Success Isn’t Measured in Votes


One of my first jobs out of college was working as an account executive for a marketing agency in Washington, DC. The job was everything I thought I wanted – a position that kept me writing, taught me a trade, and exposed me to big corporate clients. Yet, coming off the heels of my first job, Teach for America, I often found the position lacked true meaning.

And so I started a game with other young colleagues who felt the same. I would start with an “If…then” statement and then work out how meaningful whatever we were tasked with was. If we don’t nail this press release, our client’s product might flop, and that whole team could lose their jobs! I’d say, trying to feel we were helping others.

Ultimately, my desire for more meaningful work led me away from marketing and back to writing, where I strived to help others through my words – articles that shared my perspectives and novels that told young girls to stay true to themselves. When I became a mother, I found profound meaning in raising my children, in filling their stories with chapters thick with adventures and challenges, love, and encouragement.

Yet, as my kids grew, I started looking for new ways to help others. So, when a friend approached me last February about running for the Fairfield Board of Education, I jumped on it.

New hair, new dress. Ready to go!

I’d been attending Board of Ed meetings since 2018 when my oldest started kindergarten, and I cared deeply about several issues. Not to mention, I was already the go-to friend for questions regarding education topics and meeting recaps. Joining the Board of Ed seemed like the perfect next step, a way for my career to come full circle, returning me to that very first job all others had failed to match.

So last summer, instead of finalizing my new manuscript, I started reading up on education policy digging deep into old meeting agendas, budget proposals, and parent surveys. Then I chopped my waist-length hair, bought a new dress, and announced my run for office.

I knew running for office would be challenging, but I also knew I’d done difficult things before. I’d survived years of colic and simultaneously cared for toddlers and newborns. I’d worked demanding jobs in education and marketing. How hard could a local election be?

The answer? Pretty tough.

I was one of three candidates that my party was running as a team. Anything we produced would have all our names on it – from door hangers and lawn signs to social media posts. I, the writer of the group, took charge of writing taglines and messages and then sharing my work with my teammates. They liked my work and told me to keep going.

The tasks reminded me of my previous life, and it felt good to watch old skills reappear, even as my writing time disappeared. In August, I’d been working on a synopsis so I could start pitching my new manuscript. A few weeks into September, I had to put it on hold.

A flurry of activities began as soon as the election materials were finalized. I had to prepare for planning meetings and parent meet-and-greets, fundraisers, and forums. Followed by Zoom calls, and conference calls, and strategy sessions at restaurants. Most of these activities took place in the evening, keeping me out of the house during dinner and bedtime.

Then, on the weekends, I was gone again, out canvasing, knocking on constituents’ doors. As a first-time candidate, I wanted to meet as many people as possible, so I started devoting 6-8 hours a weekend to walking, ramping up later to 10-12. I did so wearing the new J. Crew Factory blazer and drugstore makeup I bought and quickly made part of my campaign uniform, a rotating collection of jeans and old t-shirts that looked best hidden under a coat.

Dressed in my uniform with blow-dried hair and a coat of mascara, I would look at myself in the mirror and smile at the woman I was before kids peeked through. I am strong and capable. I got this! I’d tell myself. Then, I’d grab my bag full of notebooks, pens, and literature and race out to tackle the day’s challenges.

And there were always challenges like that slew of weekend rainstorms that continued to pelt our area every Saturday. Unwilling to lose time, I walked through every single one, including a particularly chilling rain on my fortieth birthday. I often came home with sloshing shoes and soaked jeans, my fingers and toes numb from the cold. Yet there was little time to dry out. Because back at home, it was the weekend, and my kids were missing me. They needed me to be there as much as I could.

For years, I had been a stable constant in my children’s lives: home after school, home for dinner, and home for bedtime stories and snuggles. Yet overnight, the entire rhythm of our lives changed.

Family dinners became rare. Those we did pull off began to include more food from the prepared aisle. My husband took charge of baths, and bedtime stories, and evening laundry. During the mornings when my youngest was at pre-k, I’d try to clean up as much as possible, but my time was limited. There was always more campaign work to be done, from press interviews to candidate questionnaires and responses to parent emails.

