Project Wonderful

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What I Wish I Had Known At 30 With Jessica Post

Jessica Post, 34, Political Advisor at EMILY's List

I don't want to say this is the best turning 30 advice post yet, because I feel that way every time I get one, but it is seriously really good. In addition to helping me get my current job and introducing me to my boyfriend, Jessica Post is a field/political badass of universal acclaim. My favorite thing about Post (besides validating my desire to go to bed at 11pm on weekends) is that she believes, like I do, in the importance of mentorship on campaigns, especially among women. That's probably why this advice is so good! Thank you, Jessica, for this and everything.

1)Tell us a little about your career path.
I started volunteering on campaigns in college, as a College Democrat at Truman State, in Kirksville, Missouri. From there, I managed a state legislative race in rural Missouri, then went on to work for the Missouri House Democratic Campaign Committee, where I desked the state house candidates in Eastern Missouri. I moved all around the country then moving to Iowa to be a field organizer for Congressman Dick Gephardt’s presidential campaign, doing dozens of campaign jobs, starting with a Regional Field Director for the 2004 Colorado Coordinated Campaign in Boulder, working for the Minnesota Senate DFL Caucus in 2006, managing a hospital bond initiative in 2007, after running part of GOTV for a Utah anti-school voucher initiative, Field Director for the Minnesota DFL Coordinated, directing the Southern Minnesota recount staff, that helped elect Al Franken in 2008, then to DLCC as the National Field Director and Political Director in 2010-2012, then on to EMILY’s List as a Political Advisor for federal and gubernatorial candidates in 2014.

In between cycles, I helped fight state beer tax increases as a consultant for Anheuser-Busch from 2003-2010, which was a great and rewarding contract. I also did a ton of off cycle work for FieldWorks, including working for Save Darfur Coalition on a divestment campaign in San Francisco, fighting a new casino in a state, and directing statewide signature gathering drives to put paid sick days on the ballot in Ohio for SEIU and a renewable portfolio standard for Renew Missouri. The off cycle work gained me great contacts, and experience across multiple states.

2)What are you most proud of?
I think I’m much more proud of moments in my career than key accomplishments, since you are always only a component of a win on a campaign. The Franken recount and ensuing win was a huge highlight of my life, but I was a small part of a giant team. One of the best moments for me during that race was driving down to a recount site in a Republican county, and seeing a high-powered Republican lobbyist try to intimidate one of our staffers, who we hired as an organizer at 19. Our training program and trust with this staffer was so strong, he was our site lead, and he refused to back down.

I’m also really proud of the field program we put together at DLCC. Last cycle, Dave Griggs, Graham Wilson, and I were able to launch the Grassroots Victory Program, which sent trained field organizers into legislative races, using field best practices, and emphasizing the findings of Analyst Institute for GOTV. Some of my proudest moments last cycle were walking into field offices, and watching volunteers explain the Analyst Institute GOTV best practices, such as the plan to vote script to other volunteers, and knowing they had that knowledge because of the program we ran at DLCC.

Finally, the achievements of fellow staffers I mentors, from interns on the ’04 campaign in Colorado, to the accomplishments of my regionals. I think we have an obligation to develop fellow staff and help them with their careers.

3)What is the best advice you've received?
There are so many great pieces of advice I’ve received across my career—one was to start my career managing a state house race, so I could decide what aspects of the job I liked.

Probably the best though, was to think more about what I would learn in a job, and if I would like doing it, then worrying about the title or salary early in my career. For that reason, I had a small role on a St. Louis Alderman’s race in 2007, essentially an FO, after working as a Statewide Field Director, and I learned a ton about working directly with candidates and city politics. I’m drawing on some of those lessons in my job today.

Campaigns are also a small world, so treat people well. Ultimately, we are all on the same team here.

