Of all the things I saw on my recent trip to the White House, I was most impressed by a 13×9 inch pan of brownies that one of the Dr. Jill Biden’s staff members brought to celebrate a coworker’s birthday. Now it was also really neat to see and sit behind the Vice President’s ceremonial desk – not to mention all the signatures of former VPs on the inside of the desk drawer — but something about those brownies stuck out to me.
As I stood staring at the brownies, a good friend of mine, the communications director for the Second Lady, introduced me to three other members of Dr. Biden’s staff. I expected them to dig into political issues, ask what I did for a living, or engage in some other formal communication greeting. Instead they asked how I could be friends with “this guy” for so long! We chatted about Washington professional sports, photography-crazy tourists, and popular music, which then transitioned them into talking shop for a few minutes to pick out the theme song for an upcoming event that their boss was keynoting.
Based on the iconic photograph of Nixon bowling, I was taught, or perhaps thought, that Nixon built the bowling alley in the White House but it was actually Truman. It was a Presidential bowling alley if there ever was one. Marble lanes Diamond flakes in all the balls. Hand crafted leather shoes. Not really. It was a 2-lane bowling alley, just like every other bowling alley in the world…except this one didn’t smell like smoke. You could bring your own food and beer too – the funniest part of this scene was seeing two guys bowl in suits.
So what did I learn from a pan of brownies, observing two behind-the-scenes conversations between White House staffers, and rolling a 131 in the White House?
That breaking bread together strengthens human bonds by reminding us that we’re human. That clear and consistent communication is important no matter where you work, and that bowling is bowling no matter where you are. Most important, this trip reminded me that people in power are just that. People. Really passionate people who pursue that passion with great vigor.
Don’t sell yourself short. Follow your passions with gusto! Powerful people have armies of strategists, analysts, promoters, security teams, and a plethora of other agents working on their behalf. They don’t know everything that’s going on in the world, they just have a team of people that helps them look omniscient when the moment calls for it. They eat brownies, talk sports, and struggle to throw strikes just like the rest of us.