In 2007, New York Times magazine wrote: “Everyone in D.C. is here for a purpose. You don’t come to D.C. because you want to relax. You only relax after you have exhausted yourself lobbying a senator to get behind your pet cause or protesting for immigration reform on the Mall.”
You can always tell someone who is new to D.C., because quite frankly, they don’t get it. And by “it”, what I really mean is the question, “what do you do?” They don’t understand this question, so they constantly feel the need to turn their noses up at it, to complain about how people here only care about what they do instead of who they are. “I am NOT my job,” they proudly proclaim to no one.
This is because they don’t get it. Those of us who are being targeted by all the articles on work/life balance, and achieving career success without losing your soul, and how to network effectively . . . well, the thing is, we love our work. We are our work.
Over the course of the six years that I’ve been in this city – including quick stints in Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and North Carolina – I’ve had the privilege of doing almost exclusively cause-driven work. This means frequent long hours, grueling work for little pay, and what many would call an appalling lack of work/life balance.
Because I’m a political campaigner and an activist and an organizer and well, that’s what we do.
Sure, I have friends in other jobs in other cities who like their jobs, but don’t talk about them constantly. They have what people would refer to as this magical work/life balance. They certainly don’t live and breathe their jobs the way my friends and I do. And they seem to do just fine in life too.
But my work is my life. At least a huge, huge part of it. And why shouldn’t it be? I spend anywhere from 8-14 hours a day at work, just like a lot of employed people. For that much time, I’d better be getting a heck of a lot out of it.
And so my friends and I wake up each day and go to bed each night thinking about reproductive justice and marriage equality and government transparency and environmental protection, among so many others things. We fight battles together. We contribute blood, sweat, and tears to our jobs, to these causes we believe in, and we form friendships and relationships and bonds as we do it.
And what’s wrong with that exactly? I’ve been fortunate enough to have jobs that have stimulated me and challenged me and rewarded me. I’m developing a career that allows me to feel that I have purpose in the world, that I am contributing to my society and helping make my country and the planet a better place. I’m growing as a person and learning skills and developing as not just an employee, but as a person.
I’ve noticed that older people like to tell me to slow down. To stop and smell the roses. To go on more dates. That one day, I’ll regret the time I spent at work instead of, I don’t know, going to the park with my girlfriends.
And yet, I can’t imagine it would ever be so.
How could I ever regret those days I spent registering voters in Pennsylvania? Why would I have wanted to be doing anything other than marching with my fellow activists at the Roe v. Wade anniversary rally? How would I ever forget driving from one poll to another at midnight in Orlando, Florida on Election night in 2012, passing out bottled water and snacks as my friends and I encouraged voters to stay in line so they could make their voices heard?
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some other good times. Competitive karaoke is up there. And church choir. And watching Downton Abbey with my fellow Seven-Sister-College-Alums when I could squeeze it in.
But at the end of the day, what makes my life literally worth living, is the work I do as a citizen and a member of a community. Lobbying a senator to get behind your pet cause or protesting for immigration reform on the Mall, the New York Times called it.
This is what I do and who I am. Please stop trying to tell me I’ll regret it. Please stop trying to get me to slow down. Please stop telling me my life has less value because I choose to love where I spend most of my day.
When you love your job, when your coworkers are your friends, and when you are so invested that you can truly learn from your failures and celebrate your successes, well, somehow through it all, you start to realize that maybe – just maybe – it’s ok for your work to be your life.