Who says women can’t … do just about anything? This is the question posed by the editors of ForbesWoman, and I challenge you all to consider finishing the statement. Here’s my ending:
My ‘power’ moment came in 2002, when I was standing outside the doors to the House Floor, watching then-president George W. Bush give the first State of the Union address after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. After four intense years working toward my master’s in journalism, I was awarded a fellowship as a Washington DC correspondent. My beat: Politics, baby. I was covering Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Barney Frank, two key legislators in a very pivotal time in our country.
I was petrified to leave Boston. I had a great apartment, amazing friends and a job that paid the bills. But after many sleepless nights, a petition for a leave of absence from the company I was working for, and an unforgettable party thrown in my honor, I packed up the rental car and drove to Washington, DC. My mission: to attend the State of the Union address.
My mentor and then-editor of Fortune Magazine’s Washington bureau said to me, ‘This is Washington. If you want it, don’t stop until you get it. Make yourself known, and fast.’ And so I did.
On $400 a month, I survived in Washington DC on baked beans, Tang and a credit card. At 26-years-old, I was on a mission: to make a mark in a city where only the strong survive.
I had only a few weeks to meet the right people who could get me in the right doors to watch one of the most important political speeches of our lifetime. Whether or not you agreed with his politics was irrelevant – Pres. Bush was delivering a speech that was going to unify a nation, after one of the most horrific attacks.
I studied the scene. I knew every entrance into every building, every assistant’s name and every piece of legislation on every representative I was following. I knew where they met for lunch, how they took their coffee and where to find them before they took the last train home for the evening. The morning of Jan. 29, 2002, I received a phone call from one of the deputy assistants in Sen. Jack Reed’s office (Dem-RI).
“Melanie, I’d like to invite you to watch the State of the Union address with Sen. Reed’s office tonight. We’ll be in his office and then we’ll head to the House for the… ”
The rest of the sentence is lost on me. I filed my stories for the day, dressed and ran out the door down Connecticut Avenue to Capitol Hill. I arrived in time to get my press badge and walk through the underground tunnels to hear, live, the State of the Union. I had my pen and paper ready to take quotes and interviews.
I watched the entire speech and went home that night feeling accomplished and ready to rule the world.
Sleep was minimal, adrenaline was high. A few weeks later, I walked into Sen. Kennedy’s office. It was my first meeting with the senator – a man I had revered all my life, and followed with great respect. We sat in his office and he asked me what I hoped to achieve from this fellowship.
“Inspiration, and a job,” I said.
He looked at me, leaned over in his chair and said affirmatively, in his perfect Kennedy-Boston-accent, “It’s hard work, Kid. Keep your head up and your ears open, and you’ll make your mark.”
He would know.
I left a high paying job in Boston (which, by the way, I was miserable in) to pursue a career in journalism. I knew I was taking a major pay cut and job insecurity, but I knew what I wanted to do, and I was determined to get it done.
Who says women can’t reinvent themselves? Certainly, not me. I’m still paying off my graduate student loans, and I’m pleased to say the credit card bill I accumulated is almost paid off, but the money and time I invested in my four months in Washington has paved my career. I came back to Boston and worked at one of the top newspapers in the nation, The Boston Globe, before launching into a travel writing career.
The lesson: Women are always reinventing themselves, but a little inspiration and a lot of hard work will get you everywhere.