Capitol Hill Style: The Hill Life: Leaving on a Jet Plane

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 by Belle

The Hill Life: Leaving on a Jet Plane

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Earlier this week, I was enjoying a long Recess lunch with one of my favorite Hill Staffers when we got onto the topic about leaving D.C.  She pointed out that nearly every staffer she knows harbors some not-so-secret desire to leave the District.  

Some want to move “home.” Others want to move overseas and live some place exotic, far from the din of the 24-hour news cycle and the marble halls.  Some just want to leave the Hill for a “normal” job and a picket fence somewhere called Mayberry where pies cool on window ledges and children play stick ball in the culs de sac.

So I thought we might do a mid-week Discuss: Do you think about leaving the Hill/D.C.? Do you believe the two are exclusive (you like the city but not the work, and vice versa)?  And what do you think you would do if you ever broke the surly bonds of politics?

Photo courtesy of our dear friends at the AOC. 

0 comments :

  • m

    The day I left DC I felt so happy and free. I remember being in a cab with my suitcases heading to Union Station and marveling at the ease of mobility in our modern life, and I remember also thinking I'd someday return whenever I wanted. I'm moving back to the District in a few weeks and couldn't be happier! I love politics and am a news junkie, and only in DC can you have a lively dinner party where everybody's up-to-date on current events and has an informed — if not expert! — opinion.

  • VA

    I do think about leaving. Not because I don't enjoy DC as a city (I do, very much) or because I don't like the work (I enjoy my job, which incidentally is not on the Hill or related to politics in any way), but because I just have wanderlust. There are lots of really cool places in the world that I think I would enjoy living in – Chicago, San Francisco, Charleston, Seattle, NYC, Paris… DC is not the be-all-end-all destination for me, and it's not where I see myself spending the rest of my life, but I've definitely loved the time that I've spent here.

  • webdoyenne

    I moved here from Florida because there are jobs here. But when my working days are over — sometime in the next decade, I'm hoping — I'll head back there (to the house I could not sell because of the housing bust). There are many things I love about the DC area, but the traffic gets to me and the cost of living here is far too high for me to consider retiring here.

  • Sara

    I never thought I would want to leave DC to go back out west where I am from and, while I will never actually go home, I have gotten to the point where that idea is incredibly appealing to me. I miss wide open spaces, I miss having a car, I miss lower prices on everything and not signing away half my piddly Hill staffer paycheck to rent. I love my job on Capitol Hill and I love policy and politics but the idea of wrestling with public opinion, finnicky administrations, and skeptical Members with the federal government's checkbook not to mention staying above water in a constant competition between Type-A careerists makes my head spin and my stomach churn. I love the rush of getting ahead and getting that “right place, right time” job. But I miss the laidback lifestyles of cities on the West Coast. I'm in no rush to leave a city that I do love and have made my home in but I'm not going to stay here forever. I want to experience other forms of happiness in cities where I can appreciate the atmosphere.

  • Emily

    Constantly.

  • Ginny

    I definitely think of moving eventually. But that's the key part for me: eventually. I love DC, and I think it's a great place for me to be when I'm young and starting out — it's just so exciting, you know? But I do think that I won't stay here forever. If I do settle down (which I hope to do at some point), I'd like to do it somewhere near where I'm from (just not my hometown). And until then, I've always dreamed of working abroad, so maybe that will pan out. I just don't think that DC (or the metro area) would be somewhere I'd want to raise a family. Too many negative factors make that seem unappealing to me.

  • Moose

    DC was an exciting place to live fresh out of college. But it seems that, over time, the facade begins to wear thin for everybody and you see the ugly parts underneath. For example, I have spent years scratching my way up the totem pole and even though I now make significantly more than most of my friends from college, I can't afford to buy a home or even save very much because this city is so expensive to live in. I could justify paying $1500 a month for a 400 sq. ft. studio if I was living in a NYC or Paris or Rio, but in DC?… Really? What is this huge benefit we are getting for that price?

    As your second question correctly implies Belle, the transition out of politics/government can be messy and vague. Maybe some people are built for a DC career and because of that, they love DC. Or maybe it is a city that some you are meant to outgrow, a stepping stone.

