I'm beginning to get that question, the one COVID quarantine allowed me to dodge. The inevitable, "what's next"?
I don't have an answer, but I know that running for Congress has changed my trajectory and outlook.
Three months of self-isolating, I now realize that public service isn't my path. I didn't enjoy being a candidate - the constant spotlight, being hyper-managed, and the never-ending slate of events. More importantly, I became disillusioned with the political process. It's broken and can only be fixed from the outside. I did appreciate the opportunities to network and build relationships. You meet so many people with diverse backgrounds, motives, and ideologies. It gives you a stronger understanding of humanity and the complex issues we face. The best part about running, are the many lessons learned. You discover a lot about yourself, and you change. Analyzing those lessons is the key to formulating the answer to, "what's next".
How running for office changes you:
You find your passion and define your talents. I've built another woman's campaign, an NFL foundation, and a Congressional office - each from the ground up. These jobs took tremendous effort, but they pale in comparison to the rigors of being a candidate. Running for office requires extreme determination, the kind derived only by fighting for your passion. And the fight is made possible solely by your talents. Women's empowerment is my passion. There is only one African-American woman under 40 in Congress. Of course, I ran. And only through running did I realize my talent - my ability to craft strategic relationships and a deep understanding of how federal politics and government work. Running makes your passions and talents clear and these are fundamental assets for contemplating what's next.
You stop needing to be liked, only respected. Before running, I was obsessed with trying to be the sweet girl - the one everyone feels safe rooting for. But, after running I accept that's not me. I'm bold and fearless in the pursuit of my dreams, I'm the personification of ambitious. Ambitious women are often misunderstood and mis-characterized - especially Black women. The harder we try and the more we work, the more people tell us no or we cannot (and the less they root for us). No is not in my lexicon. Some said I couldn't run, so I ran despite them and I'm proud of that. When you dare to go where others haven't, you're labeled as "overly confident" and told you're "doing too much". These aren't insults, it's confirmation. You've captured their attention because you're bold. Running gives you the gumption to motivate yourself to keep going, and to lift as you climb. Especially those that don't root for you. They need you the most.
Your confidence becomes unshakable. Putting yourself on the ballot is beyond intimidating, it's frightening. The minute you file, you're put under a microscope. Everything you do or don't do and every aspect of your life is newsworthy. You become less human and more a symbol of viewpoints and values. If you can overcome the intimidation of filing for office, you can do anything. While campaigning, you develop unshakable confidence - skin so thick that you smile through the hits and adversity. Afterward, no challenge intimidates you. You become fearless.
You learn how to make the hard asks. Closed mouths don't get fed. Nowhere is that more true than on a campaign. You become relentless in asking for what you want.
You discover your compass. Running requires a strong support system. Building that system forces you to clarify relationships. You remember who answered your call for support. Potential supporters are put into four circles. The most important being your "personal circle". These people support solely because they believe in you. These will become your compass, your trusted counsel as you move forward in life. Knowing who is in your "personal circle" is priceless.
You understand the value and the true definition of failure. Overcoming the fear of potentially losing your race, what you originally deem failure, is a necessary experience. Before running, I feared failure. And that fear almost stopped me from running. Now, failing isn't scary; letting the fear of failure stop me is. Once you run, you realize failure isn't losing an election, failure is not having the confidence to run in the first place. A person who pushes past their fear of failure always wins.
You refuse to live with regrets. If you dream about it, you owe it to yourself to go for it. If you don't, you'll be saddled with "what ifs". A heavy burden to bear. People who run are people who dared to dream and had the conviction to pursue it. This is the ultimate high, and you become addicted to doing what it takes to live without regrets.
You value appearance and presentation. You're judged first on how you look and then on how you carry yourself. As a candidate, this reality is more profound. Have you ever seen a CEO, President Obama, or RBG disheveled or haphazardly dressed? You will never take for granted the importance of maintaining an executive presence and your physical appearance.
You find your voice. Working for people means you are crafting someone else's voice and brand. When you run, you become the voice and brand. You learn to persuade people by your actions, how to speak eloquently and capture the room, and you develop the command of a principle - no longer able to be a staffer, or hidden in the background.
You realize money matters. Before I announced, a Member of Congress advised me to go into corporate America and make money first. I didn't listen, I was hellbent on being a true public servant - principles over money. Not anymore. When you run, your success is dictated primarily by your access to capital (the brokenness of our political system). You and your donors must have financial resources. On the federal level, it's impossible to work and campaign. Running for office will bankrupt you if you aren't prepared. After running, you understand the value of a good salary and you learn to put your bank account and stock portfolio first at times.
You find your fight. For the ambitious moving is a hobby - the side effects of fearlessness and a global economy. We move so often, it's easy to lose sight of home and find yourself continuously searching for belonging and community. Running for office attaches you to a location - you develop a fierce commitment to your community. No matter where the next chapter carries you, you will always fight for and return home.
Running for an office changes you. Some get bitter, others get better. I chose the latter because had I not run I wouldn't have learned the above nor this final, most crucial lesson. Happiness comes from within. No position, job, relationship, nor set of circumstances will make you happy. it's a decision that only you can make. I don't know what's next, but because I ran I'm prepared for whatever lies ahead.