Meet Tommy: A Phoenician who moved east to pursue his dreams of working in Washington D.C. and changing the world. In addition to serving in a contract role as the Executive Assistant to the Director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy (which is a fancy title meaning he works in the Pentagon), he spends as much time exploring, brunching, and gardening as possible.
Tell us a little about yourself: Who is Tommy?
I am a recent graduate of American University with a Master's Degree in International Affairs. Eight years ago, I moved from Phoenix to Washington D.C. to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree in World Politics from Catholic University. I now work for the Department of Defense [sidenote: his office is in the Pentagon!]. When I'm not working, I enjoy sightseeing around D.C. or traveling pretty much anywhere. Although D.C. has a lot to offer for such a small city, I make it a point to get out with my friends to other states. I also enjoy tending my indoor garden...which often fails, but I love having fresh herbs on hand whenever possible. Overall, I guess you'd say I am Arizonan who has not quite adopted the Washingtonian way of life.
What do you mean by that?
First off, don't get me wrong: I love D.C. Especially the brunches. However, living in such a small, fast-paced city comes with the trade-off that most people believe work has to totally envelop your life. Many people expect you to drop everything and work all the time, especially when you are an intern or in lower-level professional positions. I feel like the Arizona lifestyle is more laid-back and less competitive; people make more time for hobbies, and I miss hiking and how easy it is to get out and explore. Nevertheless, D.C. is becoming my home, and it’s where I have a career I love.
What exactly is your job? How did you get involved with it?
I became interested in international politics and the role of government when I was a kid. I really wanted to become an astronaut or an astronomer until I realized that NASA’s budget is totally in the hands of the government. That got me interested in learning about all of the issues government and the budget control. I still love to travel and explore and think these are really important. When I was in middle school, I traveled with an Ambassdor program, which allowed me to travel internationally. Experiencing this cultural diversity at such a young age really enhanced my curiosity. Naturally, when I went to college, I wanted to dive into global issues that everyone on the planet faces. Often, these issues seem unsolvable, but I want to be a part of those conversations and make those changes.
Is it difficult being a younger person involved in government?
At times, yes, because people still refer to me as a kid even though I’m 26 years old. It’s difficult having less work experience than those around me, and sometimes I have to put in more background work to play catch-up or ask those seemingly unimportant questions that might slow more experienced people down. However, the State & Defense Departments have done a really good job hiring a diverse array of employees. I work for a woman! It’s much less of an "old boys club" than most would guess, and I actually get a lot of respect from those around me. However, even though I feel supported by my colleagues, the bureaucracy of government often slows down creative solutions and unique ideas. I have tons of ideas for innovation, but they are often shut down because of the sheer vastness of the government. It can be disheartening, but change can still happen, and ideas are still appreciated…that's why I'm here.
What advice would you give to young people looking to get a job in Washington D.C.?
DC is very competitive on a number of levels – for a job, housing, everything. It’s expensive! People work long, hard hours – all day, all night. Aim for finding something you’re passionate about because if you're putting in long days of work for something you don’t love, you’ll leave. However, if you find something you’re passionate about, you’ll love it. It’s a fast-paced metropolis with the benefits of a small city. Especially in politics, you’ll meet a lot of people with whom you have mutual friends. You make amazing connections and are in the heart of the country and, oftentimes, the news. Move here, get to know these people. Eventually you'll look back and realize the ride was well worth it.
Do you ever get star-struck being surrounded by world leaders and historical monuments?
It’s crazy because you start to take for granted just how cool it is to be surrounded by all of these places with historical and global significance. I have to take a step back and realize, “Wow. I work in the Pentagon. The head of the U.S. military for the past 70 years. Decisions are made here that affect the lives of people all over the world.” You kind of forget that history is happening all around you. Sometimes I enjoy going out of my way to see the Washington Monument or the White House to remind myself just how lucky I am to live here. When friends and family come, I take advantage of the opportunity to explore and be tourist-y and really appreciate my surroundings.
What does life look like outside of work?
Brunch is a way of life (especially mine) in Washington D.C., and I love checking out new spots and sipping mimosas with my friends. We also hang out and play board games or play tourist and visit museums, many of which are free. I also try to make it outside the city, so I don’t get “island fever”. My favorite places to travel are Great Falls, Shenandoah National Park, the beach in Rehoboth, Delaware, or taking the bus or train to New York City for the night. Having lived most of my life in the Southwest, I try to soak up as many East Coast adventures as I can.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
When I was an intern at the State Department, one of the senior foreign service officers sat down with me and told me about her early career experiences, which was fascinating. What really struck me though, was that she reminded me it’s not the big projects I need to be concerned about, not the policies. She reminded me to take my time and learn how things work. Get to know people. Listen to them. Figure out not only how to implement policy but also how it will affect the people around me. Take advantage of opportunities to get involved in different departments and issues because you never know how that will influence you or impact you in the future. Just because you don’t love what you’re doing right now, take advantage of the experience and learn throughout your life and career because it will benefit you later on.
Where do you see yourself in one year? five years? ten? What changes? What stays the same?
In a year, I’ll probably still be working in the Pentagon with (hopefully) a new path opening up for a foreign service opportunity. In five years, I see myself as a foreign service officer, in an Embassy, probably in a lower-level position….processing visas or something, but still looking toward the future and gaining knowledge and experience for the bigger issues I’m really passionate about. In ten years, I hope to be an influential foreign service officer with a direct impact on policy, so I can be a voice for those countries I’d be serving.
You're a self-proclaimed tea convert...what happened?
I was introduced to tea in Japan where I fell in love with green tea. I used to be a major coffee person, but it always left me feeling miserable – shaking, tired. Now I stock up with tea at work – lots of different varieties, so I can drink it all day long. I love coming home after work, making a cup of Charles Grey, Manhattan Black, or Green Gold as a little pick-me-up before I head to the gym or out to dinner. Often, I’ll relax with a cup of tea when I make breakfast on the weekend, too. I find I get all the positive caffeine benefits I craved from coffee without the negative side effects.
Well, then: What’s your favorite tea & snack to pair with it?
Of course, the Charles Grey – particularly the London Fog preparation with some orange slices. Honestly, the first time I tried the London Fog, I was blown away.
Know a tea lover who's shaking things up and living the Teaspressa lifestyle? Send us their info and leave some love for Tommy below!