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How is Success Defined? Part 2: Burn out

How is Success Defined? Part 2: Burn out
Friends in south caroline

Kate, Matt, and Sarah at a Barack Obama rally during the South Carolina primaries.

What do you do when someone you trusted and loved tells you that they find your lack of success and happiness in your career to be a problem for them?

If you ever have the not-so-good fortune to find yourself in a position to be demeaned and belittled by someone for your “status” in life, I recommend pepper spray. I find myself as a southern woman asking the question: who raised you to think this was appropriate to say out loud? But the reality is some people really truly view status and success differently.

After nearly 10 years in politics I recently experienced what many refer to as “burn out.” Some due to exhaustion, some due to a general cynicism with the way Washington works (See Sam Youngman’s piece in Politico Magazine) and it’s ever present disconnection to the rest of the country. I have achieved more by 31 with less education and less money than most people do with law degrees by the time they turn 41. I’m proud of my work, the money I raised for candidates (which by today’s standards probably looks minuscule), and the pieces I had published in The Nation, Mother Jones, and at CNN back during the 2008 Presidential campaign.  I have the blessing and misfortune of having peaked at around 27 or 28 years old.

And somewhere along the way, the work I was doing stopped being meaningful. It became more about making other people money than making a difference or helping get a law passed or preventing someone from something crazy etc. When I was writing stories I met people whose lives were forever changed by something important or they themselves were impacting the world doing something important and their stories themselves were meaningful.

I felt a kinship with Youngman, a fellow “southerner” who, I imagine, was raised with the same values and emphasis on humility that I was.  Like him, I was happier when I was traveling the country – mostly because I was with Matt Segal or a former co-blogger Mike Connery and talking and writing about our generation.

Several months ago Matt asked me why I didn’t write anymore saying he missed it. Some of it was that I was consulting for my friend’s campaign and I pulled down my website because I was afraid of any backlash she might incur because I’m “colorful” but some of it was that living in DC there are few stories to tell. Oh look!  Another cocktail party I am forcing myself to go to this week so that I look like I’m still in the beltway culture. It gets old when the most interesting stories you hear are from bartenders and escorts.

I don’t know what the solution is and I’m still struggling to find it, but Matt has asked me to go back on the road with him and I’m inclined to do it. I may never be considered successful in the eyes of the thoughtless individual who didn’t know my history of amazing and incredible accomplishments throughout my career.  But with friends like Matt and Jarrett, like my friends back home in Oklahoma who have been so motivational, thoughtful, and supportive maybe getting back to writing and telling others’ stories is in my future.