What does courage have to do with failure? Quite a lot, to judge by recent interviews with two successful women. Today’s example comes from journalist Katie Couric.
On her own podcast—which I heard when she “crossed over” to Pod Save America—Katie Couric talked about her late sister, who ran for state office in Virginia. Couric’s sister told her,
“When you run for office, you have to be willing to lose.”
Couric translated that as “You have to be true to yourself and to your core values and principles and let the chips fall where they may.”
Courage isn’t about the middle ground
We don’t often see that kind of courage in the political world.
Instead of standing up for their own beliefs, candidates instead trumpet the “least objectionable” beliefs, as determined by an endless succession of focus groups. A politician running to win would naturally attract a tribe of dedicated supporters, emotionally invested in the outcome.
But more often, politicians run to “not lose.” With no firm positions to rally around, their electoral strategy depends on maintaining a fragile coalition of people they can keep happy with vague promises. The promises have to be vague, right? Because the minute they become concrete, someone—on the right or the left—will get offended. And someone else wins the election.
But don’t we all lose when that happens? Once you run on vague promises, you’re stuck with vague solutions. If you intend to run again, you can’t ever leave the safety of ambiguity.
Katie Couric’s sister may have said it in the context of electoral politics—”When you run for office, you have to be willing to lose”—but I think this works as a mantra for any of us. Especially when we’re sticking a toe—or more—out of our comfort zone.
You can’t take a risk if you’re not willing to fail.