“Off the Sidelines” by Kirsten Gillibrand

Off the Sidelines

“I want women and girls to believe in themselves just as much as men and boys do. I want them to trust their own powers and values,” (page xiv), lawyer Kristen Gillibrand writes in her book, “Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World” (2014). With honesty and passion, she shares her journey of becoming a New York senator while coping with pregnancy, motherhood, and judgments on her appearance.

Gillibrand reveals the strong female role models in her life: her grandmother Dorothea “Polly” Mclean, who organized election campaigns and volunteers in Albany, New York and who taught her “the bedrock lesson of life: be exactly yourself”; and her mother Polly Rutnik, a lawyer who juggled career and family. Gillibrand got her start in political life by joining the Women’s Leadership Forum in New York City. Through sheer persistence she gained face time and phone time with former First Lady and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and decided to run for US Representative in 2006. When Hillary Clinton was appointed Secretary of State, Gillibrand was appointed to replace her as US Senator.

Here are 10 lessons that Gillibrand learned along the way:

  1. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is instructive and necessary. Winning is great, but quitting is how you really lose” (page 21). Whether you are competing against a stronger opponent or taking on an issue you believe in, don’t fail before you even try.
  2. “When you believe in a cause, you aren’t picky; you just help” (page 29). When you support a candidate or issue, do whatever needs to be done, however small. Help where you can.
  3. If you run for elected office, get to know all of your neighbors, speak to everyone you can, and ignore negative press.
  4. The first rule of being an elected officer: protect your family. Put your family first when you schedule your time.
  5. “Good ideas don’t come from Washington. They come from individuals willing to share their experiences and needs” (page 60).
  6. Persistence works. “People notice and admire tenacity” (page 65).
  7. If you have the chance to meet a mayor, a governor, a president, or a CEO… make every second count. Plan what you want to say and make contingency plans.
  8. “Be kind to others and build relationships most when no one is watching, because that is when you are your most honest and genuine self” (page 89).
  9. Picture success – but don’t overschedule yourself. Set aside time to relax and re-energize.
  10. Hold on to your friendships. Friends keep you centered and give you chances to support them in return.

Gillibrand witnessed capable and confident women succeed in politics. Now, she is passionate about getting more women involved in politics and holding politicians accountable. I admire her enthusiasm about public service and how hard she has worked to run for office and represent her constituents. She put a lot of time, money, and effort into campaigning; and since taking office, she has published a “Sunlight Report” highlighting her weekly meetings, earmark requests, and financial disclosures. Sadly, her political experience reinforces how hard it is for “citizen legislators” to get involved in government, when competing against “career politicians.”

Do you know who your US representatives and senators are? Which political figures or government representatives do you admire?

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