9 Life Lessons I Learned From Working On The 2016 Presidential Campaign
Like many people my age, I did not really know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I left university in 2014 with a vague plan of politics. As a dual-citizen with the U.S. and UK, finding jobs with two job pools and no direction was, let's say, difficult. After a few months, I landed a job working in a local election in my hometown, which led to a two-year adventure of trying to change the world.
In October 2015, I joined the Hillary Clinton campaign. I packed a suitcase and left my life in England to chase the 2016 election. For 14 months, I worked as an organizer and then a manager. There were big wins, losses, great friends made, and long nights, but ultimately the things I learned will stick with me forever.
In November 2016, I was not the same person as when I started. My accent altered — and my outlook changed — I had become a better person than I ever knew possible, and it was the most fulfilling job I've ever had.
Here are some unexpected things I learned working on the 2016 presidential election that everyone should know.
1. Be Respectful Of People's Time
This may seem very obvious, but people's time is the most precious thing they have. Avoid being late at all costs, keep what you say in meetings to a minimum, and plan your meetings to be the most beneficial for your teams.
Equally, if you say you're going to do something, you should do it. I had so many people stand me up when I was counting on them to hit my goals. It was heartbreaking every single time.
2. Set Clear Expectations
We've all been there: someone asks you to do something, and when you've finished the task they tell you it's not how they wanted it. Frustrating, right? Imagine if they'd told you before you started what they'd wanted.
On the campaign, I would tell my volunteers how many calls I needed them to make, along with a detailed training, so everyone knew what they needed to do.
Now, I use this technique wherever I can: in my new job, when making plans with friends (“Let's meet at 6 p.m. for the 6:10 movie”), and with my boyfriend, who I met on the campaign. He is running for city council and told me what to expect of his time: I know he's going to be busy every evening until 8 p.m., so there's no tension about our time together.
If someone has let you down recently, think about if they knew they did. Did you set expectations they didn't know about? This can be a hard outlook to adjust to, but it will solve so many dramas later on.
3. Asking For Help Does Not Make You Weak, But Stronger
No one should suffer in silence, and this should be applied to your work, too. If you have taken on too much, or don't understand the project, it's much better just to ask for the help you need. You may need to take a slice of humble pie, but you'll be happier when you're not up til 3 a.m. working on something you didn't need to do. Before taking my own slice of the pie, I would work until the early hours of the morning on a task meant for two people. Sleep is so important!
On the flip side, offering help when people need it makes you a better person, makes your team stronger, and is generally a nice thing to do. As former First Lady Michelle Obama said on the campaign trail: “People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.”
4. Don't Make Excuses; Find Solutions
We all know the people who constantly complain about situations, and refuse to find their own solution. Complaining and negativity are dead weights to any team. I used to find excuses for everything from school work, to friend drama, to being late to things. It was draining. Since growing up a little, I now see how glaringly unhelpful I used to be.
If you disagree with something on a project, suggest your own solution rather than complaining. Make positive changes to the things you can control, and you'll feel more empowered. Coming at challenges with a positive attitude will make your work life so much more rewarding — and make you a much more fun person.
5. Sometimes You Lose
You can't win them all, and how you react to failures can define your character. Grieve, get back up, and keep going. Your next election/boyfriend/work project could be the best one yet.
6. Treat Yourself
On the campaign, I lived in various people's spare bedrooms across three states. After a long day of work, the only thing I wanted to do was escape to the comforting world of Gilmore Girls. No matter what time I finished work, I would give myself at least half an episode of a different world.
In one of the houses, sometimes the internet wouldn't work, so I couldn't escape the day. When I moved into my new apartment post-campaign, I made sure to check the best internet in the area so I would always have my escape option.
Whatever work you do, you need to have a break. Mine was a comforting TV show — and now it's running on the treadmill — and yours can be anything that helps you disconnect for a while. Find time in your day for you to de-stress and separate your work self from home.
7. Don't Say Too Much, Especially If You Don't Know
I imagine when I'm public everyone around me is a journalist — because with social media, everyone pretty much is. Some things are not meant for public consumption. Whether it's a big project at work or some drama with your extended friend group, not talking about it really avoids those awkward moments of discovery.
Equally, if you don't know something, you probably should just say you don't know it. There have been too many sitcom situations for us to know better by now. Don't lie; just say you don't know, and ask for help.
8. Be The Sun
This was the motto of my team, and it's something I try to live by. I'll admit I saw the phrase on Tumblr some years ago. Let me explain: The sun is warm, it creates light, it makes people happy, and it helps things grow.
Imagine those qualities in a person: someone who is warm and inviting, promotes growth and support for the people around them, and strives to be a force of light — but ultimately is a strong person on their own. Doesn't that sound lovely? Exactly.
9. If You Believe In A Cause, Do Something To Support It
There's a lot going on politically at the moment, and it can be hard to know where to start. My number one piece of advice is to pick a cause and find some time to help.
Tweeting and posting on Facebook is fine, but going out of your comfort zone to knock on doors for your local election or volunteering at a non-profit will make a huge difference in your life — and for the cause you support. Especially if you have just moved to a new city, volunteering is one of the best ways to meet new people, and guess what? You already have at least one thing in common you can launch into a new friendship!
If you really care about a cause, being active in that community will empower you whilst making positive change. Please, find an hour every week and you won't regret it.
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