Revitalize, Repurpose: An Interview with Jeff Vorberger
When you work in politics, it’s easy to let happy hours, late hours in the office, and rooftop receptions replace the much deeper need humans have for community. Having worked on Capitol Hill, it’s true that craft beers from western energy-producing states, office camaraderie from tracking amendments at midnight, or taking in the view of the Capitol from 101 Constitution Ave with Olympic athletes are all enjoyable experiences. But they cannot answer the deep questions we all share about life’s purpose, about values greater than policy objectives, and about identities at rest, without any need to have photo ops with the famous or powerful.
Sometimes, though, these experiences open the door to deeper human interactions. Today’s interview is with a friend and colleague, Jeff Vorberger. I first met Jeff when I was a new energy LA on the Hill—but since starting Liberatus, our conversations have turned away from the energy industry and towards work culture, meaning in work, and developing your talents. So here’s to connecting with our colleagues at deeper levels, here’s to knowing who we were created to be, and offering that to the world instead of joining the never-ending quest for power. As we kick off Issue 016, here’s to going back to one of the most basic of all ideas: “know thyself.”
-Caleb Paxton, Liberatus Founder
What drew you into politics?
If I may tweak the question a bit to ask “who drew me into politics?”, then leading the pack were a teacher and my grandmother.
Betsy Wilson’s 5th-grade classroom has had a lasting impact on me. It was interactive and vibrant. She was skilled at reaching each student individually according to their unique learning style, while also keeping the whole class moving through the curriculum together. She led us in really cool projects throughout the year that became legendary among her students. Our class took part in a months-long project on the 1984 Presidential election. Outside of the classroom, it required watching the debates and conventions, reading and listening to media coverage, and generally keeping apprised of the campaigns. That was easy for me – I loved it! From then on, Presidential conventions were must-see-TV for me.
My Grandma Audrey volunteered for various political campaigns and causes. She instilled in her son (my Dad), and them in me, the importance of engaging in civic activities and paying attention to community, country and world events. She was passionate about her politics, but never passed judgement on others with differing views. Grandma was a devout Christian, and there was never any doubt as to her priority between God and politics.
As we’ve connected apart from working on energy issues, you’ve mentioned a few resources that have helped you reset in your work. What have been your favorites?
For about a year I visited regularly with a career coach, essentially undertaking a massive self-awareness program. It’s spurring me to seek new ways to view my talents, values, motivations, and purpose. In the course of this exploration, I’ve come across a few great reads: The Pathfinder by the father of career coaching, Nicholas Lore (along with my coach Anthony Spadafore); Design Your Life by Stanford professors Dave Evans and Bill Burnett; and Cure for the Common Life by Minister Max Lucado.
It’s really cool to see these and other resources echo many of the same general themes in guiding you to make life changes and improve your career. Lore wishes his readers “a life you love, a passion for your own personal growth and development, and, most of all, a commitment to make your world a better place for everyone.” Evans and Burnett employ the motto “Be Curious. Talk to People. Try Stuff.” Lucado concludes “Use your uniqueness (what you do) to make a big deal out of God (why you do it) every day of your life (where you do it).” As I said, really cool stuff!
Can you give us the backstory on what led you to search for those resources?
Like many of us, I am increasingly disillusioned with politics and policy-making, particularly at the federal level. It’s very difficult to reconcile that statement with the fact I’ve spent nearly 20 years in D.C. working in Congress and lobbying Congress. I discovered the source of my angst is very simple: a disconnect between the industry of politics/policy/media and my most deeply held values. Feeling compelled to check emails at all hours and playing political “gotcha!” doesn’t jive well at all with being home every night for family dinners and teaching our daughter to think of others before herself. I needed help learning how to make better choices in directing my time, energy and attention.
What have been some of the most powerful ideas?
