While training for my internship at the Texas Capitol, I often heard that regardless of how extensively I prepared, it would not equip me for what was ahead. After two months, I still consistently come across new situations no one can help me get through with clear guidance. Almost every suggestion has started with, “You’re not going to like this,” or ended with, “I know that doesn’t make you feel better.”
To say my experience has been tumultuous is quite the understatement. Even though working at the Capitol is a privilege, at times, I felt as though I was being stifled. I struggled with being told that work I was interested in was out of the scope of my role. I found myself unsure of when I was receiving accurate information and felt excluded from some common legislative interactions.
As I continued to struggle with these experiences and encountered challenges navigating legislative chains of command, I turned to others for confidential help and advice. Fortunately, I have a wide and supportive network comprised of loved ones, colleagues, classmates, my cohort from the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Houston, our Associate Dean Dr. Pritzker, and my social work Field Instructor, to name a few. Even with a wide net of support, I had to learn how to sift through varying advice and critically consider what pieces could be used at what time. I learned that every interaction and person at the legislature requires a different approach, and sometimes a combination of approaches.
Suddenly, everything changed...
After two months at the legislature, I was no longer on the bottom of the totem pole. I became the point of contact for many things in my office and, even though I finally felt like I had purpose and my abilities were being recognized, I also had to be aware of evolving tensions.
Through this experience, I have learned the political value of silence. Sometimes a long pause in conversation expresses more than a rambling paragraph. Speaking diplomatically and vaguely, while also strategically choosing words, allows others to read between the lines and keeps me from speaking out of turn. I have gained knowledge that would help others succeed and had to get creative in how to discuss it, without stepping on the toes of my superiors.
It seems as though my natural inclination to live outside of conventional boxes is working in my favor this session, as I juggle the expectations of multiple people and the responsibilities of various titles, while still being considered “just an intern” by many. What keeps me centered and grounded is my passion for serving communities in need. Working at the Capitol is not about me feeling accomplished, proud, or better than any other person for being in a position of power. My entire focus is to work my hardest in making the life of every person better. Social justice and sustainable, equitable systemic change envelopes every decision I make during session. I regularly remind myself that facilitating healthy interactions at the legislature will create more opportunities for us to serve our communities.
Although my experience working at the Capitol has been more taxing than I could have imagined, I also have learned invaluable skills along the way. I have learned to network in unconventional ways and create opportunities for people to remember me. I wear bright colors, mixed patterns, loud shoes, and noticeable hats. Obviously, not all at the same time. This has led to more people remembering my outfits than people remembering my name or masked-up face. I deliberately choose to dress in a more eccentric manner on days other members and staffers will see me. After only one week of committee hearings, I had already gotten to the point where lobbyists recognized my shoes and handed me their card.
I am currently working on how to tactfully leverage knowledge and connections in a way that can benefit my whole office, especially the State Representative I work for. The knowledge I am learning to consider includes:
- When to ask questions
- When to take notes
- When to stand my ground
- When to keep my head down
- When to socialize
- When to relax
- Who do I look to for answers
- Which notes are the most important
- Who can use this against me
- Who has the power
- Who I spend time with
- Where do I relax
These are all critical skill sets in this environment. In the GCSW, these topics come up as forms of self-care or advocacy. I am in a unique position, in that I am required to develop these skills as professional tactics. How do I ensure a rewarding career trajectory, while focusing on my boss’ success, and protecting the integrity of my workplace, in an environment where backroom deals are vast and trust is fickle?
When in doubt, shut my mouth!
by Jax Gheorghe, intern with Rep. Penny Morales-Shaw
Originally posted from University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work’s Austin Legislative Internship Program. The College selects graduate MSW students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. This post was syndicated with permission from its authors.
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