As the end of another year looms, I feel the familiar urge to reflect. You know, for the sake of auld lang syne. If, as the worn cliche states, life is a journey, this year was the part of said journey in which I veered from the road less traveled and into the actual wilderness. Here I am, bedraggled, checking the sky for familiar stars by which to orient myself, stumbling through the underbrush, thorns tearing at my clothing, smeared with dried blood and dirt. But I’m still pushing forward, powering toward 2019 as I contemplate the death of the old year and the impending birth of the new.
As always, approaching the precipice of a new year triggers deep reflection of the year that’s passing. This, in turn, triggers the desire to share what I learned, my struggles, and hopes for the days and months to come…
You can’t win them all.
I spent the year working on political campaigns, toiling for 80+ hours a week to get folks elected that I truly believed could change my state and country for the better. These were people for whom I was willing to bleed, sweat, and cry. After the fire that was this election cycle went out and the ashes settled weeks past election day, it turned out that there was more losing than winning, and some of those losses were crushing. I understand that this isn’t the type of work you do for a short while, that it takes a lifetime to create the lasting change you want to see in the world, but the losses still land like a sucker punch to the gut. After you recover your breathing, however, there isn’t much to do besides learn from what went wrong, celebrate what went right, and get on with the next initiative.
When all else fails, read.
I’ve been an avid reader from early elementary school, and, as I grew into adulthood, it was normal for me to read 75+ books per year, devouring them as soon as I could get my hands on them. There isn’t much I value above a well formed collection of words, and I’ve fallen into many a book that has left me breathless with the author’s fantastic prose. Even less earth shattering books will do, provided they can hold my interest.
In 2017, however, I found myself so nerve-shatteringly busy that I only read 2 books all year. I haven’t read so little for pleasure since I learned how to read. I was ashamed, dismayed, and determined not to repeat the mistake in 2018. I knew I’d be busy, so I set a modest goal of 30 books. I’m happy to report that I surpassed that goal by 7 books (working on number 38 right now). Next year, I’m shooting higher, and I plan to make reading a little every day (and not just articles about how the country is on fire) a priority. Reading calms the chaos in my head. I need it to live well. That’s something I had to relearn this year.
Not everyone on your side is a friend.
Democrats, y’all know how we are. We may be a big tent party, but say the wrong thing around the wrong group of Dems and you’ll be knocked out of that tent and onto your ass.
My home state happens to be one that had a very contentious gubernatorial primary, and, more broadly, many Dem incumbents were challenged in their districts by so-called ‘more progressive’ candidates. So, that created a perfect shit storm of division, hate filled rhetoric, grandstanding, prolonged character assassinations, and higher than thou pronouncements. Once the primaries ended, we were all supposed to go along to get along, and I think many of us did, but it damned sure wasn’t comfortable — like jamming your feet into a pair of shoes a size and a half too small. The constant sniping, back biting, and tearing down of other Democratic candidates created an environment similar to 2016. It would be a massive understatement to say that this was an extremely frustrating and exhausting experience.
I don’t know how we successfully move forward as a party, but I’m willing to commit myself to doing whatever it takes. However, I have come to understand that just because we are all Democrats doesn’t mean you give a shit about what would make life more equitable for black folks, for women, and for other marginalized groups. It’s depressing, but real. But the work must continue, even if the conditions make it difficult to stay positive and productive. That’s what happy hour is for, amirite?
Buy into selfcare or perish.
Selfcare isn’t some new age bullshit that can be written off with the roll of your eyes. I say that because I used to think of the concept in those terms. Being busier than I ever dreamed possible has quickly disabused me of those tired, narrow minded notions. There were many days that I woke up brittle and weary after a decent night’s sleep, simply because the exhaustion was all consuming and had settled into my very bones. To combat this, I created pockets of spaces that I used like temporary sanctuaries — dinner with friends, a movie with my folks, the quiet commute to the office or an event while I listened to an audio book in peace — and, next year, I plan to further carve out these pockets, to expand them into spaces large enough for me to fully occupy, if only for a short while. We need these spaces in order to go on being productive. And being an introvert only amplifies this need. This is yet another lesson I’ve learned the hard way this year.
You can figure most things out along the way.
How does a person go from never working on a political campaign to working on three in quick succession, the titles getting better and more responsibility-laden as she moves along? Well, there is a whole hell of a lot you can learn to do if only you’re willing to introduce nose to grindstone, set fire to your personal life (for a few months at a time), and jump all the way in, caution be absolutely damned. This is literally what I did this year, and, inexplicably, I found myself holding my own as I worked closely with people who have been doing this kind of work for years. I spent 2018 soaking up everything of value, pinpointing things that weren’t working, and then improving upon them. I believe a fresh set of eyes combined with the willingness to work 7 days a week for months on end created the space for me to grow much more rapidly than I ever believed possible. It also helped me move beyond the obstacle of my own doubt, and it’s a beautiful thing to see that stumbling block in the rearview instead of perpetually up ahead. Now I’m in this shit, and I have so many ideas for how to make things even better. More on that in 2019…
A sense of humor is vital.
In my family, you can’t hang unless you can crank up the sarcasm and crack jokes just about every 30 seconds. My sense of humor is very particular, and it’s not for everyone (their loss). So, I know I’ve found the right people when they get my sense of humor and, even better, counter it with their own. This year, I was fortunate enough to work with all kinds of funny, interesting, intelligent, irreverent people. Working fifteen hour days isn’t so bad if you’re laughing and trading jokes all day. I want more of that next year, and every year.
Changing the world is possible.
This is the best lesson learned over the last couple years, but this year I actually got to flex my skills and put them to focused use. Change is possible, and I can be part of what ushers it into existence. It might mean working for the rest of my life, but I’m okay with that. It beats the complacent alternative. I’ve had too many years of inactivity already. For me, the hustle will continue until the day hustling becomes impossible.
I’m not sad to see 2018 go (it’s last call, after all), and I value the lessons learned this year, including the losses, because there is more to learn in losing than in winning. I truly believe that. I want to slough off all the frustration that has built up over the last 12 months and enter 2019 with renewed spirit and fresh perspective. There’s so much work to be done, and I can’t wait to get started. Onward.