Sometimes all it takes is a single moment to change your life forever. In 2004 – at the age of 35 – mine changed in a way I never would have imagined. As a young woman from a farm and fruit stand in Kettle Falls, Washington, I put my hand on the Bible and was sworn in as the 200th woman ever to serve in the United States House of Representatives. And there, within the walls of the Capitol building – a home that has borne witness to the history of this great nation since its earliest days – the trajectory of my life changed forever.
Almost a decade later, as I stand where so many of America’s remarkable leaders stood centuries before me, I am still inspired every single time I walk through the halls of Congress. I am honored to represent the people of Eastern Washington, committed to making America better for our children than it was for us, and proud to help change the course of history. Most of all, my heart is filled with gratitude for all the people who have believed in me along the way and given me the confidence to lean in at the most pivotal times. To make the tough decisions; to take risks; to live boldly. Because those are the people – the ones who encourage you, support you, and believe in you – who lead you to seek new goals and accept new challenges. And I’m so grateful they have.
Just this year, I contemplated running for the fourth-ranking leadership position in the House of Representatives. Only one other Republican woman had ever broken into the “Big Four” – and only Nancy Pelosi had done so on the other side of the aisle. I was apprehensive. Will I be in over my head? Am I the right person for the job? But as I reflected on each step that had led me to where I stood – a U.S. Congresswoman and Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference – I was reminded that many people had noticed my hard work, commitment and passion for public service. They had encouraged me to take the next step, to lean in and muster up the courage to go for it.
And so I did.
The competition was tough and the race was hard. But those who believed in me along the way reminded me of what I was forced to remind myself: that I had earned it. I had done the work, traveled the country and stepped up for each assignment. I had always been more of a work horse than a show horse and it seemed to have served well over the years. I was proud of my legislative accomplishments and was confident that it could stand up to anyone else’s. But I was apprehensive to toot my own horn. Could I make the case effectively? Could I articulate my attributes strongly enough?
Throughout the years, when I reached pivotal Lean In moments – the times I realized a single decision could change the course of my life forever – I always told myself, “Cathy, have no regrets.” Since I was a little girl, my parents told me never to let my doubts or fears stop me from trying. They told me that I could be anything I wanted to be – that no challenge was too great and no dream was too big. They wanted to help me become the first in my family to graduate from college. They told me to push my limits – no matter the challenge. And so, decades later, when I put my name in the race to be the Chair of the House Republican Conference, I remembered what they had told me. And I learned that for each of us, our limits may not be what they appear to be. Each step prepares us for the next step; our limits expand. And mine most certainly have.
So I ran. And I won. Now – as the 39th Chair of the House Republican Conference, I am pushing my limits and influence in a new and exciting way. I’m helping to reshape the Republican message and successfully communicate it to all corners of America. It’s one of the most exhilarating and challenging jobs I’ve ever had.
And so I’ve learned that it takes only a single moment to change the course of your life in ways that are both beautiful and unexpected. My decision to run for Congress in 2004 opened doors that I never would have foreseen, both personally and professionally. In 2005, I met Mr. Wonderful, Brian Rodgers, and today we are married with two children – one with special needs – who have taught me more about life than any job ever could. My decision to run for Congress led me not only to become the House Republican Conference Chair, but a wife, a mother, and a woman passionate about the unique challenges of them all. A single decision – and all the people who have leaned in and made it possible – brought me to this place in time, this moment in history. And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.