How to Make Peace with the Road Not Taken, Part I

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Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. Her dream is to publish this first book and teach the world how to discover their hidden joy. Her post day is Tuesday.
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How to Make Peace with the Road Not Taken, Part I: Rock Star Mayor

The first book idea I ever pitched to an agent was called BELIEVE: Hope for America’s Cities.

I wanted to profile some of the top young mayors in the United States, including Martin O’Malley, now the governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore at the time, and Corey Booker, the new hotshot mayor of Newark, just freshly elected.

I was obsessed with these men. They were two of my biggest heroes, and I followed their efforts and e-newsletter updates religiously.

O’Malley especially inspired me with his “BELIEVE” campaign to help bring hope back to the people of Baltimore during difficult times in their city. There were billboards posted all over the city with the giants letters, B E L I E V E, in white on a stark black background.

“Believe in yourself. Believe in Baltimore.” There were numerous variations on this theme that were posted around town, and used in commercials and meetings at City Hall.

I put a BELIEVE sticker on the binder that I used for my notes when visiting Baltimore, during the spring of 2005 when I was completing my Master in Public Administration degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. O’Malley was working wonders in Baltimore, and was a total inspiration to me.

Rock Star Mayor!

O’Malley even played in an Irish band at the time, as lead singer of the Celtic rock band O’Malley’s March. It didn’t hurt that the mayor was easy on the eyes, handsome and muscular, up on stage rocking it out in black sleeveless T-shirts.

I loved it that he was an effective leader AND a rock star.

The idea was to profile these young leaders and some of the ideas that had helped to transform their cities, to give inspiration to other leaders, both political and within communities.

The agent I pitched it to said that it was a well-written proposal, and a great and timely idea. However, I lacked the “platform” I needed to publish it at the time, at least from her perspective, since I wasn’t yet a well-known writer or political figure myself. I could increase the viability of it by co-writing it with an important political figure.

I tabled the book and moved on to other books ideas.

But my obsession with city mayors continued for a while.

Mayor Me!

I had set that intention for myself ~ deciding THAT was the job I wanted someday ~ back in 2003. I was a community leader in my city at the time, and felt like the little city I live in – Troy, New York – had tremendous potential that wasn’t being fully tapped into yet.

I loved leading in various capacities on different community projects, and ended up applying to graduate school in public policy in order to explore whether or not I wanted to be the mayor of my city someday, and whether I had what it takes.

During our first week at Harvard, we were asked to get up on stage and share something about ourselves in 15 seconds or less that you could not find on our resumes. I got up there and said, “I once wanted to be the first redheaded Irish flamenco dancer in Spain, and I now want to be the first female elected mayor of Troy, New York.”

I wanted to put that energy out there in the world to see how people responded, figuring it would attract to me the people I needed to meet to explore the possibilities. I had an incredibly fun and challenging year at Harvard, and built my coursework around exploring and deciding if I wanted to go for it and run in Troy someday.

Uncle Sam was from Troy – Miss All-American Mayor, anyone?


The Answer Was Yes

I decided that if I felt at some point that the community was calling for me to lead, and it was a good time for me in my personal life – if it felt like things were aligning – I would go for it.

I initially figured I’d head back to Troy right after Harvard and most likely run in the election in 2007, since I didn’t feel ready to hit the ground running with an election in 2005 (there were city council elections in both years, which is a good “stepping stone” to becoming the mayor, a great way to learn the ropes in city government from the inside).

Life took in a different direction however. I’d applied for a Mayoral Fellowship in Baltimore to get to go work with my hero O’Malley for a while. Unfortunately, since I’d been honest about the fact that I planned to return to Troy to run eventually, they didn’t choose me, since they wanted to hire people who would be committed to staying in Baltimore.

Instead I ended up landing a contract doing strategic planning for performance management for the City and County of San Francisco. I decided that I couldn’t possibly turn down such an exciting gig, that would give me a true insider’s view on how to run a city.

I figured I’d head back to Troy afterwards, and then run.

Another Twist and Turn on the Path

I didn’t end up moving back to Troy right away, however, since my ex-husband and I ended up separating. I was in love with my new life in San Francisco and it felt too difficult to return to our little bitty city where everyone would know our business, so I decided to stay on a little longer. I ended up landing another contract to do strategic planning for a landscape architecture firm after my contract with the city ended, and I stayed on.

I loved San Francisco, and made a strong intention while there to cultivate inner peace. It is a city full of spiritual seekers and spiritual teachers, and as I set the intention, my teachers found me.

I spent a few years living in San Francisco, doing some writing which had always been a dream, and dancing, and enjoying life. I worked with yoga and meditation teachers and for the first time I could remember started to experience a deep sense of inner peace, and an ability to live in the present moment with joy. I was living in a state of grace. Life was beautiful!

Yet I still sometimes felt the tug back to Troy and wondered if I was “missing my calling” somehow by not running. Should I return there? Could I make a bigger difference as a “big fish in a small pond” in a smaller city?

I eventually got the calling, for real, to head back to Troy, when my tenants accidentally set my house on fire in 2008. I returned and spent a year putting my house back together, and figured it would be a good time to re-open the question of running for office again. Was it still my dream?

(To be continued in Part II later today – stay tuned!!!)