Professional Development

Politicking & How to Get There: Part 1

by Colin Hornby
June 1, 2020
Legislative Assistant to a Member of Parliament
June 1, 2020

Let’s Talk about Life (We’ll Get to Politics)

When you’re young, it’s common to be told that you can do anything you want if you just put your mind to it. The older you get, as you approach the years where you need to start thinking about post-secondary education and your career path, this seems to be something you hear less and less. You enter crunch time and feel the pressure to decide on your career based on what will get you a good job and make enough money to live your life. Money doesn’t buy you happiness, but it sure increases the likelihood of it.

Our experiences in life shape who we are, and without trying things and failing at them, you can’t realistically be expected to know what you want to do with your life.

The other aspect of choosing your career for the rest of your life (theoretically, at least) when you’re 17 or 18 years old is that you really haven’t lived in the real world. We’re all sheltered to some degree from the worst and hardest parts of reality. Finding your purpose and trajectory in life takes time, effort, disappointment, and getting up after failing at things you thought you could never fail at. This is a part of life and never stops; we will always continue to have new experiences, meet new people, bear the brunt of criticism, and have some degree of self-analysis to continually improve and grow.

Follow Your Passion

Okay, enough of the deep life stuff. Let’s talk about politics. How the hell did I end up here, working in the nation’s capital for a Member of Parliament, one of the highest offices you can hold in the entire country? I followed my passion, took risks, failed, succeeded, and all those other things I mentioned. I find myself in awe every day when I pass by the amazing architecture on Parliament Hill. These buildings represent democracy and the history of our country, and humble you every time you walk by them.

In political jobs, we’re merely placeholders until the next person comes behind us. As politicians get elected and defeated, so do their staff. We operate on completely different timelines from the regular world, as one election could come and send you packing. This is another ego check to keep you grounded.

I speak here as a person who works in politics, but no doubt some of these ideas translate to other career fields. The wonderful part about politics is there is no prescribed way to chart your course. You can truly shape your own journey on this path, and the path I’m plotting out here is the one I’ve taken. Many others may have similar ones, but we’re all unique. This is my story.

Getting Your Foot in the Politics Door

In order to get involved and move ahead, you first need to show those in positions of power that you are dedicated and worth their time. In the political realm, you earn your chops at the grassroots level by volunteering and having to deal with the worst parts of the business. Knocking on doors, getting yelled at by people who disagree with the party you represent (before you even say a word), working long hours, all without getting paid. When you survive this stage, you can proceed to the next step: paid work within politics and the political apparatus.

Back Up for a Second

I would be remiss to not mention the value of education in all of this. I graduated with a degree in History, with a focus on American History. Does the specific content of this degree help me in my job in Canadian politics? Not really. But how I obtained it certainly helps. The countless hours of researching and writing papers, going to class, meeting deadlines, expanding my vocabulary, and being challenged to think critically are all skills that ultimately built my foundation.

Never look at post-secondary education as an expense, but rather as an investment. This investment in yourself will pay itself back tenfold, and then some. Without these solid building blocks of basic skills, it can be a serious challenge to advance in your field, at least not at the pace you’d like.

Okay, We’re Back. Now I Can Make Some Money!

After doing so much unpaid work as a political volunteer, it can be shocking to find out that some people get paid in this field. This, of course, comes with its own added pressure, as with great power (small sums of money) comes great responsibility (much higher expectations). You now get to knock on doors and do all those fun things, but you must also instruct and direct those volunteers to make sure they’re doing their part. You also get to become the one that is relied upon, and your job description should really read one line: other duties as assigned. There is no textbook definition of what you do in this business.

If you’re lucky enough to meet some people in positions of power, or at least get their attention, you can make your way past this stage and get into the apparatus of government, whether it be in government, supporting government, or in opposition.

Where do you go from here? Read Part 2!

Colin Hornby
About Colin Hornby

Colin Hornby is a Modern Money contributor that writes on professional development related topics.

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