  • Meghan

    I feel like DC is one of those places I could never stay put for life. Quite frankly, I think the city can be a bit toxic in large doses, especially as our political climate sours more and more. I love the city itself, but just the zeitgeist of it all can be too much and I need a breather. So I like to think of my time here as a “tour of duty”–I'm finishing up this five-year tour and moving to NY for a few years, but I'm sure I'll be back for a future round. It just comes with the territory of being interested in policy and politics.

  • KN

    It's so difficult to feel like DC Is a permanent place to stay when everything here is transitory. I'm not just talking about politics (I don't even work in the political arena), but people come here in their 20's and stay in their jobs 1-2 years before moving on to something else, often moving on to another city. How can you feel grounded in a place when everything is constantly changing? There's an aspect to that which is exciting, but I am looking to leave and go to a place where I don't feel the push to move from a job every two years, where my friends aren't constantly looking for the next step and moving away, and I can establish a more grounded life.

  • Nina

    I think about moving all the time, but I would have to find a job back in the Midwest (not impossible, my DC-honed skills will translate). I have been out here two years and will stay through the 2012 inauguration for sure, but after that I will start looking. The VA-DC-MD set up leads to systematic inequality, abetted by racism and income inequality. So few people have roots in this area it leads to self-centered, short term thinking in everything from city planning to asshole cyclists. And I want to have kids some day and would not raise them in this environment.

    There are many things about DC I love as a single career focused twenty something -restaurants and bars, museums, job opportunities, and so on. But I won't be this person forever so I don't think DC will suit me forever.

  • m

    DC was the perfect post-school stepping-stone city for me. Small enough and affordable enough (at least in the late 90s) and fun enough for a small-town gal like me. I have some friends from those years who've stayed – either settling in the suburbs or in the city proper–usually writing, working for a think tank, or working at a federal agency–and setting up a cozy, comfortable life.

    For me, I craved something more exciting and interesting and bigger. After awhile, DC just felt too small and too dull. Even though some friends settled, many left for grad school or bigger opportunities in NY or SF, which made my relationships feel depressingly cyclical. Now I'm in NYC with a private sector job that moves at faster pace than anything I experienced or imagined when I lived in DC. That's not for everyone but it is possible, even in a place like NY, to find it and still have a work-life balance.

  • jfd

    I have the best of both worlds! After spending several years on the Hill, I accepted a position with the senator's office back in the state. I still work in the political sphere but enjoy the cost of living, pace, and all-around 'normalcy' of life outside of DC. I do miss the marble halls and the amazing people I met there but at least I have Belle to remind me of what a professional wardrobe can look like!

  • R

    This is really interesting because I'm starting my International Relations Masters next year and am currently deciding between a couple of schools, some in DC, some not, and I'm trying to determine how important it is that I be in DC.

  • Shannon

    I love DC, and don't want to move away. But the cost of living is so astronomical that if my husband and I choose to start a family, I don't know how we'll manage. I don't want the sort of life where we both work long hours, commute to BFE, shunt the kids into daycare, and struggle. I'd want to move somewhere cheaper with less traffic and shorter commutes.

    I will say that the notion “DC is a transient city” is myopic hogwash. Lots of Washingtonians live here and are from here – you just don't socialize with them. Three of your friends who are in the same income bracket and education level as you, moving to New York, does NOT mean everyone in the city moves to New York or that the city is transient. The plural of anecdote is not “data.”

  • KC

    It's funny because a friend of mine did it, moved to Scotland for her ner husband's job, and is blogging about it. She is still pretty indiffrent about it, but planing on moving back and coming back to the Hill. Crazy girl.

  • Rebecca

    I bring a very different perspective here because I'm actually from this area (yes we are out there). I've lived in other areas and I've lived out in the MD suburbs, but I love it hear. And if I can help it, I will never leave. But I understand that I never had to deal with sticker shock and I'm used to the traffic. But as open space a toxic environment, I compare DC to NYC. And I think we come out very well in that comparison.

  • Ash

    My husband and I talk about this a lot actually. While we both love DC there are a few things that make it a little unpractical for family life later on. Being young and living in the city has been a great experience. But the idea of having kids and living in the city is another story. We would never in our right minds send our children to DC public schools so off to Sidwell they go. At the cost of a mid-size car every year. Of course we could move to the burbs but is it worth the amount of time we would spend commuting? Who knows.

