I have a good friend, I’ll call her Jen, who said she doesn’t want to run for elected office because she doesn’t feel qualified.
So I called her and leaned on her a little. “You are qualified, too,” I said, “more than you think.” I reminded her of her work in the community, how well she conducts herself in public, and that she’s as qualified to run as anyone out there.
Am I surprised she feels this way? Not really. A study conducted by Brigham Young University political science professor Jessica Preece in 2016 shows that fewer women than men run for office due to this self-doubt. It’s more prevalent with women, although I know some male friends who succumb to this misperception, too.
The thing is, each of us, regardless of gender, is qualified enough. If you have done any of the following, you should be fine: volunteer work, work experience, participation in an organization, raising a family or coaching a sports team.
You're qualified because once you get into office, you will realize you don’t know anything. At least you thought you knew something until you sit in a public forum making decisions, and it feels like driving a car in a blizzard with only half the wipers working. Sure, if you know how to get along with others and build consensus, you are miles ahead. And experience in planning and zoning and budgeting will be tremendously helpful. For the most part, however, elected office doesn’t require knowledge or qualifications. It requires a skill set.
You need to think things through. You need to be willing to work hard. And, like Midvale’s new mayor, Robert Hale, told me, “You learn when to speak up and shut up.”
Oh, and you have to fake it till you make it.
Recently, my husband Drew and I went to Snowbird for a dinner for elected officials hosted by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. I replied to the invitation because I thought it sounded interesting and that it would be cool to meet Mayor McAdams. Even after two years of serving as a councilwoman, though, I still felt my stomach clench with fear as we entered the venue.
I turned to Drew and said, “I can’t believe I keep subjecting myself to this.” But I pulled myself together, went into a roomful of mostly strangers and some acquaintances and had a grand time networking.
This is how running for elected office is. No one forces you to run. You step up to the plate and put your name out there, and it’s the scariest place to be. You’re going to ask yourself why you even brought it on purposefully. There is nothing as terrifying as running, and you undoubtedly open yourself up to public scrutiny.
On the flip side, there are few things more rewarding than serving in public office. For one, you can go in there, roll up your sleeves and have some influence on policy that can make your community a better place. You learn firsthand how your government runs. You get to appreciate people — like the maintenance employee remodeling city hall, the librarian who stays well past closing time to usher patrons out and all the other staff and volunteers — who do their jobs quietly and without fanfare.
However, in order to be elected into office, you do need to run. That is a basic requirement. If it is something you have been thinking of, be kind to yourself as you take stock of your qualifications and experiences. Give yourself a chance and others just might, too.
Jewel Allen is a journalist, author and councilwoman. She lives in Grantsville.