Half of my professional life has been spent working on campaigns. From small ones [like a City Water Commissioner Race] to BIG ones [like a Presidential], anyone who knows one or is an organizer know how hard that job really is. It’s incredibly hard. You have to deal with volunteers that are flakey, goals that are ridiculously demanding, and hours that are normal person would never work – ever. You eat pizza and other garbage every night, drink more coffee in 6 months that some people drink in 10 years, sleep about 3-4 hours a night, and treat your body like dirt.
I have seen [and if you are an organizer, or have worked around other organizers you have also] very smart, very hard working people, have full-on nervous breakdowns in offices. Having a full on cry-fest under the pressure and stress of trying to elect the person that you are working for and stand up for what they believe in is a regular occurrence. If you survive [and I mean that quite literally, as each year we hear stories of organizers dropping down dead from stress], you leave with an enormous increase in skills, relationships that will last the rest of your life, and wondering how in the hell you made it all the way through without quitting, having a meltdown, or dying.
But, there are ways to survive this madness. Here are 4 techniques that you can use to survive a campaign. They involve self-awareness, self-discipline, and being a little selfish now and then. I would ask that you not read this as a way to waste 7 minutes, but make an attempt after reading to attempt to implement these in your day. Your boss, your volunteers, you candidate, and most importantly yourself, will be better off in the long run.
Focus on one thing at a time
When I work with teams, one of the things that I stress is to ‘play one pitch/set/shift/or step at a time.’ This skill is not just important for athletics, but for surviving a campaign. Let’s discuss why this is important: First, worrying about the outcome of the race will do nothing but stress you out. You are not in control of that – you can effect it, but you can’t control it. What you are in control of is the task right in front of you. Whether it is working with a volunteer, posting something on Facebook, or doing a large training, you are in control of that moment. So you should be putting all of your effort to what is right there, rather than something that will take place several days, weeks, or months ahead. The outcome is a result of your work. This is something that you need to realize if you are going to survive.
Second, multitasking does nothing but lessen the quality of your work. You can’t set up a training, make calls, and answer emails at the same time. And if you can, the quality of that work will be poor – and that’s unacceptable. Why not do something well and correct the first time, instead of opening up the door for mistakes? That sounds better to me. Again, focus on what you have to accomplish right now, rather than 20 things that you need to get done.
And third, when you do several things at a time and something really important comes up that you have to drop everything for – in what order are you going to go back to your work? What is the highest priority? When you are doing 10 things at a time, they think everything is equally important. You and I both know that this is not true. Begin your day by not only setting priorities, but continue to do so as the day goes along. This way, you can be more productive and work one project at a time with all of your effort focused on what is ahead of you.
Let’s have a quick physiology session, shall we? When you don’t breathe effectively, there is not enough oxygen going through your body to make it work well. Sure, since you are functioning, you are still doing your work, but does taking short, panic-like breaths help you get through the day? Hell no. In fact, your body has to work much harder when you breathe ineffectively than when you breathe properly. Your heart rate increases, your body temperature rises, and you burn through the calories from that awful pizza you just ate much faster. And by the end of the day, you are DONE. So, how do you breathe correctly?
It’s not just about breathing slower and deeper, but when you breathe in through your nose, your nervous system is actually triggered at that point to slow your heart rate down. When you breathe in through your nose and fill up your stomach with air using your diaphragm, it expands your lungs and allows more air to get it. And breathing out through your mouth acts as a natural relaxer. It allows your body to sink into your chair, relaxing your muscles. So, breath slow and deep in through your nose, filling your stomach, and out slowly, pushing all the air out of your body to help you relax. Just try it for a few minutes and a know you will feel better. It will feel awkward at first, but after a few minutes you will feel more focused and refreshed. If professional athletes do it, why can’t you?
Don’t quit, have GRIT
I am not trying to be cute here or impress you with my rhyming ability. We all at one point or another, want to quit our campaigns. It’s a hard job. It’s an exhausting job. But, those who show perseverance due to the passion they have for their work [which is the definition of GRIT], will not only be better organizers, but will find their work more rewarding. Building a Culture of Grit is something that I try to do with the Athletic Teams and Organizations that I have worked with in the past. A person can be trained to be gritty. But in order to do so, they first need to learn to have perspective. Perspective that this goal is going to be hard and getting to the goal is going to take time – you will not win the race tomorrow if Election Day is 3 weeks from now, but if you focus and do your job the right way NOW by focusing on the process [training at your best, knocking at your best, recruiting at your best], then you will have a good chance of reaching it. Good Regional, Deputy, and Statewide Field Directors can train this in their Field Organizers, but it is something that needs to be trained each day, by reemphasizing the importance of the race you are in, and reminding organizers that campaigns are marathons, not sprints.
And as far passion goes, well, that is different for everyone. Your passion could be for voting rights, fighting for the good of the environment, helping to create justice reform, whatever. But it is UNDERSTANDING that this is your passion, and KNOWING is why you are doing this incredibly hard job in the first place that is makes a huge difference. If each day, after little sleep, you go into your office thinking ‘here we go again. More volunteers, more drama, more nonsense,’ then you will be an ineffective organizer. But if you have a passion that drives you, that is effecting you to make change, then heading into the office becomes ‘I know this is hard, but who cares. We need justice reform in this country. Nothing is going to stop me from getting people to the polls because of that,’ then you will start to fight with more conviction, perseverance, and show more Grit.
BE SELFISH: Take 15 min twice day and get away from your phone & computer
If you are organizing, you are either on your phone or computer at least 90% of your day. You are crunching numbers in VAN, scheduling volunteer shifts, or digitally organizing you team. By the time you get to the end of the day, which usually lasts around 15-18 hours, your eyes are tired, your ear hurts from being on the phone and you are ready to just ‘get the day over with.’ Well, knock it off, and do something to help yourself.
Although you are putting all of your time and effort into the campaign, you still need time for yourself. This does not mean taking a smoke break, driving to get taco bell, or looking at your fantasy football team. This means taking 15 min, twice a day, and getting away from everything campaign related. A total of 30 min to yourself each day is not going to cost you an election – I promise you, it won’t. However, you can lose an election if you don’t take a break now and then because you are so fried you can’t think. This is time where you can take a walk around the block, go to your car and take a nap [with the air conditioner on of course], or just sit outside and breathe. I guarantee you that you that the world will not end if you don’t answer an email the second it hits your inbox, or miss a call. In fact, you will be in a better place from when you left your office 15 minutes beforehand.
I hope that you will take all of these suggestions and implement them with yourself and with your teams. Remember that you were hired to do a hard job, but most importantly, to do it well. The more you can focus on doing your job the best you can by taking a deep breath, focusing on the task right in front of you, and understanding the entire picture – then it will be the most rewarding experience of your life.
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