    Kids are a few years off and they won't be in school for a few years after that so for now we are down with the DMV but who knows where we will be in 10 years.

  • k

    In my field I can pretty much either work in NYC or DC, I picked DC because there were more entry level positions but I also see it as a tour of duty so to speak. At 26 I already feel entirely too old for this city and cannot wait to move!

    Also the the person wondering if they should do their IR masters in DC or elsewhere – what ever you pick make sure it is in a place where you can get a solid internship while studying otherwise you will be at a competitive disadvantage once you leave!

  • XF

    I was always involved in politics in my home state and coulnd't wait to head to DC after college. I found a great job, but a year and a half later I definitely feel the pull to switch gears and start climbing that totem pole here, which I imagine will start to feel pretty exhausting by the time I'm 30. The opportunities here are so much greater than they are at home, and right now things in the state (FL) are crazy enough to warrant being away from it all. But deep down, someday I want to go back and find a way to apply everything I've learned in DC and serve the community I grew up in. DC is great right now though, and though its expensive, I think being savvy and taking time to look around can really help save money on a lot of things that allow you to actually enjoy the city (restaurants and museums, etc.) I think it just takes effort to try and do things outside of work, even though most people are usually so exhausted and tempted to just stay home when they do have free time, but it really makes a difference in avoiding burnout. Things like exploring new consignment shops and popping into free museums for an afternoon instead of shopping online and renting movies really help me enjoy life outside of work. Otherwise, DC can really feel like an out-of-touch bubble. I can see how a lot of people would feel a bit disillusioned after some time though. To those folks, I just hope wherever they move to they can find a way to apply their knowledge and skills honed here and make some difference in their communities, where you really do see the rewards firsthand. -A yet-to-be disillusioned 20 something.

  • dclover

    as someone who grew up in the DC area, and although I have a desire to move somewhere for a while, it makes me sad when I hear people, specifically hill staffers, talk about leaving or not loving DC. you dont hear that kind of talk in Boston or NYC. I always want to shout HEY! this my town your bashing! I know your job is tough, but stop hating on my city!

  • Belle

    Dclover: I feel you on that. There are many things that I like about DC, but it's just so different from where I grew up. I will say though, if I left tomorrow I'd probably a little homesick for it.

  • E

    I have a similar experience in that most of my friends want to leave D.C. for either grad school or just to “live in NYC while we're young.” I personally can't justify leaving this place. I've always wanted to work in politics at the Federal level and it would make no sense for me to try and find that somewhere else. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I would love to live somewhere warmer, and with kinder people, and maybe even with a better cost of living, but…right now this is where I'm supposed to be. It annoys me when people have a “grass is always greener” mentality. Moving around a lot and switching jobs just kind of contributes to the whole “I'm still trying to find myself” phenomenon that young people think they have to embrace to be happy.

  • e

    Very interesting to read as someone who is born and bred in this area. I think there is a very limited view of what life in DC means for people who are here working on the Hill or in politics. For the rest of us, it's just another city, and one we happen to call home. There's no reason I would ever feel the need to leave here for reasons other than why people move out of any city – lack of space, cost of living, etc. To echo Shannon, this isn't necessarily any more of a transient city than NY, LA, SF, etc. You just don't know the people who have actually lived in this area for more than 4 years out of college. You can absolutely live here and raise a family – without them becoming self-centered people.

    (BTW, talk to someone who actually grew up in this area. The people you meet out at bars who are total a-holes are people who moved here for a career or school and think they're actually important. They are not. We may be cynical here but at least we have a sense of reality.)

  • Capitol Hill Barbie

    That is so funny, because I was just thinking/talking about this with my husband this weekend after we visited family. He's a DC native and I know so many people in DC who grew up there (no, not Rockville, people are actually born and live in DC) and I honestly thought we would spend our lives there. After two years away now, I can say that I miss so much about DC. I miss the work, I miss the politics, I miss our friends who are still there, I miss my old running route, I miss Sweetgreen salads and Z Burger onion rings. I love NY and this is where we are now, but just as there are people who dream about getting out of DC, there are plenty of people who still consider it home and not a stopover in life.

