get into, as if you’re nothing but your network. They represented our city as one that preys on this hustle, is impossibly expensive to live in, and miserably hot in the summer. You’d think we’re all Doug Stampers and Frank Underwoods out here.
I couldn’t help but think: what if people in my hometown, Minneapolis, represented their city this way to would-be job seekers. Minnesota is dangerously cold at least one week out of every year, uncomfortably cold for up to two months, and from October till March it’s dark before you leave work. Yet somehow Minnesota has some of the world’s largest companies, some of the
best places to work, more than 10,000 lakes and 22,000 acres of state park that hosted nearly 8 million visitors in 2012. If you’re a company or non-profit talking to out-of-state job seekers, which version convinces them to move?
That is to say, while there is some truth in that bleak representation of DC, it is neither the whole story nor every individual’s experience.
DC has real problems. For the people who really struggle to make rent, the cost of living and struggle to raise a family has nothing to do with their “networks” or “carrer ladders.” Local economics in this town are real, sometimes sad, and affect our vulnerable populations most. We have some incredibly smart, passionate, and capable people working on these issues every day, trying to make this city one that works for all its residents.
I work in a competitive industry. I don’t really know how competitive it is to get a job at 18F but I know we we are hiring. But I also work at a place where we’re making a difference. In just the last week we helped introduce a
new standard that will keep all Americans safer on the web, worked with
State and Interior to shed new light on public data that effects every single American resident’s life, and had a public discussion about inclusivity in our workplace.
When people ask me what I do, I lead with that. When people ask what my friends do, I tell them they advocate for children’s health, publish important public opinion research, teach adult ESL students, and the dozens of other amazing, inspiring jobs my friends and neighbors have. Some of them have had a few jobs to get to the one they love, but so have my friends in Minnesota. Some work crazy hours. Some spend their evenings networking. Others have hobbies, families, and spend their weekends enjoying their lives in DC, not hustling to climb to power.
Part of what I love about living in DC is that so many of the 630 thousand people who live here are involved in work that shapes the lives of people in every corner of the world. Is the other stuff sometimes frustrating? Sure, but why focus on it? Be proud of your town, wherever it is, and be mindful of how you present it to others.