Listen to this episode of Working with guest Chase Woods:
The first day that Chase Woods walked through the White House’s gates, he was terrified, worried that he didn’t belong. As he explains in this episode of Working, he was there to serve as a summer intern in the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach. But even if he initially felt out of place, the opportunity to serve in the White House was deeply felt and deeply personal. “I’m a young black man who wants to be in public service. So, obviously, Barack Obama is one of my idols,” he explains.
Over the course of the months that followed, he started to lose that sense that he was the wrong person in the wrong place. Indeed, there were moments when it felt like any other office. Whenever he needed to reminded himself of where he was and what he was doing, he would walk outside, survey the grounds, and remember that he wasn’t “selling insurance or anything.”
Unlike many of the staffers around him, Woods didn’t have to take his work home with him. Nevertheless, he still found himself processing information with the White House in mind. “I would see something appear in the news, and I would immediately think, OK, how is this going to affect my day tomorrow?” Woods says. Over time, the particulars of his work also started to inflect his mindset in other ways, inspiring him to think about information in more data-driven terms.
Being one of the least powerful people in an extraordinarily powerful place brings its own uncertainties and anxieties. “It was kind of a hurdle to get over that mentality of, Oh, I’m not contributing,” Woods says. “But having left after the 10 weeks or so, I very much feel like I had the opportunity to contribute.” Still, like everyone at the White House, Woods had to work through the everyday realities of life in Washington, D.C., even as he was toiling over issues with national impact. With those practicalities in mind, he also tells us how he learned to negotiate everyday questions like where to eat lunch.
One stereotypical intern task Woods never had to complete at the White House? Head out on a coffee run. “I would’ve happily fetched coffee,” he told us, but no one asked. “Thank goodness.” In this episode, he tells us about the things he did have to do and where they might lead him.
Then, in a Slate Plus extra, Woods chats with former Slate intern Ian Prasad Philbrick about interning in an expensive city full of transitory people. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at slate.com/workingplus.
Podcast production by Mickey Capper.