Project Wonderful

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What I Wish I Had Known At 30 With Michael McCall

Michael McCall, 36, Director of Campaign Services at Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund

As you may remember these were supposed to be posts leading up to my 30th birthday in November and I promise you I asked Michael to do one well in advance (I think he was actually the first person I asked), but it is a testament to how much I value his advice that Mike officially finished this post yesterday and I was willing to wait. Michael "Chris Traeger" McCall is my fellow redhead, Scorpio and Edwards alum. He is one of the most positive people I know and displays more charity and patience in a typical work day than I do in an entire financial quarter, which I know because is also my current boss. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Michael McCall.

1) Tell us a little about your career path.
I think my path was a little different than most, in that I wasn’t very politically involved when I was younger. I would’ve characterized my high school and college self to be straddling the line between “libertarian” and “anarchist”. But while earning my Economics degree at Ohio State (go Buckeyes!), I spent a lot of time analyzing budgets and realized that I was a lot more liberal than I thought. So there I was, a graduating senior who really didn’t want to work at a bank, and I saw an ad in the school paper that said “Get rid of George Bush. Make $10/hr.” And I thought, “I like both of those things!” I worked 9 months in the 2004 cycle as a paid canvasser, hitting doors 4-5 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. I had hundreds of doors slammed in my face. I lost 50 lbs because I was eating a pair of Power Bars for dinner every night. By most measurements, it was a miserable job. But for the first time, I felt like I was doing something that mattered. It took me another year or so to decide to jump into campaign work full-time, but then I had a great opportunity in 2006. Mary Jo Kilroy in Columbus gave me an amazing opportunity on her first Congressional run and I served as her Field Director. After that race, I basically moved from state to state, campaign to campaign, until I walked into a Democratic trivia night in Loudoun County and met my future wife. After that, I started looking for something that would still allow me to work in progressive politics, without the all-consuming campaign lifestyle that seems to preclude the possibility
of grown-up relationships.

2) What are you most proud of?
I was a pack-a-day smoker for a decade, so completing Tough Mudder a couple of years ago was a big deal personally. Professionally, it was pretty cool when my friend Mary Gonzalez was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2012. It was one of the first races I worked on at Victory, and when I see what she’s accomplished and the lives she’s changed, it gives me a thrill to have been a part of that. 

3) What is the best advice you've received?
My dad always used to say, “There aren’t enough good listeners in the world. People liked to be listened to.” Like most kids, I was kind of an idiot and didn’t listen to him as much as I should. But as I’ve grown older (if not up), I think about this more and more. This is a business of talkers, and conversations can often feel like a competition to make the incisive statement, or witty bon mot. When you’re busy talking, or waiting to talk, you miss out on so much. Even if you think the person you’re speaking with doesn’t know as much as you do, or is wrong, you do yourself a disservice to shut them out.

4) What is the worst advice you've received?
Bad advice is not usually worth remembering, so I don't. I will say that I used to have this perception that to be taken seriously you had to be mean. You had to harden yourself, be sarcastic and cutthroat. A college roommate of mine showed me the power of kindness, how being accepting and kind to someone is a sign of strength because that generosity just highlights how much you have to give. I have really learned the power of being kind and that is something I didn't inherently understand. (Editor's Note: This is something Michael is SUPER good at that I strive to be.)

5) What are you still trying to learn?
Patience. Empathy. How to take the work we do seriously without taking myself too seriously.

6) What was the best thing about being in your 20s?
Everything I owned fit into the trunk of a Honda Civic. And ... that's about it. I've enjoyed my 30s way more than my 20s. I didn't start to figure out what I wanted to do with my life until my mid-twenties and I probably wasn't all that good at it until my late twenties. I look better, feel better and do better now.

7) What one thing should I absolutely do before I turn 30?
30 is not the be all and end all of anything! Age ain't nothin' but a number. I will say this – many very intelligent people grow up thinking of themselves as, essentially, brains that are supported by an unimportant meat sack. It leads to a lot of poor health habits that take a toll on anyone, but become bigger issues the older you get. My advice? Take care of yourself, physically. Find some kind of exercise that you enjoy. Learn to cook. Floss.

8) What's the best thing about being 36?
I feel like I have a good mix of childishness and adulthood. I’m a homeowner, I’m getting married in a couple of months, but I don't feel old. I always made it a point to remember what childhood is like – the wonder, the fear, the sense of possibility. I never wanted to be the guy that let that go. And now I feel like I’m in this zone where there’s still a world of possibility, and I have the freedom and financial wherewithal to actually do stuff. 

9) What are you most looking forward to?
Kids. Learning new things.

10) What else?
One thing that frankly shocks me is the number of people in our industry who treat people badly. It offends me on a moral and ideological level, but it's also a massive strategic failure. Try to treat people well - everyone has something to teach you if you're not too stubborn or stupid. Other than that? Learn to play chess. And if a consultant is taking you out for dinner, order the steak.

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