When I was a child, I don’t think I ever had aspirations to be President of the United States. I wasn’t groomed for the position. In fact, I thought it was a really cool thing to be selected as ringmaster in my kindergarten circus, put on each year by Mrs. Smith as Marlatt Elementary. I was the first female ringmaster and my “whip” was a straight stick, found in the backyard, with a long piece of bright blue yarn (the best option my mother could find)….
Of course, I’m sure Mrs. Smith chose me for my propensity to be a leader. As a firstborn child with very self-assured parents and doting grandparents, I was encouraged to excel. Well, except for my Kansas grandmother, who told me honestly, “Jilly, you can do anything, but you can’t sew worth a damn.” Okay, so I can’t sew. And I really can’t cook. I can bake pretty well, but I get so impatient in the kitchen that I feel like I have to do other things while waiting for water to boil or oil to heat up. Which could be why my pan caught on fire when I was putting clothes in the dryer and I burned my kitchen floor….but I digress.
When I was in sixth grade in Memphis, Tennessee, my wonderful teacher Miss Foster collected our school pictures in the fall and in the spring, she filled a wall of our faces pasted on the bodies of people she’d cut out of magazines and catalogues, with a description of what she predicted we’d be when we grew up. I still remember seeing my face on the body of a person in a yellow work jacket, with a helmet under the arm and the description: Inventor. Although Miss Foster wouldn’t let me cut out letters for the bulletin board because I was not precise, she knew I loved to come up with ideas. She had encouraged me to pursue my interest to bring the first recycling bins (large outside bins) to a school in the Memphis school district, she supported the crazy ideas that generated classroom discussion and she thought I, a female in the early seventies, would actually grow up to be an inventor.
In high school, I was elected student body president. But I was also named class clown and I’m still proud of that. Because I don’t believe in taking myself too seriously. In college, my sorority chose me to be a song leader one year, giving me confidence to do something that I’d never imagine doing. But my senior year, when I signed up to be in the election to president of the sorority, I learned a very valuable lesson.
We held our meeting to elect officers in the early evening and gathered to both add nominations to the sign ups and hold final elections. The first election was for president and those of us who had signed up and been nominated stepped out of the room. When we returned, someone else had received the honor. So I was nominated for another office, and another, and another, and another. And each time, I walked out with the nominees and came back a loser. The final officer was as a liaison to other campus organizations and I was nominated for that one as well. As I walked out of the room for the vote to be taken, I vowed I was never walking back in the room. I was too humiliated. But somehow I mustered the courage to return and this time was a victor. While at the time I was hurt and lost and questioned my dedication to the sorority to which I’d spent four years, I could not have realized how that experience would broaden my outlook. I was forced to then to step outside my circle. And I think I’ve done that ever since.
Little did I know, as a kindergartner, that ringmaster was just the beginning of a career of rounding up people — all kinds of people. Nor did I know that I would indeed grow up to be an inventor of sorts, creating new ideas to tackle problems in the workplace and challenges in the political/public service realm. While I learned the value of leading and delegating in high school, I also learned that sometimes a laugh can be much more effective. And I certainly didn’t know that being a “loser” could cause me to win so very much in the long run….
We all have experiences that make us capable to run for office. Even those higher offices. Sure, it’s time to look forward to the next election. Why? Because we learned something during this election that is very, very valuable: What is that lesson for you?