Then, every day at one o’clock, I would race back to my regular life as a stay-at-home mom at pre-k pickup. It was a schedule that had worked well back when I was writing part-time, but now I always felt behind. All day, my phone would buzz with text messages, the disappointment in my children’s eyes growing every time I snuck in a response.

Something needed to change. Because while I was proud of all I was accomplishing, I knew I could never enjoy it if my own kids were upset. I had to work harder at balancing my new demands with my family’s needs.

So, on nights without evening events, I started cooking real meals again and letting the kids stay up to watch family movies. The weekend before Halloween, I stopped walking early so we could pick pumpkins. And when we arrived to a sea of people and a limited selection, I kept smiling and told the kids to pick any pumpkin they wanted – even a big one.

My biggest fans!

Through the buzzing chaos, we found our way. As weekend walking increased, my oldest daughter started coming with me more. I started reading bedtime stories to my youngest in the afternoon to combat evening events. And instead of conducting evening activities at headquarters, I invited volunteers to our home, cooking big dinners for all who attended. Together, my family became a team working toward a common goal. We were going to improve the schools. We were going to elect Mommy to the BOE.

Election day with my best walking buddy!

Then came November 7th. I woke early, dressed in that same navy blazer, and then spent 14 hours at the polls. Throughout the day, I saw it all. From rain to clouds to a brilliant sun followed by an evening cold. From close friends to acquaintances I’d met walking to other candidates who had become friends over the past few months. All day I smiled and waved and hoped.

And then, I lost. After receiving 8,153 votes, I failed to secure the last seat by 146.

Inside, the loss hurt. There were issues I cared about. I’d been excited to serve our town. But as a mom, I knew I couldn’t dwell on my disappointment. Rather, it was time to practice what I preach. I want to show my kids that losing isn’t something to be afraid of but to be embraced as a necessary step toward achieving big goals.

And so that next morning, when my kids burst into tears at the news, I dried not my eyes but theirs.

“It’s okay to be upset, guys,” I said. “We all worked hard. But just because Mommy lost doesn’t mean we failed. All that hard work made us stronger. And maybe it will even open a door to a new opportunity. Something even better!”

The kids nodded and then dressed for school. Privately, I grieved a little longer.

But by that next Monday, I was back to work, eager to thank my family for their sacrifices. So, I went to the grocery store and bought ingredients for my family’s favorite meals. Then I went home and chopped vegetables for chicken soup. As it simmered in our crock pot, I folded laundry, and washed towels, and wiped down the kitchen. Finally, I sat at my computer to send some much-overdue room parent emails. I found myself volunteering for a new committee at our elementary school.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the file name for that half-finished synopsis of my new manuscript. I clicked it, then sat there while it loaded, the file groggy after lying dormant for so long. As the words appeared, I was filled with excitement. For my manuscript. For a family dinner. For a future still full of possibilities.

And so later, when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I found myself smiling. My skin was bare, my hair pulled back, my blazer hanging in the closet. Still, I saw that spark. You are strong and capable. You got this! I told myself.

Then, I vowed to write this story. So that somewhere some mom could take that big risk. Or stop dwelling on past failures. Or maybe just be reminded that success isn’t measured in votes but in the simple daily acts to improve the lives of those we love.

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Jackie Nastri Bardenwerper
Jackie Nastri Bardenwerper lives in Fairfield, CT with her husband and three children, ages 10, 7, and 4. She is the author of several novels that encourage tween and teen girls to listen to their inner voice, from saving the family fishing business in ON THE LINE, to following a passion for crafting in SALTED CARAMEL DREAMS, and exposing a friend’s hurtful social media platform in POPULATTI. She is currently working on a new children's book series and a new novel on motherhood. She also shares her own motherhood experiences on her Instagram @jnbwrite. When not writing, you can find Jackie and her family enjoying Fairfield’s beautiful coastline where they love fishing, swimming and sailing.


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