Why Running for Office is Much Harder Than You Think
It’s truly is much harder than I thought. I figured I had this wrapped up before I even started campaigning. I knew I was perfectly qualified to take the small step of running for co-chair of the local special education citizens advisory committee. But I lost. Thankfully, as the saying goes, you learn by doing, so this loss was a lesson in how to run for office.
Lesson #1: Never assume you will win.
I didn’t expect my election to be contested. I mean, why would anyone else want to run for co-chair of an advisory committee? I wrote a great speech about how wonderful I would be in this position and supposed everyone thought I’d be wonderful too. So, why didn’t you vote for me?
Lesson #2: Start your campaign early.
I was prepared; I had been preparing for months. Actually, I had been talking about preparing for months. In reality, I threw together a last minute speech, shouted out to some friends on facebook to show up and support me. Yeah, I didn’t win the popularity contest.
Lesson #3: Don’t make this about you.
People vote because of issues that directly affect them. Don’t talk too much about yourself, your kids, and all the wonderful things you’ve done.
Lesson #4: Stick to the issues.
I put a lot of thought into the issues, and had a lot of fresh, original ideas I wanted to share. I was just waiting for the right moment to share them with everyone. In fact, I shared them with a few individuals who thought they were grand, but no one else knew.
Lesson #5: Work the room.
I love to have deep conversations with people, and I also hate to be rude and break one off. Unfortunately, in the 30 or so minutes I had before the official vote, I only managed to speak to a handful of the voters.
Lesson #6: Be the change candidate.
I was the candidate of the establishment, even though I had never been in office. I ran with the former co-chair, who I expected would win easily as Chair. She’s so well liked, I love her, so what’s not to like? But a lot of people apparently didn’t like the way previous Chair did things, so former co-chair was tainted by association. Her competitor picked apart the way the previous Chair had run things, which all seemed to reflect unfairly on the Co-chair currently running for Chair. By association, because I aligned with the co-chair of the former chair, I was at fault too. Hey, I had some criticism of the former chair myself, but I didn’t want to come across as angry. Maybe a little edginess shows fire in the belly.
Lesson #7: Persist.
Sometimes, it’s just dumb luck. So you lost this stupid election (see my edginess showing?). Don’t give in to complacency, but also don’t give up. Because running for office is never a done deal, because you must be the change you seek. Because the next time you will know more, you will be prepared. If you keep trying, you will succeed. Just ask Senator Bernie Sanders, he lost many times before he finally won. So get out there and run!
Are you thinking about running for office?
I had the good fortune of attending a Wellstone candidate training program a few days after my run for office. Aside from running first-class training programs, wellstone.org has many excellent free resources available online.
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Originally published on Medium.com in our Voices publication.