No Better Than Adversity

Just over a year ago, 66 million voters were stunned when their candidate lost the US Presidential election. The running meme at the time was that everyone couldn’t wait for 2016 to be over, because of the celebrity deaths, endless election coverage, and numerous high-profile murders of unarmed black men by the police.

This year has been in many ways, far more gut-wrenching than 2016, from the mass shootings to the white supremacist rallies to wide-scale revelations of sexual harassment and assault of women by powerful men to the devastation of natural disasters. Not to mention an administration that is deeply incompetent and self-serving, showing little regard for truth or anyone who is not a wealthy, white, and male.

One response to this pain is to turn off the news and “sheetcake” as Tina Fey put it in an SNL skit.

The other (and these are not mutually exclusive) is to do something.

Many people used their anger from the election to run for office. Vox reports that this was a year of many firsts:

Barrier-breaking candidates won races across the country on Election Day this year. The results were a parade of “firsts” from New Hampshire to North Carolina to Montana as women, people of color, and LGBTQ candidates became the first to win elections in their respective contests.

Cities in Minnesota and Montana elected their first black mayors, and Charlotte, North Carolina, elected a black woman as mayor for the first time. Virginia elected its first Latina and Asian-American delegates. Transgender candidates won races in Virginia, Minnesota, California, and Pennsylvania.

My own father, Anping Shen, who is a long-time state employee, ran for an open seat in my hometown’s School Committee. The School Committee is in charge of issues like spending to improve school facilities, teacher compensation, school policies and more, overseeing about half of the entire city budget.

It was a challenging race as he was prohibited from directly soliciting donations as a state employee and what might be considered his base, Chinese-Americans and Asian-Americans more broadly, typically had low voter turnout. His opponent had earned both a PhD and MBA, was the four-year chair of our town’s Parent Advisory Council for Special Education, and won the endorsements of several local politicians.

But my father had built up tremendous goodwill over the years as one of the founding members of our local Chinese school, which serves hundreds of students every Sunday, and through his writing and parenting classes. During the election, he told a great story about trying to get me to write an essay during summer break which helped humanize him to a lot of people. He also really pounded the pavement, knocking on doors all day Saturday and Sunday for the final month leading up to the election.

He ultimately won a decisive victory, earning around 55% of the vote. I remember thinking his campaign was a bit of a long shot when it started but I am so proud to see him win as a first-time candidate at 65 years old. I have to give a lot of credit to his campaign manager and advisors, as well as my mother who worked tirelessly to support his campaign and keep our home running while nursing a shoulder injury. Of course, now Dad will face the difficult task of actually governing and serving.

This fall, I also ran for an elected position, although for a private organization. As an alumni of the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, I am a member of a nonprofit organization established to support this program. There are five board members and the seats are staggered so each year there are new openings. I actually ran for the board in 2016 but didn’t garner the necessary votes.

Undeterred, I ran again in 2017, and won one of the three open seats. I’m proud to share that I’ll be serving a two year term as a board member for the Presidential Innovation Fellows Foundation along with Robert Read, Tyrone Grandison, and fellow incoming board members Amy Wilson and Clara Tsao.

I’m excited to advance the PIF program, which has helped initiate a wave of technological and cultural innovation to the federal government, and support and connect the 100+  alumni in our ranks.

It feels good to know that my father’s election into office (and my own small electoral victory) are a small part of much larger effort happening across the country to resist, respond, and rise up to the challenges put before us. It’s a reminder that no matter what struggles we face, the way forward is not through resignation to defeat, but a resolve to improve.

I’ll sign off with some wisdom from from Malcolm X:

There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

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  1. Nicely stated, Jason. It’s time we do something about the current state of affairs. I for one have been silent for way too long – letting others define my freedom and democracy by doing nothing and assuming my voice couldn’t be heard. No more. I’m not in a position currently to run for office, but I can and will speak up and out.

    Hugh congratulations to you and your father for your successful campaigns! You’re both an inspiration to others.

    Best regards,

    -Ed

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