Closing The Gap

Stacey Abrams' advice for dealing with career setbacks and using failure to inspire new goals

Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams enters the arena for a campaign rally at Morehouse College with Former US President Barack Obama on November 2, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. 
Jessica McGowan | Getty Images

In 2018, Stacey Abrams gained national attention when she ran as Georgia's democratic candidate for governor.

After running a highly publicized campaign that included the support of celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Will Ferrell, Abrams lost her race by a narrow margin to Republican Brian Kemp.

"I still feel pain," the 45-year-old politician told a crowd at The Riveter Summit earlier this month regarding her loss. "The pain is real, and I hold it close."

That pain, Abrams says, is something she wants everyone to recognize whenever they experience a career setback or failure.

"It's not about pushing past [the pain]," she tells CNBC Make It. "It's actually about embracing it, acknowledging it .... When you let yourself feel all of the emotions, you can then contextualize them, and you can use them to galvanize you."

Oprah Winfrey and Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams greet the audience during a town hall style event at the Cobb Civic Center on November 1, 2018 in Marietta, Georgia. 
Jessica McGowan | Getty Images

In her book, "Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change," Abrams touches on some of the setbacks she experienced as a young person and says she's always made herself think about the meaning behind her emotions.

"I've made myself really think through: Why did it hurt? But, more importantly, what can I do with that hurt?" she writes. "Does it galvanize me, or does it serve as a warning that this isn't for you? And sometimes that's the answer. Sometimes pain is a teacher that says, 'Don't do that again.' And sometimes it's a teacher that says, 'This is for you. You just need to try it a different way and try harder.'"

When Abrams was 18, the pain from a failed relationship helped her learn to process the meaning behind her emotions. It also led her to map out her life goals in an Excel spreadsheet so she would never lose sight of her ambitions.

"I wrote the spreadsheet because I was like, 'I'll show him,'" she recalls of the experience. "But, No. 1, I didn't need to show him anything. I needed to show me. And while he may have been the catalyst, what I know for myself is that when I was 18, when I was 28 and when I was 38, I was fully capable of being who I am and laying my own course."

Now, years after starting that spreadsheet, Abrams is channeling the pain from her 2018 election loss into another goal: combating voter suppression through her organization, Fair Fight. She's using her platform to encourage more 2020 presidential candidates to discuss this issue as a major point of concern during upcoming debates.

"I hope to hear, one, an acknowledgment from the moderators that this is a national scourge and deserves the same degree of attention as any other topic," she told Politico earlier this month. "Because all of the progress we speak of as Democrats rests on the ability of voters to be heard and to participate in our process."

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