Lessons Learned – Elyssa Goswick

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute.

At the outset of our internships with the Victory Institute, I set a goal for myself to fully absorb the experience and not take any opportunities for granted. Throughout our work on the Hill, interactions with mentors, networking opportunities, and community service, we have not only gained valuable professional experience: we have also been given the chance to think critically about our role in politics and society and analyze how our values and actions will influence the world around us. At each step along the way, the lessons that we’ve learned have been taught to us by people in our offices, professionals in and around government, and, perhaps most importantly, by others in our program. As I’ve scrambled to cement the lessons and experiences from the last ten weeks, I’ve revisited my journal from the program and reflected upon a few of the most meaningful pieces of advice I’ve heard and how I’ve applied them to my experience as a VCI.

“Bring other people up with you. That way, if you make it to the top, you won’t be alone.” 

This lesson, told to us during a Friday workshop with Victory on being queer in government, reminds me of the personal responsibility that comes with the opportunity of political work. Working with the Victory Institute for the last three months has been an immense privilege. Throughout the experience, we have been afforded guidance, knowledge, and connections that would have been either unattainable or very difficult to access without the program — and as with any resource-limited to the few, it is always best to extend that knowledge to others when possible. As hopeful changemakers who are given an advantage in a system that has continually disallowed resources to be equitably shared across the table, our responsibility is to disallow the gatekeeping that can breed unequal representation in government and leadership. “Making it to the top” is meaningless without the company of those who made it possible.

“Do things right, but always keep an eye out for what can be improved.”

In roles as established as jobs on Capitol Hill, simply fitting in with the system is a tremendous task. As such, in our roles as interns, we don’t often get the creative liberty to reinvent the wheel within government work, as our roles are confined to what is needed from us in our office. However, this piece of advice, given to me by an outgoing intern in my Congressional office, reminded me that even without immense power in political settings, incremental change is still possible. From making tweaks on the process of creating constituent letters to providing legislative insight on certain constituent demographics like students and immigrants, work on Capitol Hill has reminded me that small victories are still victories. Rather than become complacent in a system simply due to its size, always maintaining a critical eye is necessary for institutions as complex as the American government.

“Always say thank you.”

While this is a lesson that we have been given the chance to learn over and over again, it really stuck with me as taught to me by Alex, one of the other VCIs in my cohort. After any meaningful interaction with coworkers, friends, professional connections, and even friendly museum guides, Alex will always send a meaningful thank you note. And more often than not, the sentiment of that thank you note is met with the chance to deepen connections and extend previous conversations. However, saying thank you is more than networking and opening job opportunities — it is also,  more importantly, a chance to express genuine gratitude for experiences that others have helped us to create.

“Write things down.”

Although I wish I could include every quote from my “Best Advice at VCI” iPhone notes document in this final blog post, my final word count would be far too long for anyone to care to read. This lesson (which I wrote down as a quote from myself) was something that I committed to at the beginning of my experience and has been incredibly useful in changing the way that I internalize lessons and advice. Keeping a record of the moments that inspire us, challenge us, or make us think allows us to solidify that knowledge in our own psyche and open the opportunity to share those lessons with the people around us, ensuring that when we grow, we are never alone.