Project Wonderful

Monday, September 22, 2014

What I Wish I Had Known At 30 With Ed Espinoza

Ed Espinoza, 41, Executive Director of Progress Texas

I have worked with Ed two times and yet somehow we don't have a picture together! Ed has always been super generous about sharing advice with me and it is my honor to share some of that with you! Some gems in here. Take it away, Ed!

1) Tell us a little about your career path.
I fell in to politics by accident when I was 19 by volunteering for a campaigns that had been tabling at my school, Santa Monica College. I loved it, changed my major from marine biology to political science and transferred to UCLA. I eventually got a job working for the Clinton/Gore re-elect, which opened the door to staying employed with the California Democratic Party in one way or another for six years. I've since worked on 51 campaigns in about 15 states. I was the western desk at the DNC from 2009-2011, I was a political analyst for CNN from 2011-2012 and now run an organization called Progress Texas based in Austin.

I left the business a few times to work for a couple of big PR firms to sharpen my media skills (you know, to have a respectable private sector career), but I always came back to politics. It took me about 10 years of working on campaigns to not be shy about the subject with my non-political friends and accept the fact that I am a political professional. It was great, it was like coming out of the closet for politics.

2) What are you most proud of?
I've been fortunate to be a part of many milestones, having a small part in the election of the first black president as a California superdelegate and as a campaign worker, and working on the passage of healthcare reform while working at the DNC. And of course being a part of the Stand With Texas Women movement supporting the Wendy Davis filibuster at the Texas Capitol during the summer of 2013. Important events, and I feel fortunate to have been a part of all three while working with very impressive people.

3) What is the best advice you've received?
Two pieces of advice have stuck with me for years. They are conflicting, but they make sense in their own ways:

Grandpa Mike: "Do what you love, otherwise you'll spend 40 years of your life just workin'."

My best friend from back home: "Do what you're good at, and know that it might not be the thing you love to do."

I guess the solution is to either fall in love with what you're good at or get really good at what you love. I really like communications and have built a fine career in it, but I'm very good manager. I don't really enjoy managing, though I like that I know I'm good at it. Lucky for me I guess that I'm currently directing a communications shop.

4) What is the worst advice you've received?
Hard to say specifically, but you'll get a lot of good and bad advice in your life - the key is in knowing the difference between the two.

5) What lesson are you still trying to learn?
How to not get too worked up over things, not letting the constant flow of electronic media keep me from paying attention to the people I'm spending time with, and most of all that whole work/life balance thing.

Hobbies are important, they keep us from becoming one dimensional and we actually use our brains better when we are able to turn them away from work for a while. It also helps you see that you are more than the sum of your day job. I try to get out on the water, see more live music, and am working on being an awesome iPhone photographer.

6) What was the best thing about being in your 20's?
Being able to make mistakes, and in general just not knowing any better. You can accomplish so much when you don't have any preconceived notions holding you back.

I started doing political analysis on national TV in my 20's because I didn't know that such commentary was supposedly reserved for experts. I went on the air and had good segments but also some bad ones, one interview was so bad they cut away from me to cover a gas leak in Missouri.

But that's the thing, you're gonna fuck something up and it's not going to be the end of the world. You learn from it and you get better.

7) What is one thing I should absolutely do before I turn 30?
I feel like an easy answer here would be to say "skydive" or "go to Tahiti!" My best suggestion on what to do before turning 30 is to develop a good sense of who are (and who you aren't). Know what you're good at, what you enjoy doing, know who you want to be. Maybe you want to be an expert on an issue, or someone who is a great fundraiser, or the next David Plouffe. Once you can visualize who you want to be, you'll figure out what to do and where you should be working.

And if you do go to Tahiti...think about going solo. You learn a lot about yourself when you're on your own (plus you get to set and change your itinerary your own way).

8) What's the best thing about being 41?
After 20+ years of doing this I know who I am and what I'm good at doing.

And if someone thinks differently, I don't let it hold me back. In general, things got a whole lot easier when I stopped giving a shit about things like that.

9) What are you looking forward to?
Packing up my carry-on and getting on a plane. Watching UCLA football. Going to see a band that I love.

But above all the one thing I always look forward to is catching up with old campaign friends. You meet a lot of smart/funny/interesting people in politics.

Coming from campaigns is like coming from a bad neighborhood - it makes you tough. And you develop a similar bond with the people you came up with, if only because you all managed to survive it.

10) What else?
Emulate people you admire. More than just what they know - learn how they think. Study the intangibles; how they make decisions, build bridges, diffuse conflict.

Return calls.

And if a bartender ever asks "what's in that?" you don't wan't him making it. Order a bottle of beer.

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