OutPower

To Be or Not To Be – Aharon McKee

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

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Internships are structured around an intrinsic desire for education and an opportunity to practice what one has studied, hoped, and worked for. They can be extremely rewarding experiences that solidify your desire to work in a particular field or do a specific type of work. Internships demonstrate in real time the dirty, on the ground, everyday ins and outs of a potential career path to show developing professionals the real-world way that an occupational field operates. Interns get the rare opportunity to immerse themselves in an idea, job, or trade for a period of time before committing their careers and livelihoods to something that was once just a budding dream.

Many people are not awarded this opportunity. They are forced into fields or careers for solely economic or socio-economic reasons, or because the field was chosen for them, or because there is only a limited number of opportunities that are plausible at that point in their life. Others have a dream and fully go for it, diving in and structuring the remainder of their professional lives around a dream birthed in early adulthood or childhood.

It has been a goal of mine to work in Washington, D.C. since I began college. The decision to study political science and eventually work in law and policy was a long and windy journey. I did not enter college immediately knowing what I wanted to do. I have been interested in politics and government from an extremely young age, but initially Washington, D.C. was not on my radar as a potential political hub where I wanted to work and live. It was not until I was able to go to college that ideas and opportunities of this quality presented themselves. Once I realized that my education opened doors like this to me, I was set on finding the best opportunities I could to prepare myself for a rigorous future in fields I am passionate about. The opportunity to complete this internship has been extremely rewarding — but it has taught me just as much about what I do not feel fulfilled doing just as much as it has shown me exactly where I am needed and what is fulfilling to me.

Being so far secluded from the reality of what your dreams actually entail can cause a person to idealize their aspirations to the point that reality is sometimes never even considered or even denied. Before coming to Washington, D.C., I had a million ideas of what it would be like. I had studied American government, politics, and law for almost four years, developing endless ideas along the way of how Washington works and what government operations should look like. While there have been plenty of instances throughout my internship that have validated my previous conceptions of how government works, there have been more that negate these conceptions. The slowness of government; the negotiations and compromise; the daily meetings, briefings, and preparation; and the elitism of the wealthy and powerful were all as expected. The disconnect from the everyday citizenry; the inability to work quickly on behalf of real, struggling people; and the tribalism within office culture were accompanying realities to my dream that I had not yet considered.

While the discrepancies between my preconceptions and reality do not discourage me to the point of entirely giving up on future hopes and aspirations, it causes me to reassess where I will be the most effective and needed for social change. It causes me to really think about what is most important to me in my daily life. The allure of working in Washington, D.C. and the idealized notion that the most important and effective political work takes place in the federal government are no longer thoughts that enter my head when I think of my future. I have learned that these notions are incorrect and that dreams are not to be based on glamor, optics, and what is viewed as the most prestigious or important. But rather on fulfillment, interactions with my people, and going where I am needed, not necessarily where I want to be for economic, political, or professional reasons.

The opportunity to be a part of this program has been extremely rewarding. While it can be disappointing to reconstruct your old dreams and reassess your future goals, plans, and career avenues, I will never regret the work I did. It has been a unique and golden opportunity to immerse myself in this field before committing my life to an idealized dream without experiencing its reality.

Growing up my mother had many sayings, as mothers do. Whenever I would encounter difficult experiences or would meet people with whom I clashed or did not like, she would ring out with one of her favorite universal principles. A religious woman, her sayings and lessons ringing objectively true regardless of faith, she would say, “God puts people and events in your life for two reasons; to show you how to be or to show you how not to be.” As a kid it would get on my nerves sometimes. It is an obvious and simple perspective that could help one interpret any obstacle they encounter. She would say it literally every time I complained or any time I got worked up about something, and it would drive me crazy. But as life has gone on, as I have gone from an innocent 6 year old, to a prepubescent teen, to a troubling high schooler, to a young adult trying to chart my own course, I have realized that this is a lesson that I have internalized. As simple as it is, it has helped me grow in situations like these. When I am overwhelmed, when life is not going how I expected, when I am disappointed in reality or people, when I am unsure of what I want for my future and what all this craziness being thrown at me means; I hear the words of Sylvia McKee speaking to 6 year old Aharon: “God puts these things in your life for two reasons – to show you how to be or to show you how not to be” – and both principles are equally important.

Internships are structured around an intrinsic desire for education and an opportunity to practice what one has studied, hoped, and worked for. They can be extremely rewarding experiences that solidify your desire to work in a particular field or do a specific type of work. They can also be an equally rewarding experience that completely upends your desire to do a specific type of work and challenges every notion and idealized preconception you have about a particular field. This reality is just as beneficial — or even more so — than having all of your dreams and preconceptions confirmed and validated. I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity and privilege to be exposed to every facet of a dream developed long ago. As a gay first generation college kid from a not so well-off background in a small, southern, conservative town, I never dreamed of having an opportunity like this. It is rare that people like me get to take advantage of opportunities like this. Regardless of where my future takes me, the opportunity to grow, learn, and develop in the arena I have dreamed of working in for quite some time has been invaluable and will shape and inform my future in invaluable ways that I will never even realize. Although I have never been more unsure of what I want to do in the future, I have begun a challenging, exciting, disappointing, exhilarating, tumultuous, and optimistic process of elimination, and I am extremely grateful and privileged to have that opportunity.

That is the question.