  • CAM

    I'm from the Virginia suburbs around DC, so maybe I'm “used to” all of the negatives that people have mentioned. But I think that most cities or towns will have some sort of “toxic” element to their culture, though it may be different than DC. I think “E” is right that you can focus on the negatives or you can focus on what you really love about a place.

  • Katherine

    I don't work on the hill but I just bought a house there. I used to think about leaving all the time but hubby and I have good jobs here (one in government and one in the private sector.) And we've made lots of friends in our neighborhood who've also settled into life here.

    To the twenty-somethings who already feel too old for DC, maybe you're just spending time in the wrong places or with people you've outgrown. I wouldn't want to frequent the places I hung out when I was in college either. There is a grown-up grounded side to DC. Not everyone is picking up and leaving after a year or two.

    I get sick of the traffic and sick of the crime, but Capitol Hill is a great place to live.

  • LN

    I have a somewhat different perspective than most here in that I am a native Washingtonian who spent some time abroad as an exchange student while in high school, and who then left DC to go to college on the West Coast. To say that I couldn't wait to get the h*ll out of here was an understatement….When I finished school, I moved back to the DC area with a plan to stay for a year or 2 max, and then head back to the West Coast for grad school. However, during that year or 2, looking at things with a more-adult perspective than I'd had as a teenager, I discovered how much this area had to offer — museums, performing arts, educational opportunities, fascinating/challenging work possibilities, interesting people, etc. — & I've never left.

  • Aunt_Pete

    I LOVED living in DC for a few years, but the cost of living is increasing faster than my salary. Financially I’m not sure it could ever be a long term option for me. I'm also tired of being 2,000 miles away from my family. I’m going to business school Fall of 2013. I’ll probably look for jobs in the Midwest when I graduate.

  • MominHeels

    First off “e” you rock – your comment is spot on.

    Second, the population of folks who work on the Hill do not comprise the majority of people who work AND LIVE in DC – a whole bunch of them live in the VA (Orange Line sound familiar). My point is that DC and DC day to day life is made up of a whole lot more than politics and staffer's jobs.

    Third, I lived annd worked in the city in the late '90s and became burnt out and hightailed it with my husband to Portland, Oregon – the antithesis of DC. Three months in and I thought I was going to shoot myself. I was bored, completely frustrated with a very different set of socialization protocols, and trust me, every town/city has politics which consumes a great deal of oxygen, – but local politics is far more mind numbing and provincial then national politics. Mind you we were super young too. But, uh, yeah, we moved back to DC pronto.

    Fourth, I am raising a family IN THE CITY OF DC. It can be done. And we have a picket fence. and we are 10 minute walk to the red line. Oh and we have our child enrolled in a bilingual, montessori school that goes through 8th grade. It's free because it is a charter school. She is one of 15 kids in a classroom with two teachers. Again, for free.

    Love DC.

  • Dr. Jean Grey

    Simply put, the cost of living is too high. I love DC. My dream is to have a big house in rural Virginia and a small apartment in the city. In the ideal world, I'd come into an office twice a week and overnight in my apartment and live in a small town the rest of the time. I think this is very doable, but will take time. It's just doesn't make sense to try to get a million to get a decent home for a family in DC, then pay for private school, parking, and everything else. I think it'll be cheaper to do it this way in the long run and it'll be neat for the kids to have a “city house,” too!

  • Helena

    MominHeels, thank you! I hate when people say you can't raise a family in the city, particularly THIS city. It's not for everyone, of course, but my husband love our urban neighborhood, love the diversity, love the accessibility and want to share all of that with our kids, if we have them. We also fantastize about spending a year abroad, but our roots are here and it will always be home.

  • kim

    Born & bred – I never thought I'd leave….until I spent 4 years elsewhere. I realized how Big City I was, and how little city can have both more and less opportunities. More as in less competition, less as in…well, less opportunities overall! I came back for in-state tuition, but will leave again because of the overcrowding and cost of living (esp. starting a family). My parents retired here and I think they're insane. Yet DC is still amazing and I will bring my kids back here often. It isn't as transient as people think. When I moved back here from little city, tons of people I know made the same move, and have no plans to ever leave. Also have no idea how this place can seem small. I mean there are few bigger cities at all – NYC, SF, Chitown, LA. That's it!!

