The Obama campaign have plans, as do your Democratic candidates and state and local Democratic organizations. What’s your personal plan to help them win in November? (More)

What’s Your Plan, Part I: To Set Your Goals, First “Know Thyself”

This week Morning Feature invites you to develop your activism plan for the November election. Today we consider the importance of honest self-assessment in setting your goals. Tomorrow we’ll look at reverse planning, working from your objectives back to your starting point. Saturday we’ll conclude by discussing burnout and mutual support.

The Two Worst Plans: None and Not-You

An election campaign involves many people coordinating their efforts toward a common purpose. The Obama campaign have plans at both the national and state levels. As do your Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate and House, and your state legislature. As do your state Democratic Party and your local Democratic organizations, and progressive activist groups such as Democracy for America. In each of those plans, most of the work will be done by grassroots activists like you. That means you need a personal activism plan.

It’s been said the worst plan is no plan at all. While improvisation can be fun and exciting, it works well only in small groups and for brief projects. For more than a handful of people, or any project that extends over more than a few hours, ‘winging it’ leads to confusion, conflict, duplicated effort, and missed details that seemed trivial but rarely are.

Yet I think there’s an even worse plan: a plan for Not-You. That Not-You plan may be brilliantly detailed, systematic, and comprehensive. Indeed they often are, and their only problem is their reliance on someone who is Not You. That other person that is Not You always prepares a shopping list and has the list at the store, has and uses an appointment calendar, knows how to do every task in the plan, follows through on every task once begun, and never gets tired or distracted. Alas, that is Not You.

A plan for Not-You can be worse than no plan at all, because others may be relying on Not-You to do the things You committed to do. The task that Not-You confidently took on becomes the task You don’t know how to do, or don’t like to do. That can leave others waiting for You to be Not-You … a wait that need not have happened had You not committed to be Not-You.

“Know Thyself”

Thus your personal activism plan should begin with an honest self-assessment. This is your personal plan, after all. It should fit You, rather than Not-You. So who are You?

  • Strengths – What do you do well? Do you connect well with others on the telephone? Do you connect better face-to-face? Do you write well? Are you skilled at data-entry? Everyone has strengths. Make your list.
  • Weaknesses – Everyone has strengths, but not everyone has every strength. That doesn’t mean you’re ‘bad’ or ‘inadequate.’ It means you should focus your efforts on the things you do well, and not commit to things you don’t do well. Do you get impatient on the phone? Do your thoughts always make more sense than the words that end up on the page? Again, make your list.
  • Opportunities – Good luck has been described as the intersection of preparation and opportunity. You can’t predict every opportunity, but you can predict many of them. When and where will you get chances to apply your strengths? Are you in public often, such that wearing a campaign button would spark Fred Whispering conversations? Do you feel more energized in a group, such that a phone banking or canvassing party will bring out your best? Which opportunities can you create, maximize, or best prepare to seize? Once again, make your list.
  • Threats – These are the events that derail your plans and, again, you can predict many of them. Will your work schedule or your children’s school and activity schedules get busier over the coming weeks? Do you have health issues? Which threats can you avoid, minimize, or best prepare to overcome? As before, make your list

“What were you thinking?!?”

Once you’ve listed your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, look at your list again. Imagine presenting it to your parents, spouse or partner, children, or friends who know you well. Would any of them ask: “What were you thinking?!? This is Not-You!!!”

If your personal activism plan will affect them, you should do more than imagine presenting it to them. You should include them in your planning process. They may see Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, or Threats you’ve overlooked. They’ll probably also feel better about supporting your efforts if they had at least some input. And if one of them says “What were you thinking?!? This is Not-You!!!” … listen with an open mind.

An honest self-assessment will help you commit to tasks that you will complete, done well and on time. Those successes will boost your confidence and others’ confidence in you. You’ll feel more engaged, and more willing to engage, because you will be working a plan developed … for You.


Happy Thursday!