The Importance of Perspective

Alyssa Mastromonaco’s New Book, and Having the Confidence to Tell Your Story

As an avid listener to Pod Save America, the politics podcast produced by several Obama White House alumni, I heard about Alyssa Mastromonaco’s new book, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? shortly after its release. Mastromonaco had been a colleague and friend of the Pod Save America folks both before and during their time in the White House, and she was a natural fit to discuss her experience, give her opinion of the current administration, and of course promote her new book.

After listening to her interview, I decided to purchase the book. I don’t do this very often, most of my reading is done online or in periodicals, but something drew me in. Part of that draw was almost certainly a desire to learn more about what those who have worked for Barack Obama have to say about him and his administration, but there was more to it. For one, she seemed quite young to have been a deputy chief of staff, and I wondered how she rose to that rank at such a young age. For another, I wanted to learn how a White House really works, what kinds of activities and plans are developed behind the scenes, and reading her work seemed like it would deliver that kind of information. Lastly, I simply enjoyed her disposition and thought it quite likely that I would appreciate her perspective on things.

The book delivered in all of these areas. It was indeed interesting to read about Obama, his transition from the Junior Senator from Illinois, to up-and-comer in the Democratic Party, to presidential candidate, to the most powerful person in the world. I learned some very surprising, intriguing facts about the White House, how administrations are run, and the government in general. The best part about the book, though, ended up being Mastromonaco’s delivery, wit, background, and most importantly, perspective.

From her time in college, to working on Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign, to her time with Obama, Mastromonaco provided interesting, unique insights. Her book is organized not chronologically but instead by traits and advice, giving her the opportunity to use her life experiences as a way drive a point home without worrying too much about muddying up the timeline.

Mastromonaco’s experience as a young woman in the White House is eye-opening and revealing. To be frank, it led me to think of and consider all sorts of different things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. There are some things you might expect to find in a book like this; descriptions of the stress of leaving behind friends and a job in the Senate to work on a Presidential campaign; the difficulties that IBS presents to someone who is regularly traveling abroad with the President; the intimidation one might feel walking into an interview with Charlie Rose. There are also some great bits of advice, particularly regarding preparedness and financial security, that anyone who reads this work could benefit from.

And then, there are the things that I wouldn’t have thought of because they don’t and wouldn’t affect my life — like the fact that there was no tampon dispenser in the West Wing. Now, this would be an inconvenience to women in any office, but to women who need to travel through full security clearance to get into and out of their place of work, all while staying on a very specific and extremely important schedule, this was a disaster. Mastromonaco helped solve this issue, tampons are now accessible in the West Wing, but this story is a strong representation of much more that I wouldn’t have ever considered had I not read this book.

Or, perhaps more importantly, had she not written it. One of the most interesting part of Mastromonaco’s story is the deep anxiety and ineptitude that she felt upon leaving the White House. After spending 6 successful years there, she decided it was best to leave before the end of Obama’s second term. It was a great run, but her time had come to an end. Still, she felt powerless upon leaving. She suddenly did not have an important position in the most powerful office in the country, and she had to look for work. She wondered what she should do, what she could do. She describes struggling to find a job with purpose and, in a very meta moment, goes into the difficulty she had writing the book. She struggled with being confident about her abilities and her place in the world.

I think this speaks volumes. At times, everyone struggles with finding their voice, or their place, or their confidence. In this story we find a young, accomplished Obama White House alumna feeling this way and having trouble motivating herself to take the next step. I often speak to people who don’t think that anyone would have an interest in what they have to say, or what they might create, or what opinions they might have about the world.

This is not an uncommon thing, but it is something we should reject. I’m glad Alyssa Mastromonaco wrote this book not only because it shows how cool and interesting her job was, but because it brings to light so many interesting, individualized stories that the world would never have known had she not written it. We may not all work for the White House, but each individual’s perspective and voice is unique, and often something that is seemingly unremarkable to a potential author or those around them may be quite intriguing to others.

Alyssa’s perspective on the things that have happened in her life, her day to day and the marquee events, is truly valuable and interesting. While it’s certainly true that she’s had an exceptional life thus far, this idea is not exceptional. Share your perspective and speak out with your voice. You never know how it’s going to affect and inform the lives of others.