  • Hill Mama

    The hubs and I talk about this all the time! We go back and forth… we really love DC, we love our neighborhood (Capitol Hill), and we really love walking to work. Plus, in my humble opinion, our jobs are awesome. My guy gets to be on TV and comment on his favorite issues. I get to work on health issues where I can actually impact national policy. But now that we have a little one, the cost of DC is wearing on us. I have no idea how people like us are supposed to afford the $800K houses on our block, plus daycare and saving for retirement. Heck, we are lucky compared to most people; we got off with tiny student loans thanks to scholarships.

    I dream about moving to Austin and being close to all my friends. Or moving to the Bay area to be by my family. But I have no idea what either of us would “do” there. Our jobs only exist in one place: here.

  • SC2

    I probably have a pretty different view since most people I know who work in or around DC are scientists and engineers, and most of them don't mind working in DC for the rest of their careers. Most don't live in DC proper, but find living in the MD & VA metro-accessible areas just fine for and just a hair cheaper. The only reasons they'd leave DC would be for grad school or for a private firm relocating them out to California or another country.

    I work in the MD suburbs now, and I kind of miss the city life of DC. The closest metro station is a 30-min drive away.

  • MegamiTenchi

    I actually read your blog a.) because I love your fashion advice and b.) because you're on the Hill and I'm not (yet?). I want nothing more than to live in DC metro (Old Town Alexandria, but probably too much to hope for :P ) and work at Blair House (eff all if I know how to make THAT happen :sigh: ), so for now I read you and somewhat vicariously live through your fabulous, sartorial existence on the Hill. My husband is from Fairfax City, so I've spent enough time in the area to know I want what DC has, and that I do not long for a place where pie's are cooling on the window sill and children play in the cul de sac.

  • HMB

    While I don't work on the Hill, I am one of the many in my mid-twenties watching all my friends leave DC for home/grad school/etc. I thought when I moved here that I would be here for a year or two and then move somewhere down South. Yet here I am, almost four years later, with absolutely no plans to leave. The city definitely wears on some people, esp. those who may not be so Type A or driven, but it also has a wonderful diversity of neighborhoods and opportunities and there's always something to do. Plus, it's a quick drive outside the city to go hiking or wine tasting. It's so easy to make your own fun and it's impossible to be bored unless you really try. For the forseeable future, I can't imagine living anywhere else.

  • Kit

    I quite like DC and I love my job, but I have to echo some of the previous posters in saying that the cost of living is incredibly wearing, especially with prices continuing to rise. It gets a little discouraging to see so much of my salary going towards rent month after month and actually owning my own place seems like a pipe dream.

  • BBB

    I don't know if anyone else has said it yet, so I will – I just plain don't like DC. (shock, gasp!). I know, I know…no one actually says that. But I don't. I think part of it is that I missed that post-collegiate rush to DC. Further, I moved here with my fiance, and while I have many college friends here – they're all still single and our lives are in different stages. So perhaps my view of DC is for personal reasons, but I just haven't found my niche yet. There are lots of things to appreciate – lots of things to do. But meh. I do often wonder if I would feel different had I accepted the 24k SA job offer when I was 21 and graduating college (I have so much appreciation for those of you that do/did that – I could see know way to make it work). Would I love it more? Would I still be single? So in short, my answer is that yes – I can't wait to leave!

  • Maggie

    My husband moved back to the Midwest five years ago and now we're moving back to DC this summer. We simply cannot take the slow, Midwest lifestyle. We tried. It doesn't work for us anymore.

  • Lyndsi

    I did leave the city and moved back to the area I grew up in. I enjoyed the work but not the atmosphere — I hated taking the metro everyday and the general attitude of people in D.C. (you know, snobby). Bonus was that I'm now able to work from home and still do what I was doing in D.C. Win-win for me.

  • K

    I grew up in the exurbs (strip malls, office parks, houses that are miles away from anything except other houses) and I LOVE living in DC. I'd so much rather suffer through a 20 minute metro ride than have to drive e v e r y w h e r e . Most of America isn't split between big city and small, idyllic towns… a good chunk of it is really, really ugly. In DC, it is very easy to escape to nature when you need to, but you have all the conveniences of living in a modern city. I wish DC were closer to the beach and a bit cheaper… but I'd rather pay for my lifestyle than have a lifestyle that I would hate.

