Project Wonderful

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Another Year Older and Shockingly, Wiser.

A year ago, I shared with you what amounted to my Dear John letter to campaigns. I reflected on everything that campaigns had given me and the reasons I felt I needed to take a break. So at the precipice of my second and final year of graduate school (and likely my final year away from campaigning) I had to ask myself: Was it worth it? Am I accomplishing my goals? Am I on the road to what I set out to do? My answer is resoundingly "Yes."

When I worked on campaigns full time, I kept telling myself "when I'm in the same place for a while," "when I have free time." Before campaigns, I was in college and coping with health problems that provided me (however legitimately) with similar scapegoats. Moving to New York meant taking on a huge amount of responsibility that I had been delaying for years. Time to take care of myself means that I actually have to take care of myself, even when I would rather eat junk food, avoid going to the doctor or leave clothes on the floor. Time for relationships means putting myself out there without the campaign caveats of being too tired, too busy and too far away. The unfettered opportunity to reach for my goals also means the possibility of failing, on my own with no excuses. Fear is the fact that what you want is a real possibility.

What I've really longed for the past few years, much more than weight loss or a boyfriend, was stability. I didn't want to be thirty and running around the country not sleeping or knowing when or where my next job would be. What I feared was that nothing but that lifestyle could satisfy me and that I would be forever stuck between those two worlds. One of my best friends describes people with that kind of passion and intensity as fire. When you're in control, you're a campfire. You create glow, warmth and inspiration. People are drawn to you. When you're not in control you're like a four alarm, unpredictable and destructive. I spent the last year learning how to be a campfire, terrified that the only options were to spend the rest of my life burning through things or put the fire out. Here's what I know how to do now that I didn't before:

1) I quit things and I change direction. I spent some time on awful mismanaged campaigns where my work and passion was unappreciated. Same goes for friendships, boyfriends, really anything in which I had invested time and effort. My friends and family didn't understand why I didn't just leave, but quitting seemed anathema. It seemed like admitting failure to leave something or change my mind about what my goals were. It would mean that my investment was wasted. I learned a lot from sticking it out on bad campaigns and less than ideal relationships. There's no doubt that that was what I needed to do at the time. What I know now is that there is a way to take value from something while admitting that it no longer works.

2) I'm getting better with uncertainty. Part of my intensity is that I've always tended to see things in black and white. As Heidi Klum would say "you are either in or you are out." When I was deciding whether to go back to school or go on a campaign, I contacted a friend who has been in and out of campaigns for the past decade. His advice was "whatever you decide, it won't be the last time you have this conversation with yourself." It sounds simple enough, but it never really occurred to me that it was okay to not know when and whether I would go back. One thing I've learned this year is that every choice and every relationship is an ongoing conversation. It's okay not to know where things will end up.

3) I accept people for what they're capable of right now. On campaigns, we're taught to ask the most from people and expect them to rise to the occasion. This is a good and effective management technique, but it's a recipe for failure in your personal life. I've been guilty of holding the people around me to the high standards to which I hold myself and coming to some pretty harsh conclusions. "This friend wasn't there for me when I wanted her to be, therefore she must not care enough about me." As opposed to, "I know this person cares about me, but she wasn't able to be there when I needed her. I wonder what's going on with her." Even when this line of logic causes me to end a relationship, especially a romantic one, I can do so with much more peace and clarity.

4) I identify what I want. I'm not a big fan of the "Law of Attraction" because I think the concept that people bring things like death or disease upon themselves through their thoughts is some new jack bullshit. But I do think that there is something to putting your intentions out into the universe. When you really whittle down what it is that you want, you may not attract new opportunities into your life but you recognize them when they come. It's like when you learn a new word: Once it's in your head you start seeing and hearing it everywhere. When considering why I was so tempted to take time off and go back on a campaign even though I had explicitly decided not to do so, I realized that more than gaining experience or electing good candidates, it was important to me to contribute to the campaign community. Since then, I have been honored to have my blog and tumblr become a mainstay of many campaign offices. Through my blogging, I was invited to lead a volunteer recruitment training for several hundred people, a long time dream of mine. My blog and tumblr already existed, but since I clarified for myself what I wanted I was able to steer them in that direction.

5) I don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. One of the factors that kept me making excuses about things like weight loss and cleaning is that when I set a goal, I tend to pursue it obsessively and relentlessly. As a lifelong mess maker saying "I'm going to keep my apartment clean" felt too daunting. I couldn't imagine never again leaving clothes on the floor or dishes in the sink, but I also couldn't imagine committing to do something and then accepting less than 100% from myself. It doesn't take a masters degree to realize that that approach to self-improvement is unsustainable. Without campaigns to channel my manic and obsessive tendencies, I've had to learn to be okay with deciding to keep my apartment cleaner rather than spotless or eating pizza in the larger context of trying to lose weight.

I guess that's why I'm able to deem this year a success despite so much disappointment. Do I still miss campaigns? Yes. Have I found a way to be happy without them? Not entirely. Will I break these rules and make choices that bring me from campfire to four alarm territory? Absolutely. But for the first time in my life, I'm okay with that. I'm looking forward to a year with just as much learning, but more happiness.

Thanks for sharing this last year with me,



  1. I happened upon your blog only a few months ago - so I didn't read the Dear John post to campaigns until just now. From my understanding and experience with politics and organizing, they are two fields that burn out people far faster than anything else. I think that's because if you're doing it right, you're putting your whole heart into the effort and the trick is, most people don't know how to recharge in the middle of the burn, so to speak.

    Even then, this was one of the best things I've read in a while and I identified with more than a couple of things you wrote here. My path in life has been a bit different than the average person's and I pride myself on being a late bloomer, but that being okay, because I easily pass for 10 years younger than I am (mentally and physically - emotionally, I'm probably 25 years older than I am, at times, and if not, a true roller coaster).

    What I'm reading here is about balance - finding a way to stay involved, for you, without it becoming all consuming... It's also so wonderful to confront fear, head on. It makes you so much stronger to be willing to look at something and know that your probability of failing something you've never tried / done before is 50%. I think I once told you that I agree, wholeheartedly that campaign people are a breed unto themselves... I don't think - once we ever escape from that life - if we do every truly escape from it - that we stop being a bit different, we just learn to adapt our differentials to society.

    I just wish more people could see in our heads to understand that philosophy of you're either a "1" or a "5" and the 2's, 3's, and 4's of this world, where most of people actually fall confuse the absolute beegeezus out of us.

    In time, when you get to that balance, I think you'll be able to better relate to the average voter - and that will be a credit should you ever want to fall back into a campaign. If not, at least you'll be able to live in a non-campaign world with the 2's, 3's, and 4's and be able to understand them and communicate well... Sorry to write such a long reply... but I absolutely enjoyed this and have enjoyed getting to see a peek inside of your mind and world, because I do admire you...

    Take care...

  2. Thanks, Bethany. I'm always a bit apprehensive about sharing such personal posts, so I'm glad to hear it resonated!