Oprah and Gayle. Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett. Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin. Beside every strong woman is an equally strong woman supporting her, and building with her. For former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and founder of Fair Fight Action, Stacey Abrams, Chelsey Hall is that woman.
Chelsey’s social media accounts are the visual representation of her motto, “Get it done.” You’ll find flicks of President Obama, Oprah, Former Secretary Hilary Clinton, Sen. Kamala Harris and a hilarious pic of Sen. Corey Booker photobombing. However, Chelsey’s work is about much more than rubbing shoulders with our country’s most recognizable leaders. This budding political powerhouse writes words that have impacted our nation, leads hundreds of volunteer organizers and does pro-bono consulting to help other women of color kick off campaigns around the country.
Her Agenda caught up with Chelsey to learn more about her role, career plans and what self-care looks like when airports are her second home.
Her Agenda: You’re Stacey Abrams’ advisor. That’s a big title for someone that’s only been out of college for six years. Tell me more about your role and what it’s like serving in an advisory capacity to someone senior to you.
Chelsey Hall: It’s very unique that I am an advisor to Stacey at this age. First, Stacey is the smartest person that I’ve met and I’ve met a lot of smart people. She is most inspiring woman that I know. With that comes an understanding that when you work with Stacey you are not telling her what to do, you are collaborating with her.
We have built a special relationship where she trusts my advice and opinions. She also trusts me to execute her vision. In my advisor role, I am with her at all times. She needs a high level person that has the institutional knowledge of our state and also nationally. I hold all of her relationships and make sure that I foster those relationships whether it be with President Obama’s ‘person’ or meeting with Hilary Clinton’s chief of staff. I talk to our incredible grassroots organizers in Georgia and making sure that they know they are connected to her. I write Stacey’s talking points for her speeches. I ensure that we are driving the mission of Fair Fight Action. Quite frankly, the advisor role is the easiest way to say that I do any and everything to support our chair and founder. That means that I have my hands in every single operation and everything that she touches. It’s a lot to manage but it’s so much fun! I get to perfect the intersection of fundraising to managing political relationships. I get the full breadth of working in this political space as Stacey’s advisor.
Her Agenda: Let’s back up a bit. What was your major in college? Is this where you imagined your career to be?
Chelsey Hall: I thought I was going to major in philosophy and I wanted to go to law school. I did an amazing internship with a law firm during undergrad at DePauw University. After a year, I realized that I no longer wanted to go to law school or become a lawyer, I needed a bit more spice! I majored in political science with a concentration in political theory. I had amazing professors that helped me understand the connection between philosophy and political science. All of the classes that I took did not inform the work that I do right now, it simply gave me an understanding of how political organizations work.
Her Agenda: Armed with that foundational knowledge, post-college, how did you go about gaining the experience and building relationships to create a space for yourself in the political arena?
Chelsey Hall: One of the best ways to understand how the political body works in our country is by volunteering. You have to join a campaign and pay attention to what’s happening. I started in college. I was a member of the college Democrats. I worked on campaigns as a volunteer…I was a door knocker. My first job out of college was as Stacey’s legislative aide. In that role, I learned how bills become laws. These are issues that are being brought up by state representatives that affect their districts.
The reason why I’m able to do what I do is because I’ve had key people pour into me. These people saw my drive and my yearning to be great. They helped me understand that politics was the best way for me to effect positive change in my community as well as the greater community. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with leaders that allow you to fail and learn from your mistakes. I don’t think in the political space, especially for people of color, we are allotted that flexibility. Being provided the opportunity to fail and grow has allowed me to become as good as I am right now, and hopefully become even better.
The reason why I’m able to do what I do is because I’ve had key people pour into me. These people saw my drive and my yearning to be great.
Her Agenda: You credit the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them as a major part of your career success. With such a highly visible and impactful role, you don’t have the luxury of hiding in your cubicle when something goes wrong. What is the most difficult lesson that you’ve learned?
