Patricia Murphy covers national politics for the Daily Beast and is a former Hill staffer, most recently working as communications director for then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) from 2001 to 2003.
Murphy also writes a column for Roll Call and has a great piece today there based on her interviews with a number of present and former Hill staffers responding to the question of things they wish they had known when they worked on the Senate or House side.
As she explains, “the intense experience can come and go in a flash, so I reached out to current and former Capitol Hill staffers to ask them what they’d tell their younger selves about the job that many remember as the hardest, most fun, and most rewarding of their professional lives.”
Murphy distilled the responses she received to eight key things.
Having spent four years of my career working on the Hill prior to five years as a Reagan political appointee and then becoming a journalist, I can attest to the value of all eight of the things Murphy discusses.
My favorite is Number Seven, Get A Life:
“If your job is your life, longtime staffers will tell you you’re doing it wrong. ‘Staffers give up a lot to be there. They work long hours, holidays, through major life events, miss little league games and ballet recitals. And the office, the institution and the city will take as much of you as you give,’ said Rayanne McKeon, a former senior adviser to two senators. ‘Know where your hard lines are and don’t compromise them. You will lose your whole self if you do.’
“Working on Capitol Hill is the best of jobs and the worst of jobs, all rolled into one. The pay is low, the hours are long, and angry constituents aren’t wrong when they remind you that they pay your salary. “
“Andy Kutler, a former legislative assistant to two senators and the author of newly released novel ‘The Batter’s Box,’ adds, ‘I would tell my 23-year-old self, in very polite terms, to get a life. In my early Hill days, I wouldn’t leave the office until the early evening hours. And even then my home life was a toxic mix of reheated pizza and C-SPAN. … I wish I had followed a simple formula: Less CNN. More Senate softball league.’”
“But working on the Hill can also give staffers the chance, often at a young age, to build a résumé, make a positive difference in people’s lives, and literally change the world.”
I say that one is my favorite because it’s the one I most wish I had known and followed. It’s no exaggeration to say the process in which I turned a passion for politics and an ambition-driven career into one indistinguishable mess began on the Hill because I made work my life. I loved it too much.
The other seven are just as important and well worth giving serious thought about if you are or ever hope to be on the personal or committee staff of a U.S. senator or representative. Go here.