Journey of Service: Longtime Lawmaker Reflects on What it Takes to Hold Office

By Rita Allison

by ELYSIAN Magazine

I spent some 30 years in elected public service — I won most elections, but I also lost a few. With each loss, there was a process of figuring out the “why?” which has always been helpful in moving on and gaining a vision for what was next in my life.

Some of those learned “whys,” I want to share with you today. As I encourage you and share with you, I hope you will see how important it is for women to step into the role of leadership. Research shows that the lack of women, especially in state and national government, is more of a recruitment issue than an electability issue: not enough women are running for office at all levels. (When women run, they win at roughly the same rates as men.)

Rita Allison

Most women respond to encouragement and recruitment, as I did in the beginning of my elected service on a local school board and then on to the state Legislature.

When we have a vision for our community, state or nation, we need to act on that vision. We must be willing to pay the price. Everything we do today prepares us for tomorrow’s achievement.

A woman once approached the great violinist Fritz Kreisler and offered praise after a concert: “I’d give my life to play as beautifully as you do.” 

The musician responded, “I did.”

If you want to be successful in your chosen field, find out what it takes to be the best of the best.

Time. Practice. Commitment. Sacrifice. There is a price. Success is never on sale; it’s just a matter of deciding how much you want to pay.

We must be self-disciplined. Emerson said that our primary need in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.

We’ve all had that somebody — a parent, spouse, teacher, friend — who encourages us to stay on track. But when we win, now we are in charge! We must have discipline to read, use our time well, stay up in our field, eat right and stay healthy.

Elected office should not be about us; it should be about those we serve — what is best for our constituents, our state, our country as a whole. And as we serve, we must build relationships, because no woman is an island in getting things done. Your vote will count, but being a leader and bringing others along with you will lead to success.

You must take ethical risk and not be afraid to fail. Sometimes, as I did, I learned more in failing than when I won. I could process the “why” and better understand.

And speaking of ethical… Know when to compromise and when to stick to your convictions. What you once knew to be right and wrong is still right and wrong! Surround yourself with people who care for your vision and will work with you daily to fulfill it.

These are not tasks for the timid. We must be bold and courageous. But when you do one thing to help another, that adrenaline flow will make all the difference.

When women come to me and ask what I think about them running for a public office, I always say, “If you have a burning desire in the pit of your stomach to serve, go for it. If not, do yourself and others a favor, and don’t.”  That burning desire will set you on the right path and get you over the many mountains you will climb.

My last election, I lost! But my burning desire to serve is still there. And so I set out on another path that leads to that service.

Don’t wait. If you desire, the time is right now for putting your vision, commitment, and leadership to work! And along the way, enjoy your journey of service.

Rita Allison is a former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. She currently serves on the South Carolina State Board of Education.

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