In 2012, I was so disinterested in politics that, when offered the chance to work in the Obama White House, I turned it down. I was working five part-time jobs and barely making rent, but I blew off the interview that could – and would eventually ― change my life.
Now, to be fair, I had no idea I was rejecting the White House or missing the opportunity to travel the world with the 44th President when I skipped out on the interview. After all, I hadn’t applied to political jobs on any official government website. No, I had applied to a post on Craigslist to be a stenographer in a law firm, which, to be honest, seemed less interesting than my teaching jobs or gig at Lululemon. And so when it was time for my interview but I was still at Lululemon, stuck folding a tall stack of bright yellow tank tops, I stayed and kept folding. Even though I felt badly for blowing off an interview, I wasn’t exactly heartbroken that I missed the chance to type all day in a boring office that smelled of tuna fish and stale dreams.
After leaving Lululemon that day, I sent the woman I’d corresponded with from Craigslist an apology email for missing the interview and didn’t expect to hear from her ever again. But then she wrote back. I was in line at the post office when I took a deep breath and opened her message. “For transparency’s sake,” the email began, “this is actually a job at the White House and you’d be traveling with the President on his domestic and international trips.” Utterly confused and completely disoriented, I wondered to myself, President of what?
After quite a bit of groveling and actually showing up to the scheduled interview, I began my new job at the White House a month later. As a presidential stenographer, I was responsible for recording and transcribing the daily press briefing, on and off-the-record briefings between senior administration officials and reporters, and, my favorite, President Obama’s interviews, statements and speeches. It was even more exciting than I could have imagined, especially because the President was even more kind, thoughtful, brilliant and hilarious than I’d expected – and I’d expected so very much.
Working in the White House was not so much a job but a lifestyle: it did not ask for your whole being but demanded it. As President Obama and his administration navigated domestic and international crises while also trying to press forward with a full agenda of hope and progress, I found a corner in every room in which to record history. And as the White House evolved, so did I – suddenly, I was obsessed with world events and embarrassed I’d been so out of touch for so long.
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As my time at the White House turned from months to years, the thrill never wore off ― in part because the longer I worked in the White House, the closer I became with my coworkers. After all, when your work is your life and your life is your work, your co-workers become your best friends, your family and sometimes the most annoying people in the world who you can’t help but love anyway. I played basketball every Tuesday at the Department of Interior with a bunch of boys who became my brothers. I found female mentors who not only led by example but went out of their way to help me and cheer for me. They supported my aspirations to write as well as my affinity for bright pink flats, and who came to my rescue too many times to count. And I fell in love with that guy you’re definitely not supposed to fall for, but whose charms I couldn’t resist – especially when we found ourselves walking along the ocean in Hawaii. Or running through a downpour in Vietnam. Or talking on a balcony in Paris. Traveling at a breakneck speed to beautiful places with an irresistible colleague did not always breed the best decisions.
So I had to learn about heartbreak – a few times, really – just as I had to learn so many things while working at the White House. I had to learn that even my job as a presidential stenographer seemed glamorous to outsiders and allowed me to see the world and a President I admired up close, it’s more important to pursue your passion. I spent five years typing other people’s words when all I wanted was to write my own.
At the end of the day, just like at the end of the Obama administration, I learned it’s about the work. It’s about the heart and sweat you pour into your daily efforts, and how you treat the people around you. President Obama demonstrated a generosity in time, thought and compassion that left a lasting impression on me – he said hi to everyone, even the least important people on his staff, including the stenographer. Respecting others, President Obama taught me, was a critical way to demonstrate respect for oneself, and the world we all share. And while it’s impossible not to miss him, President Obama would argue there’s too much at stake to sit still ― so let’s get to work.
Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird, wonderful and transformationa life experiences. If you’ve got a story to share, email email@example.com with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.