After each success and defeat, I remain driven by the responsibility to act.
1) Know You Don’t Know It AllI am the daughter of, not one, but two ministers. When your parents are in the business of saving souls, you learn at a fundamental level that you don’t have to know it all — and that perfect knowledge is impossible. Yet, the most common mistake of political ambition is the false notion that you have to be the one who can save everyone. Given the scope of the issues we face, too often, we assume that the right leader is the one with the most brilliant mind, with the most unique approach.
I do have core beliefs, but I do not have an unshakeable position on every issue.
2) Know What You BelieveAnother essential element to being an effective political leader is to know, not only what you believe, but why you believe it. It sounds basic, but elected officials often find themselves adrift because they never bother to understand who they are and what they think is true. Beyond the easy labels of party or ideology are the deeply held convictions that shape those labels.
Adherence to the label of conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, exempts us from having to know our own minds. Beliefs are anchors. Without them, leaders run the risk of caving to opportunism — making choices because others do so, not because the decision is correct. The anchors of belief should never weigh down the capacity for thoughtful engagement and reasonable compromise. Effective leaders must be truth seekers, and that requires a willingness to understand truths other than our own.
A leader represents, not only those who share her core values, but those who despise all that she holds dear.
The most common mistake of political ambition is the false notion that you have to be the one who can save everyone.
3) Know How To Make FriendsThe decision to enter politics is a lonely one. Only you can decide that ceding your privacy, free time, and a corner of your sanity is worth the investment. But, once you’ve made the choice, make certain you have friends who will tell you the truth about yourself and challenge the truths you hold dear. They are the ones who will show you consistency of thought and clarity of rationale. They are the ones who you know have beliefs, and who you can trust understand the difference between political theater and reality. Friendship is the first step to collaboration, to the joint exercise that creates the only times in which politics really works. In my job, I am supposed to fight with the Republican speaker of the House, but some of my fondest and most effective moments are the ones that begin when we call each other “my friend.” We don’t say this cynically, but in recognition of a longer history that will survive after the battle of the moment. The ability to share credit, to share ideas, and to share pain bolster the exercise of politics. I am made better because of the friends I have who despise politics, and by those who subsist on little else. Both groups draw me to a center where I never forget that politics is what I do. It is not who I am. As your own star rises, you’ll reach for the memory of where it all began. Look no further than the people who know you, who love you. They will remind you to be kind, to be thoughtful, to be brave. They will negotiate with your certainty. They will vote for your bills. And they will see in you what you first saw in yourself: a person who wants to do right by others. A person ready to serve.
Stacey Abrams is House minority leader for the Georgia General Assembly, and state representative for Georgia's 89th House District. The views expressed here are her own.