Eight years ago, I started one of the most challenging chapters in my life: Being a candidate for elected office.
Specifically, I wanted to be the next Presiding Commissioner of Boone County, Missouri.
You are probably thinking, “Wow, I have never heard of a Presiding Commissioner? Must be one of those ballot items I ignore after I vote for President.”
OK, so even if you know what a Presiding Commissioner is, running for this office might not seem like a big deal to you. But trust me. No matter how low the office, being a candidate for the first time is a big deal.
Anyone stepping into the political arena quickly discovers that the highs are very high, the lows are very low and that you’ll swing between them so fast that you get sick to your stomach (or perhaps it is all the Optimist and Rotary Club lunches…). Kidding aside, you can go from glee to despair and back to glee in a matter of minutes.
Surviving as a candidate is not about reason, strategy, or policy. Like most new ventures, it is all an emotional game.
As such, new candidates quickly discover who their true friends are. When I reflect on my current group of close friends —the ones I truly trust — they are the ones who were there to help when I ran for office.
As a candidate you’ll also make lots of new friends. People will come out of the woodwork to take on big tasks for you, spending days of their lives putting up campaign signs, marching in parades, hosting house parties, calling on the phone to get out the vote and any number of other time consuming and often tedious tasks. Just to help you win your race. Realizing how many people were working on my behalf was very humbling and always recharged my batteries when I was low.
A candidate also needs close friends for one simple purpose: to stop the candidate from saying something stupid. And there are lots of opportunities to say something stupid! As a candidate, each comment or remark about you or your ideas seems like a world crisis that has to be addressed immediately. In reality, the candidate might be better off not saying anything. Never forget the Mark Twain quote: “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”
I eventually figured out that when the press calls the best procedure was to let the call go to voicemail, figure out what they are calling about, and then consult with your friends and family about your response. My friends — and especially my BFF and wife Ava — had much better judgement on what was an appropriate response.
While I lost in the end (2010 was a bad year for Democrats in general and an absolute massacre in Missouri), losing was a good lesson as well. I have rarely ever set a goal and found it was not achievable. I normally outwork everyone else to reach my goals. And, if I am honest, I didn’t try a lot of things where the factors that determined success were out of my control.
Hard work matters in elections, but fate plays a huge part. If the position of Presiding Commissioner had been open in 2008, with a large and enthusiast Democratic turnout, I likely would have won. But the backlash against Obama in 2010 was out of my control.
Learning to be comfortable with working hard but still failing has helped me be more comfortable taking on higher-risk ventures and being OK with a high chance of failure. Knowing that I have friends who will stand by me when I try, and when I fail, has been eye opening. And it is a realization I would have never had if I had won.
Maybe being an also-ran isn’t that bad after all.
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