I was originally planning to go to law school when I caught the political bug during an internship in my congressman's district office. Three months in, they offered me the chance to intern in their Washington, D.C. office for eight weeks; I jumped at the chance.
Once there, I fell even more in love with politics. When it came time to go home, I expressed my desire to return permanently the following spring. Although my office didn't have an open staff position, they wanted to help me get my start, so they offered me a paid internship. I've never been more terrified in my life, but I knew the regret of not giving it a shot would be worse than anything else. So in February 2012, I left my friends and all my family for a city where the only people I knew were my coworkers.
I began my job search right away, but the job market was more than a little disheartening. Every time I was passed over for a position it came down to two things: I didn't have enough experience or, in the case of congressional offices, preference was given to applicants who had ties to the member's district. Finally, in September I got my first offer, from an unexpected place. The office I was currently in had an opening and they were offering it to me first. But there was one catch: it was back in the district.
Turning down a paying job with benefits was a huge risk, but I was in my 20s and had no responsibilities; there would be no better time for me to work on the Hill. In the end, I just wasn't ready to give up on the dream I had moved to pursue only seven months prior. So I turned it down.
Three months later, I was told my internship had to end; my office needed to hire another experienced legislative aid and that didn't leave room in the budget for a paid intern. I resumed my job hunt as soon as Congress reconvened on January 3. Things didn't get any better for quite awhile. I went on job interviews, informational interviews and networked every chance I got (even Sunday mornings at church).
When nothing had turned up near the end of February, I decided my resume wasn't helping me and that I needed another internship, this time unpaid. I focused on opportunities that were totally different from my previous internship; I needed to expand my experience not compound it. Less than 24 hours after sending out my first batch of resumes, I heard back from a lobbying firm. They asked me to come in the next day and I was offered the internship on the spot.
It's still not a paying job, but it's a move in the right direction. I'm enjoying the totally new experience but the best part is that I still don't regret taking a huge risk to pursue my dream.