Man, how many times in your professional career have you asked that question? Is what I’m doing ACTUALLY making a difference? If you’ve never asked it, either a) I really want to meet you and learn your secrets or b) you need to start asking it ASAP and facing the answer.
Let me back up. Hi, I’m Paige, the newest addition to Angel Oak Creative. They say I’m now an “angel,” but tbh, it’s going to take me awhile to get comfortable with that. I’ve spent the past four years in Washington, D.C. working and living on Capitol Hill and, let me tell you, I asked that question A LOT.
My job in a nutshell was to help my boss (that’s how all Hill staffers refer to their Congressional member – in my case, a senator and chairman of a large committee) more strategically and effectively educate, inform and persuade his constituency on all policy matters related to the general public or their state specifically. Quite a nutshell, eh? Each day looked different – especially during the latest presidential campaign – and, so often, we were simply fighting to keep up with the relentless battering of the news cycle. Success was hard to define. A workweek where WE were in control of what content and messaging we pushed out, rather than being in response mode to the incessant “breaking news” of CNN, was a win.
At first this was exciting, exhilarating – waking up every morning to catch Morning Joe and hit the ground running played to my strengths. I work well under stress and in crisis situations, so I was game for the daunting task of keeping up with this inside-the-beltline machine. But pretty quickly, a thought started creeping up my spine halfway through the workday…then again as I walked home in the dark after another long, “productive” day, still checking and responding to emails as I walked.
Is what I’m doing ACTUALLY making a difference? Gut check. Energy drain. Dial tone.
On a small scale, I can answer that question today by saying absolutely. I know (without a shadow of doubt) that I added value and capacity to my boss and his staff during my time on the Hill. I know we impacted lives for the better – and I can name names and picture faces when I say that. I know we helped small businesses inch a little closer to success and advocated for them well. I know we worked relentlessly to cut through the noise in the news cycle countless times – encouraging organizations and individuals to keep fighting for what they believed – and assuring them we were doing the same. And it was worth it every time.
But on a large scale, looking back over my last four years, my honest answer is no. Instead, I feel like I entered into a massive collaboration of individuals who – either knowingly or unknowingly – had done the same thing…entering into a grandfathered, unspoken agreement to simply do their best at keeping the wheels turning and the lights on. On its best days – there was more to the collaboration – and I do think our staff tried hard to make this true. But at its backbone – that was the bleak reality. We were fighting an uphill battle, and the odds never looked good. I left, and the wheels kept turning, and the lights stayed on. The politics remained the same, as did the lack of creativity and change, as did the inefficiency and the predictability of floor debates, as did Politico Playbook’s morning headlines. The only thing really different, was me.
So, when I moved to Raleigh last year, I made a conscious decision not to enter back into the political world. It definitely would have been the easiest and most sensical next step for me, and I had folks immediately reaching out who didn’t understand why I wasn’t interested. Honestly, it took me a few months of self-reflection to fully understand why myself. At the end of the day, it boiled down to wanting my answer – to that simple question – to be different. I wanted to leave the office of my next job at the end of a killer workday and be able to say “yes” immediately.
Is what I’m doing ACTUALLY making a difference? YES. YES. YES.
I deeply believe the ability and desire to work and have purpose is inherent in who we are as human beings. So, if you’re not already asking yourself if what you do 40+ hours every week is making a difference – start asking. Now. Be honest and wrestle with it. If the answer is “no,” that’s okay. Now it’s time to figure out what you plan to do about it.
I’m in my third week at Angel Oak, and I’m already answering, “yes.” So, although I miss a lot about being on Capitol Hill, the challenge, the bubble of information, the constant energy, my incredible colleagues and boss…so far, I’m pretty darn happy here in Raleigh, North Carolina in our little white house of offices – no pun intended – where I know each of my colleagues are also answering “yes” tonight.
– Paige Burr, Senior Marketing Strategist