Project Wonderful

Monday, July 7, 2014

What I Wish I Had Known At (Almost) 30 With Nancy Leeds

I love, love, love getting and giving advice. When I write "Ask Nancy" blog posts I try to think of what I needed to read 5 or 10 years ago and share that insight with you. As many of you know I am turning 30 a mere 4 months from now (yikes!) and am doing everything in my power to get the most bang for my big birthday buck!

To that end, rather than wait and tell you what to expect at 30 in retrospect, I thought I would reach out to friends with similar paths to mine who have already taken the 3-0 plunge and ask them what they wish they had known. I've learned so much in the past year from the amazing men and women I have asked for career advice in my transition to DC and I am looking forward to getting it down in writing. Some FABULOUS leaders in the field of Democratic politics have agreed to share their stories with us over the next four months. Get excited!

Before we begin, however, I thought it was only fair to share my answers to the 10 questions I asked of my guest bloggers. Here you go!

Nancy Leeds, 29, Deputy Political Director at Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund & Founder/Blogger at Campaignsick

Tell us a little about your career path.
You can learn more about how I fell into campaigns here, but my first campaign was on the Minnesota Coordinated in 2006. I worked my way up the ranks in field and management on campaigns across the country until 2011, when I moved to New York for grad school. I started CampaignSick as a way to keep in touch with the campaign world and took on short-term projects as a GOTV Director while I was in school. When I graduated I was super lucky to find a job that let me use my degree (in gender and public policy) and keep working on campaigns while living a more sustainable lifestyle.

What are you most proud of?
Professionally, my blog. It has been an immense privilege to get to entertain, advise and interact with campaign people around the country whom I would not have met otherwise. Personally, and due in part to the amazing gift that this blog has been, my confidence. I've always been an emotional, excitable person and as I've gotten older I've been able to temper the more negative aspects of that with the belief that no matter what happens I'm going to be okay. Some of that has to do with my faith, which I don't often blog about because I don't like to shove down people's throats, and some of that, like anything else, is a learned skill. Like any skill or faith, it's an evolving practice.

What is the best advice you've received?
I was delinquent in getting my regular treatment for my chronic illness when I was working on the Edwards campaign and my doctor said, "Do you think Elizabeth Edwards skips her chemo for campaign events?" Setting aside my feelings on that campaign, I've learned to prioritize my health and self-care. I know that sounds oddly specific, but if I could go back and change one thing about my 20's that would be it. I wasted a lot of time "sucking it up" and not going to the doctor because I didn't want the immediate, temporary inconvenience of taking care of myself. Consequently, I spent a lot of time in unnecessary physical and emotional pain, not being my best self. I could kick younger Nancy both for not recognizing the loss in productivity and not believing that I deserve to feel better.

What is the worst advice you've received?
"No one is going to vote for a first term Senator named Barack, go work for John Edwards." ;) Although, that one actually wound up working out okay in the long-term.

I would say any advice that discourages authenticity. There's this perception that women can't be authentic in the public sphere or they will be seen as weak. And in general political people tend to be, well, political. Many of my campaign friends will go to great lengths to avoid coping to not knowing something. In my experience, people respect when you are real and upfront with them even when that means admitting that you're imperfect or having the strength to seek advice. And also, that's how we learn. My most successful blog posts are the ones where I talk about being vulnerable because they're the most relateable. Of course there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to share yourself, but I fundamentally disagree with any advice that discourages people from being genuine.

What lesson are you still trying to learn?
Not to take other people's actions personally. When my friends/volunteers/candidates/boyfriends can't show up for me in the way that I need them to, I tend to get so frustrated and hurt. But you have to realize that everyone is making decisions based on emotions and history outside the context of your relationship with them.

I keep having to remind myself that there is no amount of loving, or coercive or good at your job that you can be to make someone who or how you want them to be. I have found that when I identify that feeling of disappointment and accept people where they are at, my relationships, both personal and professional, are much more positive.

What was the best thing about being in your 20's?
Definitely the adventures. Traveling around the country, working campaign hours, meeting all different kinds of people was a wild, amazing ride. It's not something I still have the energy for in the same way, but it made me who I am and I am eternally grateful for every moment of it, even the ones when I was sleep-deprived and tearing my hair out. It wasn't just the campaigns; I once went on a second date that was a cross country road trip. I made bold, passionate choices and I'm really proud of that.

What one thing should I absolutely do before I turn 30?
Forgive yourself. Your early twenties are for making mistakes.

What's the best thing about being 29?
Designing my own life. In my early 20's I felt like so much was out of my control because of my health and financial circumstances, and of course because campaign life can be very restrictive. The experiences I had in my younger adulthood taught me a lot about what I want and don't want in jobs and relationships. When I graduated with my masters I was very deliberate about choosing next steps that reflected what I'd learned about myself. I continue to seek out experiences that I think will enrich me or provide me the opportunity to grow. I'm very grateful to have a life that I love and to have the agency to change things when I'm not happy.

What are you looking forward to?
Security. I'll never be the kind of person who can sit still for too long, either literally or metaphorically, but I am looking forward to a time in the not too distance future when I won't have to wonder where I'll be living, who I'll be dating or whether I'll be financially secure 6 months from now.

What else?
You guys really have a lot of my "other" advice from everything I've written on the blog. In more practical information though, five things I wish I had tried earlier: kale salad, Excedrin, maxi dresses, yoga and french press coffee.

Can't wait to share more with you!

Campaign Love and Mine,


PS. I need to get better at reminding you to do this. If you like this post, please consider donating to Campaignsick!

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