Many years ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I had the privilege of working for a U.S. Presidential Inauguration.
George Herbert Walker Bush had just been elected President of the United States the week before I got married.
When Doug and I returned from our honeymoon and I returned to my job as the communications director for U.S. Senator Jake Garn, I got a telephone call from a friend and former colleague wondering if I would be willing to advise the inaugural committee on media relations and public affairs.
With my boss’ support, I left the office that day and went to the inaugural committee’s headquarters in SE Washington where they had transformed an old empty warehouse into a frenetic, exciting workplace for the President’s inauguration.
I walked in as a volunteer adviser and ended up as the new director of communications and taking a leave of absence from my Capitol Hill job. I’d never worked in such an intense, fast-paced, exhilarating job in my life, and I never have since.
We had meetings for all the directors every morning and every evening and had a clock ticking the entire day, counting down to the swearing-in and all the traditional festivities that celebrate that historic moment.
I learned three of my most important life lessons in that job. At my first early morning meeting, the executive director, Stephen M. Studdert, went around the table and asked everyone to introduce themselves. I glanced around and noticed that I was one of three women at the table. I was 31 years old. Every one else had more experience, what I viewed as more prestigious jobs, and a history working with President Bush, either in the campaign, in Texas or in the White House when he served as Vice President.
The closer they got to me, the more nervous I became. The thought crossed my mind, “I have no business in this room with these people.” Right before it was my turn, an inner voice shot back, “That’s the last time ever that you are going to think like that. The minute you doubt your abilities, you’re done. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t qualified. If you give in to that way of thinking, you’ll fail. Now, just dig in and do this thing!“
If I’d continued to compare myself to every other person in that room, I’d have walked out powerless and weak. And, I knew that in an environment like that, there was no room for insecurity and no time to nurse a case of fledgling confidence.
At every morning meeting, we received and/or shared our day’s goals. At every evening meeting, we reported on our progress. One of the directors got a little too long-winded in his report, and was quickly told, “Look, I don’t want your life story. Just get to the point.”
It’s true. We were marching toward inauguration day and didn’t have time for chitchat. The clock was steadily clicking. I learned to get to the point — fast.
The other more philosophical lesson I learned was the utter beauty of a “peaceful transition of power.” As I wrote press releases, arranged media interviews, and shaped messages, I marveled over the unique American ritual of a peaceful inauguration.
Today, as President Obama takes the public oath of office, I remember the day I stood in the press stands during President Bush’s inauguration and looked out at the throngs of people packing the lawn and the streets of the nation’s capitol.
Nothing brings greater feelings of patriotism that seeing all our American pageantry on display with our military bands; red, white and blue bunting around the Capitol building, and citizens from all over the country representing our nation’s uniqueness in the inaugural parade.
Despite your politics, take a minute today to appreciate America. In a world full of conflict, we should celebrate the honor of living in a country where a “peaceful” inauguration will once again occur — something we should never take for granted.