By The Hill Staff - 07/25/12 09:00 AM EDT
Hometown: La Crosse, Wis.
Political party: Democratic
Relationship status: Engaged
Erik Olson has a certain zen quality, though you wouldn't know it from his résumé.
He started as a campaign worker for Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and is now Kind’s chief of staff, at age 33.
Olson also mentors kids in D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. He keeps fit with regular gym visits. And he’s a practicing Buddhist — something of a rarity in the rough-and-tumble world of politics.
“He said it’s not possible to be a Buddhist and in politics, but I insisted that it is,” he says.
Olson added that his Buddhist practice gives him “extra energy to do more for others” and also helps him manage the pressure of working on Capitol Hill.
“I’d like to think I’m less stressed than most people around here,” he says. “Buddhism is about working on your own mind and keeping yourself at peace. It’s also about helping others, which is what motivates me in this job.”
Olson meditates for 30 minutes every morning after rising at 4:30 or 5 a.m., and follows that routine by hitting the gym.
“That’s the perfect way to start the day,” he says. “You do a little bit for your mind, you do a little bit for your body. You feel good, you’re well-rounded, and you’re ready to hit the pavement at work.”
He hesitates to describe himself as “beautiful,” but he does have a special connection to The Hill’s annual list: his fiancée, Jess Smith, was featured in 2007.
The two met planning a campaign rally in Wisconsin and didn’t see each other again until 10 years later, almost to the day.
“She popped up in my daily eHarmony email,” Olson says. “We had a drink Nov. 18, got engaged a year later, and are getting married a year after that.”
— Elise Viebeck