Project Wonderful

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ask An Election Nerd: Is There Such A Thing As Campaign Career Life Balance?

Hey Nancy, is there any area of the campaign world where a reasonable work-life balance is possible? I'm in my mid twenties, and for now I've made a conscious choice to forgo that balance... but I know that I can't keep that up forever. After a few years I may want some kind of personal life. Is there some niche that allows that without leaving campaigns entirely?

This is suuuuuuch a good question and one I have asked a lot over the past few years, beginning in my own mid-twenties. It's part of the reason I went to grad school and started this blog. I think I have some really good advice on this topic, not because I am a genius but because I have been asking really smart people about it. Here's what I've learned:

1)Stay on the trail for as long as you can. When I left grad school and started doing informational interviews, maaaaaany people advised me to go back on the campaign trail just one more cycle before moving to Washington. For health, logistic, and personal reasons that is not what I decided to do and we'll get there in a second. What I have found, and was warned about, is that you can really hit a wall in your career if you don't have a big marquee race on your resume. It's not that you can't overcome that, but it makes the path much, much, much, much more difficult. As good as your instincts may be, no one wants to take advice from someone who hasn't been there. In addition, the more time I spend with colleagues who do have one or two more cycles under their belt, the more I realize there's a lot that I don't know and probably won't know until I manage another cycle.

2)Yes, but it comes with some trade-offs. I'm obviously still involved in campaign world, but I just told you I haven't been managing races. Here's why. In my experience the best work-life balance available in the electoral realm is working at endorsing organizations. In my current role, I still get to work with and advise candidates, run campaign trainings, and interact with consultants BUT I work from 9am to 6pm on most weekdays and rarely on weekends. From that perspective, it's a pretty sweet gig. The frustrating part of my job is that while I don't have the stress of managing a campaign, I also don't have the control. My candidates can make decisions that I don't agree with and I have a limited arsenal of carrots and sticks to influence that. When my candidates win, I don't get credit for it even if I basically wrote their campaign plan. It's also just not as exciting as being on the ground. I work at a desk in an office, which has a different energy than being on a campaign and most of my coworkers are not campaign people. In addition (and this is a biggie) most organizations like the one I described are non-profits, which means they probably won't be able to pay you as well as other avenues and funding for your work is often contingent on factors outside your control.

3)As you advance in your campaign career you can negotiate better work-life balance. It's true, no good campaign manager is working 9 to 6pm throughout the cycle. At the same time, most managers, finance directors and communications directors aren't working field organizer hours. Especially if you're on a campaign over a long period of time, you don't have to work weekends in the beginning. You can ask for vacation, housing (paid, not supporter) and stipends. I know a statewide campaign manager who negotiates up front that she gets time for an hour run in the middle of each day. However, the most comforting advice I got on this subject is that you are a different person at 32 than 22. You know yourself better; you know what you need to stay healthy mentally and physically; you are better equipped to advocate for yourself and you will have self-control to keep from burning yourself out.

4)You will never stop asking yourself this question. When I was considering taking a semester off grad school to go on a campaign, a friend who has been on and off the trail for the past 10 years advised me that no matter what I decided, my decision would never be final. (I wound up taking 6 weeks to go be a GOTV Director on a race he was managing.) Whether or not to go out on a race is the eternal struggle precisely for the reasons I just mentioned: races are more exciting and advance your career, but they are also unpredictable and draining. Take it from me, even if you decide to spend a couple years elsewhere, campaigns will always be in the back of your mind. Conversely when you’re campaign staff you will always hear the siren song of stability. It’s not necessarily an either/or, so if you are feeling like you need a time out, you can take a cycle to reevaluate and still go back.

Thanks for asking this question! It’s been a dialectic in the back of my mind for a long time and I’m really glad you prompted me to share some of the great advice I’ve collected. I hope it helps you as much as it’s helped me.

If YOU have a question for the blog, email me at

Campaign Love and Mine,


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