Chelsey Hall: The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that the house is not going to burn down if you aren’t there. Sometimes a small mistake can open the door for a bigger opportunity. I can’t own everything and I can’t do everything. At the end of the day, no one really expects you to. Time management is a huge thing for me. I have to create work blocks on my calendar. It’s similar to learning how you study…you have to learn how you work. There’s always going to be incoming so how do you manage your workflow. Then there’s also figuring out how to keep your cool when President Obama is in your face! It’s a crazy balancing act that you learn and it’s very different for everyone.
Her Agenda: Finding an ebb and flow In your world is probably difficult as I know that no two days are the same. Give us a snapshot of what a typical week looks like for you.
Chelsey Hall: Last week was insane! As Stacey’s advisor, I get to move in all different spaces. She is in the middle of a book tour. Our calendar is filled with Stacey’s book events, speaking engagements, fundraisers for Fair Fight Action, political meetings, and press. We are literally booked every single hour. Last week I was in Toledo, Detroit, D.C., NYC, Houston, and Jackson. Every single day we were in a different city! We made the announcement that Stacey was not going to run for U.S. Senate which was a huge press day. I need to make sure that her makeup is right, how does she look, how does she feel…what is she saying in the interview, what are we holding, what are we giving away….
Every day we are on an airplane and something crazy is happening. It’s so much fun but I’m overstimulated a lot.
Her Agenda: Being that you are so accountable to Stacey’s day to day activities, where does that leave you time to practice self-care?
Chelsey Hall: That’s a great question. I’m actually sick right now because I have not been taking very good care of myself. My self-care has been up and down. I’m going to get really honest and be very tender right now. A lot of it comes from the trauma of moving and shaking my entire career to make sure that this incredible Black woman became the governor of Georgia. That election was stolen from her. It has been a very traumatic experience for our entire team. It’s been hard to bounce back. I’m definitely in the fight but it’s very hard emotionally and mentally. We are operating in a space where people look to her and trust her [as if she is the governor], but we don’t have that power. I am actually in the midst of figuring out what real self-care looks like for me. The best thing that I did last year was enroll in therapy.
Her Agenda: What’s next for you? What are your career plans?
Chelsey Hall: I have been intentional to not over plan what my career journey will be. I’m open to opportunities presenting themselves. That happens by working hard and being focused on what you’re doing. People notice. You also have to advocate for yourself. You have to let people know how valuable you are.
You have to let people know how valuable you are.
I’m in a very privileged space where my boss is one of the most influential politicians in our generation. It’s easy for me to figure out those opportunities. Right now, I am considering going back to school. As a Black woman in this space, I need it to better credential myself. The immediate future is looking into MBA programs. I’m really committed to the work at Fair Fight Action and whatever Stacey decides to do. Who knows, she might jump in the race for president. Whatever she decides, I’ll be right there with her. However, I make it a point to make myself available to other women of color around the country that want help with fundraising. I’ve done work in Florida, Virginia, and Ohio as a consultant and advisor with kicking off campaigns.
Her Agenda: You talked about a skill that many women struggle with: self-promotion. How have you been able to advocate for yourself? What does that sound like?
Chelsey Hall: I’m still learning and I’m getting better at it. I want to continue to grow. I want my title and pay to continue to get better. I sat down with Stacey and shared my desire to grow in all of these ways. She told me to write down everything that I do. She told me that when I go into meetings where I want to advocate for myself to share that information. Literally, to put that sheet of paper in front of people and share how I’ve been able to add value. It’s not always about how we are framing our words, what we wear or whether we are confident. Go to the data. How have you made the company or organization better?
It’s not always about how we are framing our words, what we wear or whether we are confident. Go to the data. How have you made the company or organization better? The biggest thing is to ask for what you want.
The biggest thing is to ask for what you want. We don’t ask for what we want. We think they are going to say no. If you know what you want, ask for that. Let them tell you no, don’t tell yourself no.