Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Congresswoman

Location: Weston, FL

"Do not listen when people tell you to 'wait your turn.' Trust in your own ability to know when you are ready."

When my mentor and boss Florida state legislator Peter Deutsch encouraged me to run for the State House seat he was vacating, I was incredibly excited but also uncertain. I was only 25 years old. I’d just received my Master’s degree two years prior and, although politically experienced for my age, I was still near the beginning of my career.

My plan had been to take the path most women who run for office take; after my future kids were older, then it would be time to pursue my dream to run. But Peter pushed me to seize this rare chance for an open seat and asked me if I thought anyone running could do a better job than me.

I took a hard look at the race, making a list of all the pros and cons of running for that first elected office. The cons vastly outnumbered the pros.

No woman as young as I was had ever been elected to the state legislature in Florida. My name was virtually unknown, and there were five other people, some of them long-time community activists and government officials—all running for the same seat. Also, my husband and I didn’t have much money. What we did have we had just put into buying our house, and both of us were young and just starting out in our careers.

It was 1992: The country was in a recession and the gap between rich and poor was growing wider. I thought about what had inspired me to work in public service in the first place—wanting to help people, particularly young families. I also wanted to work to improve education for our kids and expand access to healthcare for everyone.

Most importantly, I looked at the legislators in Florida, who were mostly all older white men, and I realized that my voice wasn’t represented. That’s when I knew I had to run for the seat.

I did my due diligence. I went to local leaders and told them I was planning to run, and almost all of them told me the same thing: “You are too young. Wait your turn, put in your time, and then run.” I was respectful and asked each of them if they would support me if I won the primary. They all said yes—I’m sure in part because none of them thought it would actually happen.

What I lacked in money and name recognition had to be made up in shoe leather through door-to-door outreach. I spent every day, rain or shine, talking to people in my community. I knocked on 25,000 doors and ultimately won that election with 53% of the vote. I still have the beat-up shoes that I wore that summer because they remind me of where I started from and how, had I listened to people telling me to “wait my turn,” I would not be where I am today.

Do not listen when people tell you to “wait your turn.” Trust in your own ability to know when you are ready.