What running for office can teach you about running your life

Kate Black and June Diane Raphael wrote a how-to guide for women running for office – and dedicated it to men. Specifically: “To all the men who have been making decisions about women … without women. Thank you for your time, your energy and your talent. We appreciate you. And also … We’re coming for you.”

Raphael, an actor who stars in the Netflix series ‘Grace and Frankie’, and Black, a D.C.-based policy adviser in the federal government, teamed up to create ‘Represent: The Woman’s Guide to Running for Office & Changing the World’, a nonpartisan, checklist-style road map.

“Men are not waiting for this book to come out to run for office,” Black says. “They’re not waiting for the next training or when their student debt loans are paid off or when the kids are in school. I hope any woman reading it feels inspired to look around at all the women in her life and think, ‘Wow, they could be leaders – I want to help them.’ Or, ‘It’s me, I’m going to run.’”
And for those whose political ambitions have yet to develop? Much of the running-for-office advice in the book doubles as running-your-life wisdom. Black shared five tips that anyone can put into practice today.

Tell people your ideas out loud

During their first conversation, Raphael asked Black – who was formerly the chief of staff and vice president of research at EMILY’s List, a resource for women in politics – for the few essential nuggets she routinely shared with women running for office. At the top of the list: Start talking about it. Want to write a book, land a promotion by the end of the year or launch an app? By telling people your ideas and goals, “you make a promise to yourself that you’re going to follow through,” Black says. “And the more people you share it with, the more responses you can gather, either from body language or verbally.”

Do a time inventory

Lack of time is a paralysing obstacle for many women who consider running for office – and, well, for everyone else. Black suggests creating a time log to figure out how you might adjust your schedule and fit in more activities (or downtime). Log everything you do for two weeks, from the time you wake up each day (pencil in coffee, getting dressed and leaving the house) until you go to bed. Total the number of minutes you dedicate to paid work, self-care, family care, free time and whatever else is important to you. Then analyse the log: What time can you free up, and what do you need to preserve?

Perfect the hard ask

Asking someone for money, whether it’s a political donation or a raise at work, isn’t fun. But there are ways to increase the odds of success, recommends Black, who’s worked as a salary negotiation trainer. “Be specific, No. 1, but then shut up,” she says. Let the person on the other side respond. “It’s incredibly difficult for someone like me who might feel awkward in silence and will just keep talking. And as women, sometimes I think we’re socialised to justify our requests.” To prevent yourself from overexplaining or apologising, take a sip of water, bite down on a pencil or imagine that whoever talks first loses,” Black suggests. “I guarantee you it will work way better than you trying to fill the gap.”

Grow your community circle

Women who are campaigning need supporters. “There are so many after-hours things that are seeking our attention that it can feel overwhelming,” Black says. Her rules to live by: Join the groups you’ve always wanted to join, like that Tuesday night bowling league or weekend hike meet-up. Connect by telling people about yourself, asking them about their lives and getting their contact info. Most important: Show up! If you get an invite to a neighbourhood watch meeting, attend. Make it a point to host, too, whether it’s a book club meeting or dance party, and befriend your friends’ friends – an easy way to grow your circle.

Be specific in networking

Black recalls a time when one of her go-to networking lines might have been, “Hey, I’m kind of thinking about my next move. Can you help me?” “And the other person doesn’t have a thing that they need to follow up on,” she says. “They can easily say, ‘Sure, no problem,’ and then never have to do anything.” Instead, ask an ultra-specific question, like: “I saw this job opening and I think you might know someone there; can you push my résumé?” Similarly, rather than asking someone for general help with your campaign or project, try: “You have a graphic design background, I need a logo, let’s make this happen.” “That’s way more productive,” Black says. “It gives people something to do, and they want to help, so let them help you.”

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