4 Unexpected Obstacles First-Time Candidates Face
Very few first-time candidates are prepared for the emotional toll of campaigning. It is more difficult and more rewarding than anyone can imagine going in. There are so many opportunities to interact with amazing people who care about making a difference in your community. But there are also a lot of lonely times when a candidate is left with just their thoughts and feelings.
Too often, first-time candidates for political office don’t calculate the emotional and mental wear-and-tear that running for office will have on them. Here are four things to consider as you begin your campaign:
Imposter syndrome is when you feel like a fraud, that you don’t belong where you are. It’s when you look around the room and think, “These people all have it together. Why am I even here? What do I have to offer?” You might experience this when you meet other candidates that you’re running against. Or when you’re with some particularly skilled activists in your community. Or when you look at your opponent’s fundraising report. These, and many other things, can trigger that fraudulent feeling.
It’s a little bit like going to a museum and walking through the modern art gallery and overhearing someone say, “I could have done that. Heck, my kid could have done that.” Whenever I hear something like this, I want to scream, “Maybe, but the artist DID do it!” The critic gets no credit. You are not a fraud, regardless of how you feel, because you are doing the work. You are running for office. You have entered the arena. You’ve had enough and now you’re working - and putting yourself on the line in the process - to make a real difference in the world. You’re doing it. Imposters don’t do the work.
Worrying About Other People’s Feelings
If you’re getting into politics, you’ve got to care somewhat about what people think. You getting the job you’re running for literally depends on enough people wanting you to have it. It’s silly to suggest that you can’t or shouldn’t think about how people perceive you.
However, some first-time candidates get obsessed with other people’s feelings. They end up catering their message, not to their own beliefs, but to what they think people want to hear. They become consumed with follower counts and what people say in the comments section of a local news article. It all can get maddening.
More than anything, I urge first-time candidates to be themselves first and foremost. I think authenticity is the real gravitational force that draws in voters, not to mention volunteers and donors. And, for pity’s sake, don’t ever read the comments section.
I’m one of those people who struggle with anxiety. It gets me most when I’ve got a meeting with someone who I think I’ve disappointed in some way. I can work myself in knots, like a child waiting to be taken out to the woodshed. More often than not, these meetings turn out to be just fine. But every once in a while, one doesn’t, and that can send me on a negative spiral.
We all experience anxiety in different ways and to different degrees. I urge first-time candidates to have a strong support system. Don’t run for office if your closest family and friends aren’t on board with the idea. You’re going to need their support. Make sure you’ve got a good kitchen cabinet, those friends and advisors who help to guide the campaign, especially in the early days. Get a therapist if you don’t have one. Having a safe space to talk helps a lot. Take care of yourself. Self-care is a must, even for a busy candidate for office.
Before I ran for Congress in 2018, no one told me about the emotional rollercoaster. One minute I would be thinking, “I could actually win this thing.” And the next minute, I would be thinking, “This is the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life.” Those ups and downs, sometimes dependent on circumstances and other times not, just about did me in.
I constantly felt like I was making things up as I went along, completely unprepared to do what I was doing. Maybe you’re feeling that way too. That’s why I’ve put together an online course to guide first-time candidates. I’ll walk you through, step-by-step, how to run for office. It is going to launch soon. When it does, you’ll want to be the first to know.
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