From the valley to the hill (part 1)

When I first moved to D.C. in the summer of 1994 right after I graduated college, I had two things working against me: first, I didn’t have a real job, and secondly, I didn’t have a clue.

What I did have, however, was an unpaid internship at GOPAC — a political action committee. Considering it was the fall of 1994, it was an exciting time to work in Washington DC as a young conservative.

But first, a quick back-story. I was raised by a single working mother in Syracuse NY (Onondaga Valley) and experienced a hard yet typical semi-dysfunctional childhood.  Besides my uncle, nobody from my family had ever received a four year college degree.  I was determined to be the second person to go to college and “make something of myself.”  And actually, getting my four year degree wasn’t good enough for me so I immediately enrolled at George Mason to get my Masters degree.  Why all the ambition?  Looking back, I was an insecure young girl who was running away from the disappointments and dysfunction of my childhood, trying to prove it to myself that I had intrinsic value.  I was determined to “be successful” and “show everyone.”  I wasn’t really sure what I was trying to “show” them but it had something to do with being successful all on my own with no outside help.  As a Christian, I also wanted to make an impact for God and for our country at the same time.

When I started to apply for a job in D.C., I was quite prideful about it. Now keep in mind, my pride had a foundation of childhood insecurity rather than a huge ego/raw arrogance angle.  Nonetheless, it was still pride.  I remember my cover letters being over-the-top confident.  Phrases such as “more than qualified” and “incredibly experienced” and “extraordinarily hard working” filled the first page that a potential employer would read.  I was waiting tables at Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande in Reston, VA at the time, and I was sure, actually over-the-top confident, that I would be getting a call any second from a potential employer.

As my internship was ending, GOPAC actually offered me a job as Executive Assistant. I declined because I didn’t think the job was “good enough” for me.  (Huge mistake, please see point number two above.) After several months of waiting tables and putting in my amazing resume and cover letter all over Capitol Hill (and to several other outside organizations), I still had no “real” job.  I was slowly learning one the biggest lessons that a new kid could learn in D.C.: in order to get a job, it was all about two things: who you knew, and experience.  Unfortunately, I had neither.  The months went by while I continued to wait tables.  I was desperate and felt like a “loser” who “couldn’t make it on her own.”  All of my dreams of “making a real impact” came crashing down, much like a dropped tray filled with food and dishes at the restaurant where I worked.

That’s when I decided to get serious with God. I prayed and asked the Lord why I wasn’t getting a job.  He answered me, in so many words, and told me that I had two problems: first, I was prideful.  Secondly, I was trusting only in myself and my own human effort.  He wanted me to be humble, and to trust in Him.  That time of prayer was a complete turning point for me.  I repented of my prideful, arrogant attitude, asked God to guide all of my steps going forward, and of course revamped all of those crappy cover letters that got me nowhere.

Wouldn’t you know it…after a few weeks I got my first official part-time job. Although it was only 20 hours per week, it was an excellent start.  The funny part was that I got the job not based on anything I did, it was really just a gift from the Lord.  Basically, I struck up a conversation at CPAC with a nice young gal who worked for a political action committee and we hit it off immediately. She then offered me the job.  And that’s the amazing story of how I got my first real part-time job, right there.  I didn’t even have to show her my cover letter.  🙂

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After a few months of working with her, I was told that the job was ending because funding had run out. Almost immediately after that I was hired as a part-time unpaid intern for another outside group.  To go from a “real job” back to “just an intern” felt like a step backward for me, but again, I had learned my lesson to be patient and to trust in God, so I went with it.

Then IT happened — within a few weeks, I was offered my FIRST OFFICIAL FULL TIME JOB IN MY COLLEGE MAJOR at Concerned Women for America. My official job title was “Correspondence Coordinator” and I was SO excited!  I had officially “made it” in DC all by myself (with God’s help, of course)!  Hooray!! I beamed with happiness as I drove my 1982 Toyota Tercel around town.

