Change Happens Just Outside Your Comfort Zone – Brett Ries

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci

A camp leader of mine once told me, “Change happens just outside your comfort zone.” Ever since I heard these words, I have incorporated them into my lifestyle as motivation for achieving my goals. I have never lived in a town with a population of greater than 25,000 people. I have always driven to my destinations and before this summer, I had never used public transportation. One of the tallest structures in my hometown is the McDonald’s arch. So, you can imagine how radically displaced I felt when I boarded the metro in Washington, DC with two suitcases in hand and was forced to navigate the nation’s capital.

A young man poses with a view of the US Capitol building behind him

It is still surreal to me that as a small town South Dakotan who woke up at six in the morning to milk cows, I am now waking up at that same time to work inside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Nevertheless, I have adapted and affirmed my love for big cities. The Victory Congressional Internship has certainly pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but it is because of this push that I have felt a substantial amount of professional and personal growth. As a side note, if you have an intense phobia of rats like I do, plan to take Ubers at night or you will face your fears while walking the streets. I am less optimistic that this push outside of my comfort zone will result in personal growth.

Not only have I been pushed out of my environmental comfort zone in DC, but I have been pushed outside of my professional comfort zone as well. There is a particular pressure in this work atmosphere because your actions directly impact constituents. Staff make it clear from the very beginning that your work does not lack significance: your Representative or Senator is relying heavily on you to create a positive image of their office. Every phone call you answer, every email or letter you sort, and every memo you write for the legislative aides bridges the constituents to the Congressperson. There is also a pressure to receive more opportunities by standing out in your office and an additional pressure to begin networking for post-graduation aspirations. However, I am very proud that I have been pushing myself in all of these areas, and I have already received many significant, impactful opportunities in my office.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I have been pushed on a personal level like never before. I am very grateful to be surrounded by eleven other passionate, intelligent, and diverse change-makers in our Victory Institute cohort. Over these past three weeks, my cohort has shared their stories, their struggles, and their motivations to create change. In this process, I have been pushed to be more conscientious about my words, thoughts, and actions. I cannot stress enough that I am using the verb “push” in the most positive way possible. I am extremely appreciative that my cohort has been patient and willing to exhaust emotional energy to help educate me. I am not sure my words will ever fully convey how grateful I am to my cohort, but I am hoping that my gratefulness is better exemplified through my actions.

The 12 Victory Congressional Interns pose with Senator Tammy Baldwin and Mayor Annise Parker all making peace signs for the camera

This push outside of my comfort zone has been uncomfortable and emotionally draining at times, but it is a necessary step in personal growth that must occur in order to best create inclusive change. I have learned from the experiences of the members of my cohort that while we may all be members of the LGBTQ community, the LGBTQ community itself has progress to make in ensuring equal treatment and opportunity for all. Intersectionality of issues is real, and the LGBTQ community is not immune from unfair treatment of marginalized groups.

Some fear stepping outside of their comfort zone, but I strive to place myself directly in it. I cannot expect other people to step out of their comfort zones and change if I do not place that same expectation on myself. I need to ask questions, I need to have difficult conversations, and I need to be corrected. It is okay to be uncomfortable. In fact, it often creates the change in ourselves that we wish to achieve. The Victory Institute Congressional Internship Program has only reaffirmed this belief, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity.