One of the most distinct things about D.C. is the culture around professionalism and networking. Some people are natural networkers and love it, for others, their skin crawls at the thought of it. I am usually somewhere in the middle; its not my favorite thing but I realize that thinking about it is always worse than actually doing it. For many people, however, networking feels fake and stuffy to them; social interaction and relationship building motivated by wanting something more. One of the reasons I tend to be more positive and optimistic about networking is that I love learning about new opportunities and potential adventures. As someone who loves travelling, adventures, and discovering things that excite me both personally and professionally, I recognize the benefits of networking. The saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” applies perfectly to networking. Unless you talk to someone and tell them a little bit about yourself, you don’t know what unique or incredible opportunity or connection they might have for you. More than once in the past 4 months, I have been astonished with how just a little bit of effort and pushing myself to talk to someone has paid off. I’ve learned about exciting job opportunities and postgraduate fellowships through networking with people I almost never even spoken to, and had no idea who they were before introducing myself. One of the beauties of networking is the coincidences that it brings.
Another way of putting a positive spin on D.C. networking culture is looking at it from a broader scope, which is that D.C. is filled with people who are dedicated to–for lack of a better phrase–making the world a better place. D.C. is full of politicians and policy experts, and sometimes the suits, ties, and constant business professional dress codes might seem disingenuous and stuffy. However, at the end of the day, I really love the culture and tradition that politicians, policy experts, think tank analysts, researchers, NGOs, and nonprofits have around trying to ensure justice and human rights. I feel like one of the most valued parts of my childhood and about growing up in Madison is Madison’s political awareness and eagerness to talk about social justice issues. In many ways, D.C. is a haven for this kind of social justice innovation and policy creation, and to me, it was a privilege to be in the midst of it all and meet those who are a part of it.
Another interesting part of D.C. professional culture is that people move from job to job, from career path to other career path, much more frequently than I’ve been exposed to before. Many of my classmates and I talked about how we grew up thinking that within a couple years of college graduation, we would find a job that we would do for the majority of our lives. Many of us realized that our parents have been in the same position or at the same company for more than 10 or 20 years. In D.C., we realized there is a lot more leeway to explore different positions and types of work than many of us previously thought. We noticed that many of the professionals we met and networked with have worked at a variety of organizations in a relatively short amount of time. I really like this aspect of D.C. culture because I tend to get bored after being in one place too long. It also provides an incentive to keep meeting new people who might know about interesting and exciting opportunities.