My enthusiasm quickly faded however, once I got into the job itself. It was basically a crap job where I answered phones all day and dealt with difficult people who wanted to be off the mailing list; or they had a new address, or they wanted to complain about not getting something they had ordered.  Plus I got the nut cases who wanted to talk about black helicopters and government conspiracies like implanted chips (tracking chips, not the potato kind).  The job was a two person job but only one person did it, and that person was me.

I loved working for CWA, however. There were a great group of wonderful women (and a few men) and I quickly became friends with all of them.  Because of what God had already taught me, my pride was checked at the door and I did my work with excellence, determination, AND humility.  I was even awarded Employee of the Month once or twice (wait, is that bragging?). At one point I was rewarded with a whopping 10% raise, unheard of according to my boss.  Awesomeness!!!  Until I remembered I was only making 20k per year and would now be making $22k.  But who was thinking about money?  I was just glad I had a “real” job.

After about a year as Correspondence Queen (as I dubbed myself), I was promoted into the Legislative Department, which was my ultimate goal. I was so excited to finally be “making an impact” at my “first real job in D.C.” in the specific space that I truly wanted.  Woo hoo!!!

After about a year of assisting the Executive Director of Legislation and doing basically any and all things associated with legislation, a job opened up in our department for Legislative Coordinator, which was one step up from my current position. The Legislative Coordinator was actually a lobbyist who would go to Capitol Hill and persuade Members and staffers alike to do what CWA wanted/hoped for/felt was best for our country. I was all over it and felt fairly confident (in a humble way, of course) that I had a good shot at it.  There were other interviewers for the job as well, including a young woman who was actually Miss ________ USA.  Really, she was a beauty queen and had won a state title.  She was a beautiful young woman and very poised and professional looking for her young age.  She had a killer figure and wore very expensive suits.  However, she had no experience whatsoever in legislation so I assumed (naively) that she wouldn’t get the job. How could she? She had no experience.  Plus she didn’t know anybody.

To make a long story short, Miss USA got the job. I was shocked and deflated!  When I asked my boss why I didn’t get the job, she gave me some hard truth.  She told me that Miss USA had poise and confidence that I lacked.  And that there were two other reasons I did not get the job: my appearance (I didn’t dress very professionally) and my communication skills (I didn’t come to my points very quickly and tended to ramble on and on).

Ouch.

All of my childhood insecurities came crashing down on me and I cried all the way home during my evening commute.

But then something else happened. When Miss USA started the job, which was awkward in and of itself since we shared an office together, my boss informed me that Miss USA needed to be trained and “caught up to speed on everything related to legislation.”

Guess who was going to train her to do her (my) job?

You guessed it.

God was not done with me on the whole humility thing.

In fact, He was just getting started!

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11 thoughts on “From the valley to the hill (part 1)

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  5. Wow Heather… I had so much i wanted to say and yet i somehow am finding myself at a loss for words. I love you so much and i am just so incredibly proud of you! I feel like we’ve gone through the years down such different paths but have had very similar goals. It’s amazing to hear what you’ve gone through to attain yours. Life is just chuck full of lessons and the classroom is never, nor will it ever be, closed.

    Love you so much and im enjoying seeing inside of your life… though, i was a little disappointed about the chip part…. was just about to break out the french onion dip! 😀

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  6. Hannah

    Wow, Heather! Your life history as I’ve never heard it told before! God is a multi-tasker. He’s never just getting us from Point A to Point B (like from the Valley to the Hill)–He’s also doing the much more important work within of completing the good work He began in us. Can’t wait for you to recount more!

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  7. Ragan

    Like with Sandie, you are taking me back to those years as well–my need to learn humility as well as other godly character traits (which is STILL my current season) and seeing God’s faithfulness through every step of the journey (rocky or easy and all the in between). Thank you for escorting us to our own stories while genuinely sharing your own.

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  8. Sandie

    OH Heather. Lessons in humility and grace. I love your honesty and knowing you do well it hook me back a few decades. We have a lot of similarities in our path from little to much in regards to things that truly matter.
    Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,

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