You’re only given a certain number of days to campaign before voters go to the polls and cast their ballots in your election; every hour lost is one you won’t be able to recover. Countless distractions can waste your time and resources on the campaign trail: gossiping about opponents, focusing myopically on yard signs, holding too many meetings, and much more.
But the biggest time waster, and the thing that most often keeps people from launching a kick-ass campaign for office, is fear.
Fear of making mistakes. Fear of looking silly. And most of all: fear of losing. I understand it . . . these are fears I’ve had, too. They’re fears that every candidate has. People who let fear triumph, though, lose their campaigns before they even start. Successful candidates for office aren’t void of worry; they just push through it, and don’t let the voters and their supporters see that fear.
One of the most important lessons I learned in Officer Candidate School is that a leader needs to appear confident and certain in his plans, even if he isn’t. That doesn’t mean you should be arrogant and never admit to mistakes as a candidate, but it does mean that you should project an aura of optimism on the campaign trail. Your supporters – and the voters – need you to be someone who inspires confidence. They need you to be a leader, and good leaders don’t get distracted by their fears.
Count on it: you’re going to make mistakes on the campaign trail. No matter how many times you’re on the ballot or how many books about winning local elections you read, you aren’t going to run a perfect campaign. I’ve made more mistakes in my campaigns than I can remember, and I continue to make them. I’ve screwed up in televised interviews and debates; I’ve wasted money on useless campaign materials; I even ran for a higher office I shouldn’t have and lost.
Those missteps, though, are part of the dues every candidate needs to pay in order to become an elected official. I won’t bore you with the old cliché about mistakes being lessons that make you a better candidate (even though it’s true). Instead, look at mistakes as unavoidable realities of your campaign; bumps in the road that you simply have to drive over – and put in your rearview mirror – in order to reach your destination.
I hope your destination is victory on Election Day, and that the road leads to you becoming a local officeholder. If you plan well, work hard, and avoid distractions, then I believe it will. Don’t forget, though: that road keeps going. Your trip might end up being a bit longer than you thought it would be, but don’t let your fears stop you from starting the journey in the first place.
Regardless of how good you get at campaigning, that fear of making mistakes will always be there. The best candidates, though, don’t just ignore fear . . . they give it the middle finger.
My last bit of advice? Don’t take this running for office stuff too seriously. It might seem like a big deal at the time, but it’s just one small part of your life. There are plenty of things that are more important than winning a political campaign: your family, your career, your health, your happiness. Make them the focal point of your life, and you’ll be a winner regardless of the outcome of your election.