Part of the answer lies in the books and quotations mentioned earlier. That is, this notion that we are all pre-programmed with our unique set of talents and predispositions which allow us to do certain things exceedingly well. These things come naturally to us, and put us into a “flow” state when time seemingly stands still and we’re locked into that moment. Flow can be thought of as the perfect intersection of skill and challenge, while doing something that has deep personal meaning and moves you closer to fulfillment. Flow and fulfillment may seem to be very nebulous concepts, but they become surprisingly tangible through mindful focus.
To get there, you may need to make changes in your life. Intentional Change Theory is a framework to create a change plan that is tailored to you – with your own unique strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, dreams, and support networks. This idea dovetailed nicely with the other books I had read.
Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”) captured all this simply and beautifully in observing “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”
How have you been able to implement those ideas—and in what ways has that been challenging?
Developing new habits and systems is difficult. I’ve found that enacting change in my life requires a better understanding of the varying types of motivation. Ultimately, sustained, desired change comes from motivations that are intrinsic, proactive, and empathetic. When I’m actively finding creative ways to do things that I naturally enjoy and at which I excel, and then find ways to do those things while helping others, it all begins to click for me. I find a much better life balance. The challenge is to sustain the new habits and systems. But when you successfully design them, through trial and error, to fit you well enough, they begin to sustain themselves.
Why do you think it’s so important for people working in politics to refocus on their values and be open to inner transformation?
I believe the culture of American politics could be much healthier if the people comprising the system spent more time on self-awareness and less time on self-promotion. In order to stop talking past each other, we first must listen to ourselves. This means pausing to truly reflect and focus on our values and then enacting those values to transform our own habits. If we open ourselves to change in this way, maybe folks wouldn’t treat politics as life or death, but rather as an opportunity to learn, grow, and better each other.
If you were to give some life-coaching tips to your colleagues or to those like me with whom you interact on Capitol Hill, what would you want to say?
I feel as if I’ve already done that quite a bit! I’m actually currently enrolled in a life coach training program which is fascinating, so I’m sure those teachings found their way into my responses. A few key tips I’ve learned are to reduce judgment, practice active listening, and ask curious questions. Defining things as “right or wrong” and “good or bad”, as we constantly do in politics, builds walls. This type of judgment stunts communication, creativity, and openness to change - all essential ingredients in creating a new political recipe. Whereas active listening, or “empathic listening”, requires a certain curiosity about the person on the other side of the issue, allowing you to better understand their motivations and desires rather than solely focusing on defeating them.
To what degree has faith played a role in this process, and what does faith mean to you personally?
My spirituality and faith are a work in progress, to be sure. I’m attempting to more fully integrate faith into my life, namely by making the leap from exploration to practice. Minister Lucado’s book struck me in how he meshed the ideas of faith and career so seamlessly. I’d say in its simplest form, faith means letting go of the wheel and trusting that fate is really not fate at all, but your life’s plan.
How do you hope to see American politics change for the better?
I hope we’re able to change the way we interact with each other as neighbors and colleagues. For that to happen, I think we need citizen legislators focused on serving others rather than professional politicians focused on accumulating power. As it stands, the system rewards seniority over solutions.
Jeff Vorberger came to D.C. nearly 20 years ago after graduating from Penn State. A native Pittsburgher and therefore lover of all things Penguins/Steelers/Pirates, he spent 10 years in the office of a Pennsylvania Congressman and the last 10 years with a small, friendly trade association. He is in search of ways to close the "career gap" (whereby 70% of American workers are unhappy at their jobs) by matching young people to schools/majors/jobs/careers aligning with their unique talents and values. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
This week, reach out to Jeff Vorberger or one of your own colleagues and take your usual conversation to a deeper level. Talk about values, your unique talents, and how God might be calling you to use them for the sake of restoration—even in your current job.
We’d also love to hear from you. If you have ideas you'd like to share about developing and living your personal values, consider applying to join the Liberatus writing community.
Liberatus is a community journal about bringing truth and beauty to American politics from the inside, because people who work in politics are tired of dysfunction. Writers who join us creatively explore healing for work culture, communication, and personal well-being.
Journal Entry #104
ISSUE 016: RE-CREATION, PART 1