If you ever consider running for public office, remember (1) to be the most amazing courageous yourself and try it!; and (2) to keep tribes like GWC close to you – it’s the magic ingredient to making it a great experience.
Having run in 2019 European elections was one of the most difficult, impactful and transformative periods in my life. Even if I wasn’t elected, I’m immensely grateful for every single one of those 14.894 votes I received; and I would recommend the experience to every one of you. We are already doing a lot for women empowerment through tribes like the Gentlewomen’s Club. But it’s not enough. I am convinced that now it’s our responsibility to step out of our comfort zones and be that voice of the feminine leadership, which we’re discussing so often at our dinners, clothes swap sessions or other amazing events. Who if not us?
Three main reasons were igniting my decision to run: (1) massive rise of extremism and waves of disinformation in my home country Slovakia; (2) embarrassingly lowest-in-the-EU turnout rates of the Slovaks in the EU elections; and (3) the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee for his involvement in uncovering high-level corruption structures in Slovakia.
One Saturday morning I woke up and knew that my place for the next period is not to work on the next single market policy at the European Commission; but to help shift the quality of communication about the EU in my country. Just like you’re probably wondering, I immediately asked myself whether such crazy idea is compatible with being an EU official. Yes, it is. Unlike many national administrations where political engagement of public servants is a no-go, the European Commission is slightly more flexible. It recognises that political activism is one of our human rights and creates conditions for the candidates to take unpaid leave. So this obstacle was ticked off rather quickly off my list.
Everything else was much more complicated. It’s like building a political startup.
IT’S HARD. Just like being an entrepreneur is hard. Being a woman running to be elected is (still) even more difficult (and even more if she’s a public servant I guess – aiming to play by the rules and hyper-formatted into a loyal and always professional service). Imagine the ingredients needed to build a successful business —- from your branding strategy, fundraising, accounting, recruitment, leadership, event management — and mix it with a dose of politics: The good and the bad of competition, online hatred, constant judgment and setting boundaries to who you wish to be in this fight.
STILL, IT’S THE MOST FULFILLING SELF-EXPRESSION EXPERIENCE. Unless you’re a business owner, employee status normally equals a limited possibility of expressing your personal views on controversial topics. Campaigning is a perfect opportunity to learn to do so in a truthful yet appealing way; right on the pitch. Finding and expressing that voice is like stepping outside of a matrix that you will never go back into. [This is the energy shift we see emerging at all levels across our society. I truly hope there will be increasing numbers of female changemakers showing up to bring a new quality of leadership and communication to the public space.]
OVERALL, IT’S A WIN-WIN DEAL BOTH FOR THE WORLD AND FOR YOURSELF. Campaigning hurts but that’s when you know you’re growing out of your comfort zone, right? In my case, not doing it would be more painful. I couldn’t just watch the madness shifting the European discourse in a direction where none of us wants to see it going. Not just for myself. For future generations. Just like I would not be sitting in my Brussels office if previous generations hadn’t fought for the 2004 enlargement round, we can’t just sit back and expect somebody else will do our job. We have an obligation to rise to populists and offer the feminine leadership that citizens deserve.
Of course, you don’t have to run. (But if you do, please get in touch and I’d be delighted to share more of my experience!) JUST LET GO OF YOUR FEARS, GET OUT THERE AND BE YOUR VOICE. Experiment with whatever form you’re called to explore and enjoy the ride. Or join a project that resonates with your values and contribute to making it greater than it is.
For now, mine is my new pet project – PODCAST Lights on Europe. When I got back from my campaign sabbatical break, I have decided to continue bridging, cheerleading, myth-busting for the EU. The podcast allows me to continue shedding the light on the amazing people who decided to dedicate their careers to co-creating Europe and show what’s the human story behind the (often disliked or at least misunderstood) story of the Brussels bubble. Check it out on Spotify or your podcast app, leave a review (thanks in advance if you do!) and let me know if you wish to contribute to making it a success!