I’ve been in politics for ten years. I was a preschool teacher and volunteered my time after work on education-related policy issues. I never thought volunteering my time for something I cared about would lead me in a career in politics. My life completely flipped. After 10 years, I learned some key lessons to sustain me in this world.
Let me start with this: this work is tough. I won’t lie. When you’re in the thick of it, the work doesn’t end. Making your own life a priority becomes a challenge and a tough balance. In the political world, success is defined by winning or losing, and one loss can feel like taking 100 steps back, so we put our all into it.
So here are the things that ground me:
Be authentic. Be you.
I have a bubbly and energetic personality. I used to be a preschool teacher. I was told I needed to be stern to face the people in politics. Being so friendly and welcoming was a sign of weakness. But forcing myself to change ate me up inside. It was less work to be patient and work on building relationships with people to see who I am. It definitely took time but what I learned was being unafraid of who I was made people actually afraid of me. I didn’t have to be mean, confidence and owning who I was made me more powerful in this space.
Act with intentions.
At the beginning of my career, there was a male colleague who was known to yell to get things done; most of my colleagues let him do that. When it happened to me, I waited and did not respond or listen. When he was done, I looked him in his eyes and respectfully asked him to speak in a regular tone voice because I couldn’t hear him. We’ve worked together and had a level of trust with each other so, I empathized with his passion but yelling never accomplished anything positive. He was shocked at my response, but it worked. I guess this is now called the Gayle King method. Don’t respond to just any bad behavior, find the right moment – be intentional.
But never stop being kind to yourself and others. This work is not easy, and it can get very personal so be kind about it. And if you hit a roadblock, be kind to yourself. We’ve all been there, so the least (and the best thing) we can do for ourselves is kindness.
And one last thing I didn’t mention but feel strongly about: have good mentors and allies. I have been part of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) civil rights organizations and women political organizations. This work will never be done alone so make friends and good ones. They were always my safe space. I can’t tell you the number of group text threads I am on — these will be your friends you lean on a tough day or celebrate with you because we won’t get recognized for all the fantastic work we do, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be celebrated. The path towards social justice and equality is a long road, I hope you can make it joyful by finding little wins, celebrate often, be kind and true to yourself.
Viva Mogi is currently the President of San Francisco’s Elections Commission and works in education policy focusing on teacher housing, local and state policies. She has over ten years of experience in politics and policy including being the former Co-President of San Francisco Women’s Political Committee, Founding Board Member of California’s Women’s List, and National Field Director for APIAVote.