ABBY WAMBACH, THE BEAUTIFUL GAME, & LIBERATUS
If you haven’t already read Abby Wambach’s In Her Own Words: Moving On As A Champion, you should click the link now, read it and come back to the journal entry here. I’ve had this week slotted for a journal entry on soccer—the beautiful game (if you need proof watch this clip)—as part of our Truth & Beauty series for a while now, and when I read her post there were several take-aways for political culture that immediately jumped out. So today we’re looking at them, and the beautiful game, and I’ll wrap up today’s journal on what all of these observations mean for the future of LIBERATUS and how you can continue to be involved.
1. Our work in politics is neither a game of role-playing nor our identity. This is perhaps the biggest failure of my time working in politics personally. When you’re a world-class athlete—arguably the best in women’s soccer ever—and you can just walk away from it when the time is right—you know you’ve latched on to an identity that’s bigger than a career move, that’s bigger than role playing. And I’ve lived this, so I know I can hammer the point home: when we get hung up on being in Congress, or running campaigns, or “saving America”, several life-sucking things can happen:
We hang on to a false and fleeting sense of importance, significance, and safety.
That sense of importance leads us to over-work in order to feed the sense of importance.
Our overwork becomes unfocused and therefore unproductive or even counterproductive.
Not being productive leads to burnout (which we need to completely rethink, and I hope to write more on this soon).
Burnout means—perhaps graciously—that the role we’re playing, the fake identity, falls apart, and we’re left wondering why life just seems to be not working.
However, if soccer is just a game you get to play (or in our case, if politics is just a chance to govern wisely), it actually frees you to become one of the sport’s greats. I don’t know Wambach personally and all that’s going through her head, but it stands to reason that if her goal had been to become a recognized leader in the sport of soccer, she probably would never have found it, and she’d still be chasing a façade.
2. Find teammates or friends you can be vulnerable with—and live life together. Wambach is the sport’s greatest—and yet she’s still willing to acknowledge having to work up confidence, fear of leaving the sport, and not having a clear sense of direction as she leaves the game. But who would argue these points make her less of a star? That would be nonsense. What we need to see is that having strong community around you is critical, especially for our next point.
3. Solving the nation’s problems and creating a functional Congress and political culture is going to take laser-focus. Abby Wambach didn’t win Olympic Gold and the FIFA Women’s World Cup by playing badminton, or by chasing headlines on Around the Horn. Somehow, though, our political culture has turned into a constant reality cable news show—where days are spent jumping from one topic to the next, often in crisis mode, never staying put mentally long enough to make a significant impact—but (see point #1) feeding a fake sense of importance.
Laser focus on achieving results will have real world consequences. The reason Congress doesn’t operate this way is perhaps because of a mix of people wanting their elected officials to be on every talk show and to have an opinion about everything, or the grassroots not demanding something more, or just lack of a desire among those working on the inside for laser focus and the extra work it takes to achieve it. So if you’re a member of the grassroots, when you see your congressman next, ask what big issues the office is working exclusively to solve—ask what they are focused on so well that their office priorities are driven by it to the exclusion of other valid projects.
Here’s a few quick observations on what that could look like.
--Tax Reform. How many congressmen want comprehensive tax reform? Everyone? So why is it so popular to keep introducing bills to make new tax credits, or to tweak old ones—then not move them through committee once they’ve been introduced? If we’re going to reform (insert the issue here) we’re actually going to have to spend some time learning that issue at the exclusion of others.
--Staff Retention. Abby Wambach played for the U.S. Women’s National Team for 14 years. While there’s no benchmark for how long staff should last in a congressional office or on the campaign trail, they just aren’t going to stick around long enough to solve the big problems without a culture of investing in them more. When staffers cycle through offices too quickly, Congress loses too much institutional knowledge to make progress towards solving issues like the national debt. As a disclaimer—staff will cycle through on their own and I certainly am grateful to be working on LIBERATUS and not on Capitol Hill every day. But it’s time to rethink ideas like making “cuts” to a congressional office budget in the name of giving money back to the taxpayers when we know factually the money is left in the office allowance to be spent by the Speaker and is not actually a spending cut. What if that money were spent on staff, who—I know this by personal experience of those around me—struggle at times just to pay rent and buy groceries? What if those staffers were able to stay afloat in a city with a high cost of living, and that led to better focus and actual spending cuts far greater than the spending cuts that aren’t even spending cuts?
--Constituent Mail. It’s tough work to represent 600,000 people well. But in the age of Facebook and email, it’s also easier to communicate. If congressional offices choose to laser-focus on problems and actually solve them, there are plenty of ways to communicate that back to the district in a way that’s winsome and compelling and would actually win the respect of the people back home, even if they disagree with specifics on policy.
Even beyond what Wambach brought to the sport and what we can learn from her is the game of soccer itself. It’s called the beautiful game and the democratic sport and there’s much that could be said on both of those ideas. Maybe though we should turn to what Wambach said herself about the game, about searching for something more. What if this were a statement made about the culture of Capitol Hill, of Congress, of our campaigns and our dialogue?
I challenge everybody who is currently on this team or will ever be on this team to keep this culture alive, to keep looking and searching for something more. More quality, more happiness, more truth, more trust, and just that unwavering desire to be the best.
In just two sentences, she laid out the vision for LIBERATUS and the calling for anyone working in political culture. We desperately need to be stirred by a big vision and big ideas. We need to build a functional Congress (defined in part by the ideas above)—because otherwise we are building nothing, we are just chasing the highlight reel without ever actually winning a championship.
From the game of soccer and Abby’s farewell, we should turn and look at the work of LIBERATUS itself. How do the ideals of focus and community apply?
Our goal is to empower writers to engage culture by telling the story of healing through freedom. We must look at our affections first, to be sure we’re not role-playing within our organization or within Congress more broadly, and that’s why we’re telling the story of healing. In order for it to take root and lead to changes in Congress, we are going to continue empowering the people on the inside to tell it. Over the next year, our top objective is to grow our writing team so we will serve more people. More writers in time will lead to greater content and creativity and the ability to appeal to a growing audience. So if you’ve got something to say about what healing in political culture could look like, apply to write with us.
We want to engage culture though, and that’s where our readers come in. What are you reading that you find insightful? Are you being challenged by it? Is it strengthening your perspective from wherever you watch American politics to engage in a way that’s true and beautiful? Do you want to help us tell the story of healing through freedom to a broader audience? We’d love to hear from you. You’re welcome to comment below, share what you’re reading here on social media using #liberatusdc, or subscribe to the journal by email and attend one of our Subscriber Coffees. If you’re ready to bring Truth and Beauty into political culture, join us. Join the conversation. Join the pursuit of Truth and Beauty. As we move into 2016, we’ve already planned a full lineup of themes and topics for the coming year. Our writers are excited to keep the conversation going.
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Over the coming year, as we tell the story of healing through freedom it is my hope that even as the country seems poised to tear itself apart, we can live and breathe and run under a new anthem, LIBERATUS—we are set free.
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
We’d love to hear from you! Spend some time journaling on the few areas you can focus on that will have the greatest impact in 2016, and then comment below on how better focus and more community might change Congress, campaigns, or however you participate in the American political process.
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Photo Credit: Diego Sinning