What I learned when I tried to be a sprinter - by Sandy Bartlett
Women, do so many jobs. I don’t think it’s controversial or an exaggeration to say we’ve been everywhere, doing everything, for everybody throughout history.
Lately, I’ve been interviewing for another job to add to my already productive life. I am running for the Maryland House of Delegates. (www.sandybartlett.com). I already run my own law practice in the areas of trademarks and copyrights. I teach Business Law at my local community college. I’m busy in the community. I’ve served on our local Democratic Central Committee and raised two daughters. My youngest is a senior in college. My oldest, just this week, made me a grandmother, a new position where I am looking forward to overachieving.
I, like so many women, had to be encouraged to run for office by someone else, and then figure out how I stretch to make room for another job. My endeavor started about two years ago. My state senator came up to me, and I thought we would do what we usually do, say hello, talk about the weather, family, move on. Here I was, ready for my hello, and he looks right at me and says, “You should run.” I literally looked behind me. There was no one behind me. This was something for which I was not prepared.
So I went home. I talked to my husband and my daughters. I thought, will I neglect my family? We all have different roles, so we have to think about these things. Was I taking time away from them—for something I want to do? The irony is, it wasn’t something I wanted to do for myself, but something I wanted to do for others. Lesson #1: If you do something for the right reason, things work out.
The next day, I called the senator’s office and set up an appointment. I was thinking it would be brief, 15 minutes max. We met for about an hour and a half! I remember asking, “What makes you consider me?” He had plenty of reasons: You’re an attorney, you do important work in the community, people have great things to say about you, you’re an African American woman, and you’re a leader.
I asked him, “Are you considering anyone else?" “Nope,” he said. I left that meeting thinking—still—why me?
Eventually, I started to see it. I realized I am qualified for this job. I knew I could do it.
Soon after, my daughter started to have some health problems. I went back to the senator and said I couldn’t run. He said family always comes first. I was so sad when I left him.
I paid attention to that sadness—and of course, paid attention to both what my daughter needed from me, and what I needed from myself.
Within a two-week timeframe, I called the senator back. I asked the same question: “Are you considering anyone else?”
“Nope,” he said again.
I started the process all over again, only I did it much faster because I realized how much I didn’t want them to replace me. Lesson #2: Saying “yes” isn’t enough, you have to commit.
In the almost two years since, I am finding things I can do that I didn’t think I could. The most important and hardest lesson has been learning how to be a marathon runner, how to get things done without wearing myself down to the nub. Here’s what happens: I think I’m a sprinter, and then I find out, noooo. That’s just not who I am. Lesson #3: Study yourself, and run your own pace.
I couldn’t continue the pace I started—those 18-hour days I tend to plan. That’s one way to get things done, but you wear yourself down, and you’re not good to anyone. We’re not equipped to do everything at once. There’s a happy place in the middle; you find that place. You have to stop and ask yourself, what is the one thing I have to do today? Do that, and do that well.
One of the reasons I became a lawyer was so I could argue for other people. I like helping people. This is how I see my role as a Delegate. Do I want a better Maryland? A better world? Of course I do. I have my vision and I am passionate—but more so I’m passionate about the vision of the people I serve. I may not know what every town or school specifically needs to get more jobs, less crime, better education, or increased gun laws. It is my job to listen and facilitate their needs.
How do I make things happen? How do I properly represent them? If what people tell me they need falls within the thing that’s good for all of us, then that becomes my vision. I’ll be one of 141 delegates, and my job from there is to figure out ways to convince 140 others that this is what this particular group of constituents need—that this is what’s best for everybody. Lesson #4: Treat everyone with respect.
My greatest skill set is that I know how to work well with others. The good news is that we’re all humans. It’s mostly a matter of listening to each other and figuring it out. We all have the same basic needs. The bad news, of course, is that we all have different means of and ideas about how we fulfill those needs. There is always a common ground in there somewhere. Part of my challenge is to gather enough information and talk to enough people that I can find where we can meet in the middle. I will push and push for that common ground. I think I can take my extreme level of optimism and pass it along. I have to do everything to get there. I will not give up on that. Lesson #5: Never give up!