The Hill Life: Slipping the Chains
Oct 12, 2011
Since I left the Hill three months ago, everyone, from my building’s doorman to my closest friends, has been telling me how much happier I seem. Admittedly, I’m not exactly a bushelful of sunshine and ponies, but I didn’t think that my demeanor had changed all that much until I had lunch with an old colleague.
“Everyone feels that way when they leave the Hill, Belle,” she said with her slight Southern drawl. “Leaving Congress means leaving the pressure of pleasing hundreds-of-thousands of discontented voters behind. It’s practically orgasmic.”
I don’t know if I’d go that far. But I thought about our conversation for a long time before ultimately realizing that she’s right.
When you work for a Member of Congress, you spend nine hours a day sifting through a grain silo filled with negativity.
Voters call to yell at you about everything from the price of gas, to the lack of bipartisanship, to the little green men who torture them in their sleep. You spend your day reading news stories, editorials, blog posts and tweets, the majority of them critical of your Boss and the work that you do. And you become increasingly paranoid and suspicious, constantly on the lookout for the next pitfall.
Not to mention the fact that every time you turn on the news, there is a fresh set of seemingly-insurmountable problems for Congress to solve. And there are times when it feels like you’re making your own wind, fanning the flames higher.
Some people, like my former co-worker Virginia, deal with the negativity and the stress well (or seem to at least), but I never did.
Every phone call, email, news story or tense conversation was another mill weight around my neck. Some things were easy to ignore, but others just piled on until I looked like Jacob Marley, covered in chains.
I think that my increasingly heavy burden was exacerbated by the fact that I’ve never really made D.C. my home. I have my friends and I have the blog, but most of the people who I really care about live elsewhere. So the catharsis that I craved was usually thousands of miles away.
I wish that I had more advice to offer young staffers on how to deal with all the negativity and pessimism that they face on a daily basis. But the truth is, besides encouraging people to have a life outside of work, I don’t have much advice to offer. I was never particularly good at dealing with that particular pitfall.
So I thought that I’d start the discussion, and maybe a few well-adjusted Hill Staffers could chime in in the comments with tips on processing and alleviating the emotional burdens that come with working on the Hill.