With DC seemingly more partisan than ever, it’s tempting for young advocacy professionals to aggressively ally with one side. In fact, to the detriment of career advancement, many are completely closing themselves off to networking or career opportunities on the other side of the aisle.
So many of us came to DC with stars in our eyes with the hope of making it big in order to influence national policy.
Whether seeking a career on the Hill, running campaigns, or influencing policy through government affairs and grassroots—for better or worse—the capital can be a tough nut to crack in terms of establishing a successful career.
The city is full of "Type A" personalities: former high school class presidents or college valedictorians, many with multiple degrees and almost all willing to work longer-than-normal hours to get ahead. If that’s not intimidating enough, throw today’s political climate and overtly partisan battles into the mix, and the rat race can seem insurmountable.
I have worked in policy, communications, and advocacy for nearly 15 years. Early on, I thought I could advance simply by working hard. It’s true, hard work is important, but not as important as one might think. Here’s the big secret: It’s all about networking. And here’s the even bigger secret for those starting out: Being rigidly focused on one perspective or belief can severely limit your chance of success.
You’ve probably heard that social media ideologically isolates us and gives us the same perspective over and over again. But if a core tenant of career advancement is networking, consider what real-world self-inflicted isolation is doing to your potential advancement.
The best advice I can give is to take a moment to consider networks or professional organizations with different beliefs because you never know how that might help you in the future. Focus on the ability to harness the ongoing conversation to bring together all types of people into one community or conversation.
A career in advocacy is not for everyone. One thing I learned a long time ago from watching my former boss, Sen. John McCain, is that you just need to be open to having the conversation.
In his final statement, the late senator said, “We are 325 million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement.”
Consider this as you lean in to all that DC has to offer.
Sarah Yi is a longtime advocacy professional based in the Beltway.