Looking Back on My D.C. Internship

Looking Back on My D.C. Internship

As I look towards the near future and see myself leaving D.C. in three short weeks, I can’t help but become wistful and nostalgic for the past 4 months I’ve spent here.

 

Living in D.C. has been a whole lot of life condensed into a small amount of time. All of my experiences - the good, the bad, and the ones I’m still interpreting - have contributed to the adventurous creation of the temporary life I’ve built here. When three weeks pass I will say goodbye to it all, but right now I want to set aside some time to say goodbye to something particular that has caused me stress, happiness, confusion, frustration, and amazement: my job.

 

Noah and Madison

Me and my fellow intern, Madison

 

It is odd to think that I have spent the majority of my time in D.C. sitting in the same white-walled office corner. On some days, I would sit in this corner for hours, staring at those white walls, counting the time and wondering, “what am I doing here?” Other days, I’d never even glance at a clock - too busy keeping up with the chaos of campaign drama and eccentric clients.

 

I’ve had the privilege to work at a successful public relations firm on K Street called Goddard Gunster and through my work there, I have been inspired, disillusioned, impressed, disturbed, and entertained by the variety of issues and campaigns we tackle. As my boss once told me: “we are mercenaries, we can fight for either side.” That kind of objectivity and frankness knocked me off balance during my first few weeks. I don’t know how I feel about being a PR mercenary. In many ways, it was very humbling to realize that in this realm my opinion doesn’t matter. The only opinions that matter to PR professionals are those of the client and the constituents they’re trying to convince.

 

Lately I’ve been thinking of the PR industry in the same way a public defender thinks about their job - every defendant in a trial deserves a good attorney. The PR world believes everyone deserves a quality advocate. I don’t think this comparison is incredibly accurate, but it helped me overcome (or at least set aside) certain qualms that arose whenever I worked on a campaign I was not particularly enthused about. Honestly, I wish the bipartisan workplace dynamic at Goddard Gunster could be emulated in every workplace, but my initial (and, to be truthful, still persisting) discomfort goes to show how deep my own biases run. I say I want cooperation despite political differences, but seeing it in this context was not what I expected. I’m still debating the "mercenary advocate" idea in my head, but regardless of my ultimate conclusion, I'm glad to have experienced this mindset. For a guy who thought he was open-minded, it is a good reminder of my limited perspective.

 

My job hasn’t been all moral conundrums though; it has been full of invaluable life experience, both professional and personal. I am incredibly thankful to have had a relatively low-stress environment in which to fail miserably, with the only punishment coming from my wounded pride. The daily grind of working a traditional 9-5 has given me some well-needed perspective. I’ve been going to school almost all my life and really haven’t any concept of adult life that wasn’t from TV, where people seem to exclusively live in coffee shops and bars, rarely going to work.

 

The events I’ve attended and the places I’ve gone because of my job have been incredible. Policy forums hosted by big names like Bloomberg, Microsoft, and Real Clear Politics have been regular events for me throughout this semester, and I could not be more thankful to realize how much I don’t know. I’ve been able to travel to different campaign headquarters, help organize rallies, and interview the pros of the campaign/advocacy world. While these experiences have reaffirmed some of my cynicism concerning the political process, I’m much happier with the wool pulled from over my eyes.

 

When I decided to work at Goddard Gunster, I had no idea what I was looking for. Several other local organizations had offered me an internship and many of them frankly sounded fabulous. I could have worked with refugees, D.C. students, or HIV patients, but I decided to work for Goddard Gunster. My reasoning at the time was that I wanted to work somewhere that would allow me to get close to the big picture. I’m a politics student but I mostly learn theories and broad concepts. I wanted a taste of reality.

 

K Street is a powerful member of the cadre of movers and shakers in D.C., and I wanted to get a view of what it was like to be part of an influential class. Did I actually want to work at a PR firm? I had no idea then, but I do now. This is not what I want. Is that disappointing? Absolutely. Do I feel like I wasted my time? A little bit, but do I regret my decision? No. People keep telling me that at least I learned what I don’t want, and that that realization makes it all worth it.

 

While I don’t necessarily disagree (even though I would rather not hear it said again), that is not why I lack regret. When I accepted my internship, I was fully aware of the risk I was taking in accepting a job I was unsure about, but I deemed it a worthwhile risk. All the lessons I learned while working at Goddard Gunster feel even more relevant to my future because I learned them when I was tired and confused and frustrated. Hindsight is most definitely 20/20 in this situation because I would not have been saying the same thing in September, but that is the value of time: you get to decide what meaning (if there is meaning at all) you want to take from your past.

 

Colleagues

 

My job provided me opportunities and lessons I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. I learned what campaigns look like behind the scenes. I learned what a lobbyist actually does (and that it’s not what we imagine). I realized how much advertising companies know about me (too much). I learned that even the richest people with the most resources can be told no. I want to truly thank all the people at Goddard Gunster for allowing me to fumble around as their intern for four months. Working here has forced me to seriously consider what I want and what I believe.

 

This was my first real job and I am thankful it wasn’t easy. While I still don’t feel closer to knowing what my future holds or what my goals even are, the perseverance and skills I gained from my work here makes me confident that I can figure it out. This is my farewell to you all, and I can only wish the very best.

 

Noah

 

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