Heather R. Mizeur is an American politician and member of the Democratic Party from the state of Maryland. She has served as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from January 10, 2007 to January 14, 2015, representing the 20th district in Montgomery County. She was a candidate for Governor of Maryland in the 2014 election but lost the Democratic primary to Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, Anthony G. Brown.
We met at her farm. It’s lovely. They have guests. Everyone is relaxed. She takes her time when answering a question. She speaks in long sentences that let you receive her point on more than one level. Her ambition seems ignited by the tension between her private spiritual practices and her public service.
Describe your leadership style.
I’m interested in creating a transformational shift in how we interact with each other as people. I modeled that in my Governor’s campaign in a handful of ways. First, was to never be negative. People want to know what you stand for.
I believe in being revolutionary and future-oriented in my policy development, as a way to inspire people around a common vision of what we want to create together in this state.
We’ve gotten into a habit of giving power away, and believing external sources, media and pundits, about what is and isn’t possible. So much of my candidacy was trying to show that we can break the illusions about that possibility.
Another component of the campaign was doing community service projects all across the state. I wanted to remind people that we didn’t have to wait to win an election to start making a difference right now. While I care about big picture issues and I was interested in being Governor to create a change in a number of areas, ultimately, it’s about empowering people to create transformational change in their own lives and in their communities…and reminding them of their ability to do that. I think we had a lot of success.
Why does a transformational shift matter?
We are going to live our best lives and connect to each other in the deepest, most valuable way when we walk with this awareness. When we stop being asleep to so much of what is happening around us. It’s so incredibly easy to get mired in a completely external life, where life is happening to you, rather than pulling back and understanding from a place of deeper consciousness that we all are interacting in a way that has dramatic ripple effects.
If I can have some role in shaking awake even a handful of future leaders, community organizers, business leaders and other politicians in understanding the importance of that awakening, of that connection, we will see dramatic shifts in how we relate and what we can create together. What our problems are and aren’t. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be government solving problems. Sometimes it’s us going to a place of recognition of how something actually isn’t a problem that we’ve turned into a problem.
We’ve gotten removed, as a people and as a culture, from the notion that we get to wake up every morning and design our day. What story are we going to tell ourselves? What illusion do we want to believe in versus what do we want to make happen?
What did you learn about yourself campaigning for Governor?
It was quite a spiritual journey and like any undertaking it had its peaks and valleys. It takes much more than you could ever prepare yourself for, if you’re doing it right. It’s incredibly difficult to be away from your family. I didn’t see my spouse really at all.
Because I was a transformational candidate trying to encourage people to believe something the media and others were saying was impossible, I was up against, “you can’t win, you can’t win” all day long, everyday. To be the principal one that had to carry and project, “this is possible, yes we can, this is how, come on let’s do it,” was a heavy burden. It’s also something I feel very blessed to have been able to do.
I learned a bit more about human frailty. I was always at my highest when I could connect with the voters, in public, learning what they care about, making community connections, and stitching like-minded people together. I get a real high thinking we were making progress with that work, regardless of the outcome of the election. I feel good about that.
How are storytelling and leadership linked?
Intimately. When you’re telling a story people will listen to what you have to say. Stories are how we as humans connect to each other. It’s vital. It’s who we are. We love to tell stories, hear stories, and we love to be a part of a story. That’s what our campaign was about. We set a vision for a book we were writing together and everyone had their own chapter.
This was never about me winning and then doing all the work. It was about this shared vision and everyone else having some part to do after we won. Even if we didn’t win, to still have your piece to do, to keep pushing for the awakening to occur. It’s been incredibly satisfying to see how many people are still helping to do the work.
It’s actually about having a vision or story based on truth, integrity and authenticity. It’s important that the vision isn’t solely created or nurtured by the leader who is expressing it. It has to be the vision of everyone else. The leader may be the first to express it and connect it to everyone. But then everyone else sees their role in it, or has given input on how to further shape it.
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How do you maintain your balance?
Take a look around. We bought the farm three years ago. It has been that rock for me. Even in the campaign, though I barely made it here, I could send my mind back to it. When I could come back I’d plop myself under that dear tree over there, my favorite thinking spot.
I’m a deeply spiritual person. To me, the balance comes from recognizing that you have to have both an external and internal life. I spend a lot of time in prayer and meditation. That is actually my primary life. Secondarily, I do these other things. And, right now, while I’m taking this sabbatical, it’s to help restore some of that. Because while I kept a decent balance of that for a gubernatorial candidate, it wasn’t the balance I need.
Living on the farm full-time, working the land, being connected to nature, having so much more time to get back into my spiritual practices is restoring that balance for me. That will allow me to a place, someday, to decide if I want to do a repeat performance. I’m not good to myself or anybody else if I’m disconnected. Once you’ve woken up and understood the difference between walking with consciousness versus being unaware of it, you can’t go back.
Photography by Theresa Keil