4)What is the worst advice you've received?
I’d been told so many times to stop working at the state legislative level, to do more federal work instead—from 2006 when I went to Minnesota with the Senate DFL Caucus to 2010, when I joined the team at DLCC. State legislative work is fascinating, and some of the most innovative work I’ve seen on campaigns is by very good legislative caucus campaign directors and staff, who are absolutely not doing this work because their aunt knows the name of their candidate, or for their planned MSNBC commentator deal. State legislative campaigns are also professional, and disciplined in many caucus operations, which I think is underappreciated here in Washington. Working with the Minnesota House and Senate DFL Caucuses last cycle to regain the majority, and then seeing them pass marriage equality in Minnesota was one of the best moments of my career, and I would have missed out on that had I followed that advice.

In the same vein, I’ve often been told to take a job just for the money, which is also terrible advice. Take jobs and work that you find interesting and rewarding, where the work makes you light up like a pinball machine when you think about it. That’s how you know you are on the right track.

Career advice you receive is rarely objective, so know that most people giving you advice think you want their career or life, and advise accordingly. That’s where a lot of bad advice comes from, from folks trying to fill roles on campaigns or thinking you want to follow the same path as them.

5)What lesson are you still trying to learn?
To trust my instincts and speak up. So many decisions made on campaigns are based in the moment, without a ton of data points, still unfortunately, despite the great work being done by Analyst Institute and the growing list of tremendous analytics firms. I am continuing to work on trusting my gut.

6)What was the best thing about being in your 20s?
I loved being able to move around the country, work in different states, quickly make deep friendships on campaigns and do campaign work. I also felt like I could easily work 14 hour days, and still go to the bar some nights with my colleagues. I loved the freedom to learn, take on short projects, and have my engine running always. I loved how campaigns made learn new skills and made me take on new projects and responsibility quickly. I loved staying at the DFL office until 1 a.m. talking to then voter file manager Jaime Tincher about data, and then applying our conversations immediately, running VAN searches late into the evening to update our field and mail universes. While I didn’t love the moving, I became good at it, and I was fortunate to live in some amazing places, like St. Paul, Truckee (a California town near North Lake Tahoe),
and Boulder. To me, this felt like really living.

7)What one thing should I absolutely do before I turn 30?
I think you should try to accomplish some sort of personal, nonprofessional challenge—be it running a 10K, raising an amount for charity, or improving your yoga headstand. I think achieving some sort of milestone outside of work strengthens and renews you. I didn’t race my first triathlon until I was 31, but that is what it did for me.

Find a method of self-care, be it meditation, exercise, or binge watching Netflix that refills your tank for work, and makes you fired up to make a tracking spreadsheet after a few tough days.

I’d also take a trip where you stay out late drinking and cavorting in a major European city. And go out on U Street or Adams Morgan until 2 a.m., and eat Jumbo Slice. This gets much harder after 30. Those two things might not go together, however.

8)What's the best thing about being 34?
I think a lot of the anxiety about career choices that I felt in my mid-twenties has dissipated—where I would worry about taking one job over another—or if I was on the right path.

There’s no more fear of missing out. I am often happier at home on a Friday night than out, or walking my dog on Sunday morning, then working at home, than doing a multi-hour brunch. While I’m not perfect at it, I’m getting better at balancing being healthy with the obligations of this work.

9)What are you looking forward to?
I cannot imagine a better place to work than EMILY’s List. I am looking forward to our August primary season, and working with our candidates through the 2014 election cycle. We are so proud of their work responding to the Hobby Lobby case, and shining a light on sexual assault in the military and on campuses. Without our women in Congress, these issues would not have been brought to light. I can’t wait to see what the women we elect in 2014 will do in Congress.

10)What else?
We need more women campaign managers. If you are a young woman out there, no one is going to tell you are ready to manage. You will have to blaze that trail, and tell people you are ready. Don’t doubt yourself. I’d also say to the Campaignsickles, who are reading and have not taken the plunge yet, go out there to go take that campaign job.
There’s only so much you will learn if you don’t go out on the path.

If you are looking, check out, and create a profile and upload your resume. (Nancy's note: this is how I got my first job!)

Great advice! Thank you SO MUCH, Jessica. Campaign love and mine!

For more posts in this series click here, here and here and as always if you enjoy reading please considering supporting the blog by clicking here.

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