It’s not every day that we have the opportunity to interview someone who’s life ambitions are matched so closely to our own. Jessica N. Grounds, the co-founder of Running Start and also Director of Women for Ready for Hillary, is a champion for youth and specifically for women. While her professional career takes place in the field of politics, her mission and core purpose for the work she does is to empower young adults across the United States to engage with their communities, have their voices be heard, and make a real impact and change.
Jessica was gracious enough to answer some of our burning questions about what it’s like to be an advisor and leader in such a competitive world, and how she handles it all with grace and perseverance. We are thrilled to introduce to you Jessica N. Grounds.
Name: Jessica N. Grounds
Education: B.A. in Political Science from Pepperdine University; Graduate Certificate in Women, Policy & Political Leadership from American University; Executive Masters in Leadership from Georgetown University – The McDonough School of Business
Follow: Ready For Hillary | Running Start Online | WUFPAC | @Jessica_Grounds
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth?”
Jessica Grounds: Seizing your youth means taking risks and not letting what you think you “should do” get in your way. It’s so important to experience life and not hold back. I think it means to not let expectations get in the way of you stepping out and doing things. And especially for women, it’s very important for us to challenge ourselves and step out of their comfort zones.
CJ: What sparked your passion for politics and women’s issues?
JG: When I was in college, one of my classes required me to work on a political campaign. I decided to work for the re-election campaign of a local California Assemblywoman, Fran Pavley. Through that experience, I got to see what it was like to work on a campaign and how much responsibility you can have as a young person. But more importantly, I saw politics as a very public way to show people that women make decisive and strong public leaders. Later in my career I learned there are too few women in these important decision-making roles.
CJ: You work with students who are not yet at the eligible age to vote. What makes young people so important and why has their empowerment become a primary focus in your career and life?
JG: My particular focus is to inspire young women to run for political office. What we find is that women don’t approach politics the same way men do. Girls don’t see politics as an avenue to pursue a career. We know that we need to talk to girls before they reach voting age to get them to consider political leadership. It is planting the seed early that is really instrumental in changing people’s perceptions, particularly for girls in leadership roles.
CJ: You’ve advised hundreds of female candidates throughout the country in their political ventures – what advice would you give to a young person hoping to set themselves up for success in the world of politics or non-profit?
JG: Build your network. Develop a robust network of people you know in different industries and communities. They will be vital to a potential political run because they will vote for you, volunteer, and donate. They’re also your ears and eyes to the people of the district. Build your people network and make sure it’s diverse in all facets of the word.
Think about where you want to be a political leader. Where do you want to build your network? Be strategic. Where you represent should fit who you are. For example, if you’re a conservative in San Francisco, you may not do so well.
Talk to people who have run for office before and get their advice about what they did to be successful. Also talk to those who have ran for your position to see what they did to win.
Lastly, don’t take no for an answer. Always ask, never assume.
CJ: What has been one of the most unexpectedly interesting parts of your career to date?
JG: So, I’m now marrying a Republican who also works in politics. I’ve built this bipartisan network in both my professional and personal life, which has helped me with street cred and helps refine what I stand for as a Democrat. I feel like it also helped me hone how I talk about the issues I care about.
CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?
JG: I never plan anything after work on Monday’s. I am big on work-life balance. By creating these boundaries, it has helped me to better balance my work because I make sure to take care of myself. I always go to the gym on Monday nights. During the day, I don’t schedule a lot of meetings, if I can help it. Monday’s help me set the tone for the week and help me ease into things with control. I’m also on the phone a lot – building support for Hillary!
CJ: You recently joined the ONE Campaign for a political delegation to Rwanda. What has that experience been like?
JG: That was a life-changing trip! Going to Rwanda was the most powerful experiences I’ve had to date. I was exposed to a lot of work that ONE champions to fund the combat against HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa. I also learned more about the economic empowerment space and how NGOs and government organizations are working together. I was particularly excited about the potential for women’s political and economic empowerment. I actually met with the Kate Spade team and they are producing product in Rwanda. Not only is it an effective business strategy to train women in the country, they are doing it in a way that was economically viable for the company. The line produced in Rwanda is called: “On Purpose.”
CJ: Leadership skills training for organizations and academic institutions is an area you thrive in – what are some ways young people can become better leaders?
JG: I always recommend learning how to talk about an issue you care about. Most people aren’t born with the ability to speak effectively, so learning how to be clear and concise in communication is really a powerful tool. Practice talking about what you care about, debates are effective. Also, work on your writing skills, that’s another tool you can use to talk about issues you care about. Push yourself to do public speaking exercises. Run for student government or sit on a board for an organization or volunteer for a local non-profit where you can be an advocate and speak about these issues.
Identifying mentors in your life will also help steer you in your career. Not everyone wants to lead and those that do sometimes feel lonely in their quest but finding mentors can encourage and nurture you to stay on the right track for inspiration. “Leadership is a lonely enterprise.”
CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?
JG: I’m working on “being in the moment” more. I think as a professional type-A person, it’s very easy to think about what you did or didn’t do in the past, and what’s happening in the future. It’s difficult to be in the “here and now” and enjoy it for what it is. One thing that helps me do that is yoga (which I also need to work on doing more) because it helps you to think about your breadth and what you need to do in the moment. It’s a great thing to practice and cultivate.
CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?
JG: If I feel like being healthy and unwind, I will go to the gym and work out hard and then hit the steam room because it makes me sweat. If I don’t feel like working out, I drink a very nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or Super Tuscan.
CJ: What is your favorite book?
JG: Old school favorite: Catcher in the Rye; New school favorite: Lean In.
CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
JG: I would tell myself to chill out and that things work out the way they’re supposed to. Don’t be so worried about making the right steps all the time. I do feel lucky, though, because I found my passion very early in life and this helped me make decisions when there was a fork in the road. Over the years I have really learned to listen to myself.
Image: Jessica Grounds