True Grit: ABA YLD Style

Grit. Passion. Perseverance. Drive.  I didn’t know I had these traits until I was tested to the max.

This bar year, ABA Young Lawyers Division had a rare number of officer and constitutional representative positions open for elections. There were 6 positions available.  Last year, they split the Secretary and Treasurer position so Treasurer would be a stand-alone two (2) year position.  Secretary would be a three (3) year ascending position to be Chair of the Division.

Historically, candidates put in their names for elections immediately after the close of assembly at the ABA Annual Meeting, the year preceding the election. The period for candidates is between the close of Assembly of the Annual Meeting, in August, and the Midyear Meeting in February. 

I was very interested in running for Treasurer because I thought I could do a really good job and had some good ideas. It was a new position, so I could make leave my mark on it. Also as a two-year position,  I could balance it with my other commitments.

I submitted my name for Treasurer at the close of the Annual Meeting in August last year. I hadn’t heard anyone was thinking about running against me, so I really didn’t do anything to prepare for an election. Looking back, this was probably a mistake.  Oddly, I had this constant dread that the other shoe was going to drop and that something bad was going to happen. However, everything was calm on the western front and I hadn’t heard anything for months.

Then, two (2) days before the Midyear Meeting (February 2014) at Assembly, the deadline for submitting your name for elected positions, I got a call from my prospective opponent; he had decided to run against me.  I made some calls to some close friends for advice about what to do. My heart sunk. The other shoe had dropped.

I was officially in a national contested election. I had a campaign to run.  It was daunting. Where do you start? I was also notified that Wednesday afternoon that I had to participate in a Saturday afternoon debate.  The Midyear meeting started Thursday and I was running around at 9000 miles a minute.  I wasn’t prepared, had no time to prepare and was also triple booked for the meeting that started the next day. Also public speaking was not my strongest suit nor was thinking on my feet. I didn’t particularly like either. Now, I had to actively campaign during the meeting, prep for a very stressful debate and be alive. All I wanted to do was to quit, hide, and cry. However, there was no time to do that.

I survived Midyear and barely made it out alive from the debate.  However, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have to twist people’s arms to support me.  In fact, people were enthusiastic about supporting me in my campaign; I picked up a lot of support at the meeting.

After Midyear, I had some vague notions of what I wanted to do but I had no real “put into action” plans. I hadn’t really thought about it, because I didn’t have to. After hearing my opponent rely on his experience as a State Bar President and former State Bar Treasurer at the debate, I knew had to come up with something that differentiated myself from him, and do it fast.

So what did I do? 1) I started picking brains and learning, 2) I got organized and 3) I worked.  I drafted two people to be my campaign team. One person worked on my messaging and the other worked on my communications. They told me what states to target,  who to start approaching, how I could make my flyers better, strategies for calls,  what points to emphasize, and tweaks for content. This was going to be a marathon so it was one step at a time.

Then, I created a campaign website by myself. I had never done one before, but I figured if other people could do it I could too.  I made it sleek and as concise as I could; I used pictures, interactive links and buttons, because people have the attention spans of bugs. I worked on it non-stop for a week then kept editing it.  I wanted it live fast. I developed my plans, initiatives and goals and kept refining them as I talked to people. 

I realized I had to talk on the phone, because people were not returning emails. I have a confession; I have had a phobia of phones for a lot of my life. I hate the phone; I hate calls unless they are my best friends. I was scared of talking to strangers. I needed a strategy for calls if I had to make them. So I worked on it with my campaign team generally about what to do and what to say, then stuck to it.  My campaign manager would ask me day in and day out how many calls I had made and I had to report to him every day.  I got better and more comfortable with the phone, and started yielding support from the phone calls. I got confident and support started rolling in. I made something like 100-200 calls in 6 weeks.

No one really tells you about the mental toll of a campaign. In short: it's really hard. I would get tired and very burned out. It was exhausting process, but I was doing well. I kept reminding myself to just keep going.  If I had a bad week, I tried to not worry about it. I would read motivational posts on Tumblr and Twitter (dorky I know!) but, it kept me going. It was really positive and kept me happy. The campaign made me stronger then I have ever been. Sure there were times I wanted to quit because I was so tired, but I tried to continue to balance everything and enjoying the things I loved, like hanging with my friends,  cooking and exercising.

At the beginning of the contested election, I kept thinking, “What if I lose?”  Then at some point when I was making all these calls asking for support and running plans by people, I began to think, “Who cares?” If I lose, I’ll do something else and I started to make alternative plans for if I lost.  I got to a place of fearlessness and ultra confidence.  I started taking risks, calculated ones. I started testing things and stretching myself outside of my comfort zone. The risks started working. I joined a Chicago Toastmasters group, which is a public speaking group to get more comfortable and confident with public speaking and speaking on your feet. I love it now and I never would have done that if I hadn’t had to or anticipated giving campaign speeches.

On March 25, about seven (7) weeks after announcing he was running against me, my opponent withdrew from the race. I am now ABA YLD Treasurer-Elect. I am extremely thankful my opponent made this a contested election for a time. However, I am extremely relieved he withdrew. The campaign tested me to the brink, but I made it out of the fire, stronger, more confident and happier then I have ever been. I’ll always remember when life throws you curveballs you have to keep hitting, even if you miss a couple.

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