Friday, March 7, 2014

Lessons from a Political Life

Politics has always fascinated me. Coming from a sports background, I think the competitive nature drew me in at a young age, resulting in the fact that I helped organize a mock election in 2000—one which I'm proud to say had much less controversial results than the actual one. Following that, my intrigue did not cease. In 2004, I was giddy to volunteer when Laura Bush visited my hometown, so naturally in 2008, once I was finally old enough to actually get involved, I did so wholeheartedly. 

From that point forward, I was immersed in the world of politics. At the ripe old age of 19 I started on a journey into the roller coaster of campaigning, working in official offices, and eventually working for the State Party.

It has been a thrill—full of ups and downs, friendships and even some burned bridges, and a lot of stress. Mostly, though, it has been a learning experience. My time in politics is wrapping up—for now, at leastand it’s given me a chance to reflect back upon some of the most vital lessons I’ve learned.

1) Politics is personal. Having jumped headfirst into the murky waters at such a young age, this has always been a reality for me. However, it is sadly not for many. An alarmingly large number of people fail to realize the fact that there are actual people at work in every political office. Instead, they see policies or scandals and thrust about insults with rapid fire, quicker than the clicks of a TMZ camera. Am I saying that everyone in politics is in it for the right reason, or that there is no such thing as bad policy? Absolutely not! Still, for the most part, I believe that most people get involved in politics—either in office or as a staff member—out of a desire to better the world. Idealistic? Certainly! However, one cannot survive in the world of politics without that desire in place at least somewhat. We are all still people—people juggling crazy hours, insane pressure, and sleep deprivation, all while trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life. Before you throw your stones, put yourself in the shoes of those you’re aiming at, and realize that they are human.

2) It’s easy to become jaded; maintaining a softer heart is difficult. I think this is true in all walks of life and all professions. In fact, I think it’s just a symptom of being alive. Life is hard. We all learn the hard way that there are people who will hurt us, people we cannot trust, and those whose own selfish desires will stop at nothing to get what they want. For me, this lesson was made clear through my job. For some, this is a lesson possibly learned in other ways. Nonetheless, even after it all, there is great beauty in remaining soft-hearted and learning to trust even after being burned.

3) Coworkers are priceless gems in our lives. Throughout my years in politics, I have had the wonderful opportunity of meeting and working with a very diverse group of people. There is a lot of turnover in campaigning and even in political jobs in general, so I’ve had more coworkers than most. Regardless of the fact that we are all different in our own ways, we each have something to bring to the table. Additionally, since we end up spending more time with our coworkers than our families most of the time, it’s always a good idea to make friends with coworkers. They are your allies, your friends, and truthfully—family.

4) Anyone who complains about a 9 to 5 deserves a high five…in the face…with a chair. Okay, okay. Maybe that’s a little harsh. Still, 9 to 5-ers, please refrain from making these complaints in front of a politico. Most of us are downright celebratory when we’ve only worked a 40 hour week. I’ve even celebrated 50 a time or two, because our world demands a great deal of our time. While working in a Congressional office, an 80+ hour work week was nothing out of the norm. Also, this goes back to point #1…since I’m on my way out, I can say it without sounding too pious, I think:  While you’re contemplating on whether or not to make that screaming phone call to our offices, please keep in mind what we might have been through that day, and how hard we’re working, because our job is to serve you.

5) Friends who stick around a political staffer are golden. This is a special shout-out to those who are able to remain friends with political staffers—especially those who are not in the political world themselves. As staffers, our plans are often tentative. (Note again those 80 hour work weeks). We’re always on-call. At any minute, we could have to drop what we’re doing—or those plans we made three weeks in advance—and go back to the office. We cancel plans regularly, we flit in and out of town like some kind of modern day gypsies, and sometimes we’re just too tired to make good company. This also results in us having strange behavior—like acting like the mom at the prom when we finally do get to journey back out into the world of normalcy. Given the chance to let loose and party it up, we turn into the “one more shot” person who dances like Elaine from Seinfeld. Forgive us, we don’t get let “out” very often, and our dance moves suffer because of it.

Come on, you know it's part of why you keep us around...

6) Appearances send a message to the world about who you are and what you deem important. The world is vain. We all know it to be a sad reality, and as much as I’d like to leave this one off the list, I simply cannot. I’m not saying that I’ve learned that everyone must always dress to a standard of perfection; I’m simply saying that I’ve found it to be true that what you can accomplish dressed in jeans, you can accomplish much easier when dressed the part. People take notice when you go the extra effort. I’m sure this is true across the board of professions—but it is something that I have noticed frequently. Aside from that, dressing the part always makes me feel more confident in my own abilities.

7) It’s okay to change your mind, your plans, or even your goals. Five years ago, I would have told you that I wanted to work in politics forever, and, at some point, I may return to it. I realized a while back, though, that this is not my life’s passion. This is not what I want to do forever. That was a hard concept for the perfectionist in me to accept. I couldn’t have been wrong about the career path I chose. But, I was, in part. Do I regret any of it? Absolutely not. It has been the most fulfilling and best choice I could have made early in my career. My time in politics opened my eyes to so much, afforded me the rich opportunity of making the friends I have, taught me a great deal—both personally and professionally—and made me who I am today. Yet, it is not the path that I feel is right for this time in my life, and that’s okay. It’s not too late to change or to take a new path. In fact, I think it’s normal.

Do new things, and don't be afraid of change.

Overall, I am grateful for my years in politics. For some reason, I was blessed with these incredible opportunities. Employers took chances in hiring me when I was green, and coworkers took me in as friends and family. My family has stood by my side, supporting whichever candidate I worked for and being my support system. My friends have gone above and beyond to help out with whatever I’ve needed—even staying on the phone with me to keep me awake as I drove across the state through the night, or making me dinner when I hadn’t had time to eat in a day or so. Politics connected me to people more deeply than I could have ever imagined.

Also, I’m thankful to have been a part of a movement that I wholeheartedly believe is on the right track and is going to be successful. I have seen the hard work of volunteers, staffers, grassroots individuals, and many more who are tirelessly pouring their efforts into making New Mexico a better place to live and work. I’m proud to call them all friends, and I know they will keep up the good work! 

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