The cover of ‘Who Thought..’ was appealing enough for me to peal it from layers of books at the airport. Who wouldn’t pick it. It features Obama sitting on an arm rest with a deep in thought face and a woman who is occupying the chair is looking sideways, comfortable with the US president on her arm rest.
Alyssa Mastromonaco was the former white house deputy chief of staff. If accomplishments came with badges, then at 32, she would’ve been marching with the flag of successful people.
I had a passing thought that this book might be drab and full of references to political candidates I have no clue about. A short review at the back cover clinched the deal for me.
If your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama, her behind-the-scenes political memoir would look something like this …
I can deal with a funny older sister! So I bought this book and added it to the top of my reading list right away.
I wouldn’t have enjoyed reading a book about working in the White House with no personal details. This is exactly the reason I picked up this challenge. To really know the women behind the veneer of success of failure and hopefully normalise my own life situations.
Do other women on covers of magazines have to fight guilt (of skipping office), pain (such divine pain) and anguish, every 2-3 days of the month? Do they find themselves in situations where they feel completely inadequate (and perhaps goddesses of stupidity)? Would a deputy chief of staff be worrying about setting up a fund for street cats?
On a scale of neighbour-next-door to too-holy-to-touch, Alyssa’s life was oscillating between the two, and I loved that!
What do you expect from a woman who was on the list of Washington’s Most Powerful, Least Famous people! Most powerful can fly in MarineOne and have the Presidents casually walk into their rooms while they are doing sit ups, while the least famous can love their persian cats and can rescue more and more kitties.
Most powerful have their numbers on Anna Wintour’s phone and she is tracks them on their last day at the White House and fixes meetings for their next jobs. Least famous can afford not to have a grand wedding and get their wedding dresses from online stores. (Farfetch!)
I liked that idea for an interesting life.
The New York Times identified her as one of “the most influential people inside the campaign whose names were not on television or in the newspapers, but whose role could well have been vital to the outcome of the race.”
Here are some lessons I took from the book. Because if you don’t get an actionable list for your life, you won’t come back to the blog, right?
1. Short people can get recruited to the Oval office. Insecurities are free for everyone and my husband and my cat knows how many do I pack for myself on a daily basis. So for a long time, when I saw pictures of smart women dressed to kill, on the covers of magazines or Wikipedia pages, I simply thought that short women either don’t want to get those jobs or those jobs aren’t just available for them. Like there’s an invisible height police at the entrance to these grand offices and they just don’t let you in. But Alyssa is short and so am I. And Alyssa was called a hedgehog and Alyssa was so cool about it.
2. It’s okay to get into a job that no one teaches you to want. And those jobs are actually some of the coolest!
Alyssa was the first woman to occupy that office. She says
It might mean something to you, or it might not mean anything at all. It’s not exactly the kind of job six-year olds are naming for the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question. It’s not even the kind of job precocious 26-year-olds are gunning for. Most people who hear the title don’t really know what I did. Jobs like this — the kind of job of which there are many, the kind that are definitely good but that no one teaches you to want — are found only with an open mind and a willingness to do your own thing.
3. Its okay to be sensitive and emotional, just be self-aware about it.
If the Dep. Chief of Staff says that she is sensitive, we all feel a little normal towards our own feelings.
I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I usually dislike someone before I like them. I’m sensitive — especially when I’m tired or feel I’m being misunderstood. This may sound like the “About Me” section on a bad online dating profile, but knowing this stuff has allowed me to keep my contacts, my reputation, and my sanity throughout a long and often stressful career. Being self-aware means knowing when you’re about to act bad — and then not acting bad.
4. At any high-powered job, you have to work a lot. Stress is taken differently by everybody, but that’s the reality.
That is working at the White House in a nutshell: For every glamorous state dinner, every surreal conversation about ’80s music with a foreign dignitary, every glass of champagne on Air Force One, there is a 4:00 AM conference call. The advent of Blackberries and the 24/7 news cycle — neither of which was really around when I got into government — ensures almost no meaningful rest. My hair had turned completely white from stress. That’s just how it is. You kind of know what you’re getting into when you start, but you also have no idea what it will really be like.
At any high-powered job, you’re going to have to work a lot.
And it is not possible to “find your calling”. Callings don’t come knocking at the doors and neither do they arrive wearing a badge. In most likelihood, they come in jobs where you don’t come back home feeling disgusted by yourself. When you come back home and go for that glass of wine or tea or run towards your cat and feel that you accomplished this day on earth, that’s more like a befitting picture of a “calling”.
Give it what you can so that when that day comes when you want to get on a new adventure, you’ll have made your mark and done shit and helped people.
5. Children are not for everybody. And its okay!
6. Serious ladies can eat cupcakes and be crazy cat ladies at the same time! There is no dearth of boxes you can get into. Being a part-cat spirit, I’d actually be more comfortable in one too. But if there’s a part of your personality that reads Hacker News and Vogue with the same spirit, keep it up!
7. Be generous with small acts of kindness. They matter the most.
When Shrummie (her cat) passed away. She got a call from President Obama “I heard we lost Shrummie today,” he said. “There are a lot of sad faces up here on Air Force One right now. You should know — I’m pretty sure we saw his spirit up here over Denali.”
And then she says
Kindness often exists on a smaller scale than the grand gestures popular on social media would have you believe. Though anonymously paying off someone’s student loans or giving a waitress a $5000 tip are amazing acts of goodwill, things like being willing to cut someone some slack, or making a thoughtful phone call, can help another person so much.
8. Cats are the best. Rescue them!