  • Sara

    As much as I'm enjoying the amenities of the District, I CONSTANTLY dwell on the thought on going back to the West Coast. I miss driving, I miss friendly people, I miss yards and the beach and the chiller-vibe in Southern California; aka the complete opposite of DC's everybusy mindset.

  • KRF

    This was a great discussion piece today! On days when I am frustrated by metro delays, long work hours, steep mortgage payments, and daycare costs I do my best to remind myself of the incredible opportunities that the D.C. area has brought me and my husband both in terms of career and creating our own “D.C family”. Whenever I doubt our ability to raise our new little one without any family close by I think about why we came here. I am excited about the friends and experiences our baby gal will have that would not have been possible where I grew up. So, I hope to remain in D.C. for years to come!

  • A

    Neither my husband nor I are from DC originally, but we love it here and just bought a house in the city and plan to stay forever. We both work in policy and have great work-life balances. We could stay in our current jobs forever or move on if we choose. There are lots of kids in our new neighborhood for future little ones to play with, hopefully. But my favorite thing about DC is that everyone here is incredibly smart and passionate about what they do as well as their families. I don't see that same passion in other cities as much as here, or at least not for such wonderful work that helps people in so many ways. I love that you meet high-level scholars and leaders of their fields when you're shopping for toothpaste at CVS. What a wonderful town. I'm sorry more people can't see it that way.

  • Whitney

    I'm from Mayberry, basically, and experienced the typical idyllic childhood that the name Mayberry conjures up in one's mind. I moved to the DC area for work because there were no jobs available in my field in Mayberry. High cost of living aside, I loved everything about DC – the pace, the culture, the diversity, the architecture, the food, the Metro. Then, I had to move back to Mayberry for a year and discovered that the neighbors baking pies were mostly loud-mouthed and narrow-minded and the kids playing stick-ball were just taking a break from doing meth. Not only that, but the salaries in Mayberry were so much lower than they were in the city, so you pretty much end up spending most of your take-home pay on rent anyway. I used to think that I'd like to move back “home” one day…now I'm sure that I never will.

    Now the BF and I live in a totally different state together, and we constantly talk about how much we miss DC and hope to get back there one day.

  • kl

    Gosh… I echo so much of everyone’s sentiments. I moved here from Washington State because I could not find a decent job to save my life. I struggled after college and had various office jobs that were mediocre at best and finally I had found a Government job. Stable, lots of growth, and a decent pay… why would I say “no” to all that? So, I moved here. Never thinking about how this city might be so vastly different from west coast. I have grown up with seeing so much open space my whole life and now I am stuck inside the metro belt and can’t get out most of the week. I so appreciate the opportunity, and mostly being able to take care of myself fully as any adult should be able to do… but I miss my laid-back friends who don’t start the conversation with, “how’s work? Where are you going next with your career?” or “you should go to a grad school…” like grad school is for everyone and their ma mas… really??? Do we really need masters in everything to do a desk job? Seriously… Everyone here is just so wrapped up in their own self to even ask, “how are you doing today?” They always ask, “Where do you work?” or “what school did you graduate from?” It is all about credentials and creating network, but not about making human connections and really getting to know people. I miss that so much because all that should matter to anyone really is people. People matter above all. At least it does to me anyway. It is always about a cause and an issue but not about people who are suffering in the Capital (hunger games much???). Maybe if this city cared more about its inhabitants whether they are from this city or not, because we are all here anyway, and helped and cared for each other, this wouldn’t be such a cold heartless place. You can tell I’m all hippy dippy with love everyone bull but you think about what kind of world you want to live in and your children to grow up in and I would hope that what I’m saying makes sense to you too…

  • Nellie

    Belle, thank you so much for this post and to all your thoughtful, intelligent readers for their comments! As a native who's bounced around but loves policy/government work and may just make this my long-term home, I appreciate the support and love for DC as well as the non-judgy viewpoints of people who feel differently than me. I thought I'd get depressed reading the replies but was pleasantly surprised to see that many people, DC natives and non-natives, appreciate the charm of this city whether or not they love it enough to stay permanently.

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