John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Know Your Calling

Know your strengths and your calling.

Just as importantly, know your weaknesses and limitations. For your sake —and because it’s the right thing. And because it works out best for all concerned.

Nine years ago I was entering my last year as secretary of state (term limited) and planning to run next for state auditor. It was the next logical step for me politically, no one else had filed on the democratic side and the filing deadline was approaching.

But there was a problem. I didn’t want to be state auditor.

It wasn’t an intellectual resistance. It was a gut feeling that it wasn’t a good fit for me….that I would have a hard time putting my heart into the job. I liked to build things and wasn’t a natural investigator. And accounting was never my strong suit.

Mostly, though, I didn’t want to run for political office just to stay in the game. I had watched other politicians run for office when they didn’t have their heart in it. And despite being favorites to win, they seemed always to lose.

Why? I think voters sensed they didn’t have the “fire in their belly” and that the office they were seeking was more of a place holder for something better in the future. I told myself I would never let that happen to me. But now I was faced with the ultimate test.

What would I do? 

I was at the state capitol at a ceremony and ran into reporter Al Cross who asked me if I was running or not. I didn’t plan on seeing Al or have an answer planned, but I felt I knew what my answer was and was ready to share it. And I did. Funny how when you feel something is right in your heart the words come to you and sound more convincing that when you try to force a rehearsed answer. It was done and I was relieved.

But there is more to this story. Another person who wasn’t necessarily thinking about running for state auditor at the time, Crit Luallen, received an avalanche of encouragement to run after I bowed out. Crit could have run for about any office then and if Crit had wanted to run against me, she may well have beaten me but she hadn’t indicated up to that time she would run. Crit was then–and still is today—perhaps the public official in KY I admire most. She is the kind of government official I hoped one day to be. A thoughtful, trusted, respected problem solver who seeks to do the right thing.

Crit ran. Crit won. And Crit served with great passion and focus and commitment to excellence. Crit did have her heart in being state auditor. In fact, she was not only perhaps KY’s most successful state auditor ever, she was even named 2 years ago by Governing Magazine, the nation’s “Public Official of the Year” (ahead of governors, house speakers, senate presidents, attorneys general–all state elected leaders).

Last week I got the privilege of attending a dinner in her honor and thanking her for her service as state auditor (and other top positions she has held). It was a wonderful evening and an opportunity to see the right person serve in the right position for the right reasons at the right time. And when that happens, everyone wins. Leaders lead and voters trust and appreciate their government.


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