Senior White House Advisor, 56, Washington
By Cal Fussman | Esquire Magazine
During an interview in March with Esquire Magazine, Valerie Jarratt, senior White House advisior, provides a glimpse into how she juggles the ins and outs of everyday life and how she feels about having her mentee -- President Barack Obama -- become her boss.
The interview is published in the May2013 issue of Esquire, but Washington Informers readers can read on for some of the insightful views Jarratt, 56, shared with writer Cal Fusssman:
If somebody's trying to get you angry, the calmer you get, the angrier they'll get.
I try not to keep any ice cream in the house because I can go through a pint pretty fast.
Anytime I was hesitant about taking a chance, my grandmother would say, "Valerie, put yourself in the path of lightning."
I was the first person in my family to become a lawyer. I was working on the seventy-ninth floor of the Sears Tower. I had a great office overlooking the sailboats on Lake Michigan. But I was miserable. A friend advised me to think about city government. I was hesitant—I was on my path and, miserable as I might be, it was my path. But Harold Washington had become the first black mayor of Chicago, and I made the move. I got a cubicle ... with a window facing an alley. That was a little jarring. But as soon as I stepped in that cubicle, I felt This is where I belong. I was working with people who shared a common passion in their love for the city. I thought, Hey, I can get used to this cubicle.
Just because you're nervous doesn't mean you have to look nervous. Nobody can look inside you. Project what you want to project.
I was doing an interview on a panel of women. The question was, Is it more important for a woman to be respected or liked? My view is you can actually be both — if you add being decent.
Children play the same no matter where they come from.
Laughter is very important to health. So I laugh a lot. On the hard days, you try to find a little bit of humor, even if it's macabre.
The president is the kind of person who, the day before the final exam, would open the book, read it, and get an A. The First Lady is the kind of person who, the first day of class when they were discussing dissertations, would plot out how to finish hers.
I spent the first eighteen years of our relationship being the older mentor. I liked our relationship like that. It worked for me. One of the reasons it was so easy to have my mentee become my boss is because I respect him.
When you're an only child, friendship becomes really important.
You can't expect people to put your friendship on hold because you're in a demanding job. Friends require investment. Like a garden, you have to water them. If you don't, they dry up.
I was chairing the board of the Chicago Transit Authority and we were in a terrible budget situation. We were having to shrink the service we were providing, and people started demonstrating outside my co-op. I had just closed on it, and it was still under renovation. The co-op members have to approve you coming in. I hadn't even had a chance to move in yet and give everybody a chance to see how adorable my daughter was and fall in love with us. So here we are, strangers still, and the protesters showed up. So I went and bought them coffee and doughnuts. I'm not sure if it was the coffee and doughnuts or the cold weather, but they dispersed. My daughter was about eleven. She said, "Why do you do this?" meaning why are you chairing the board of the Chicago Transit Authority? I said, "I would rather be the one making the decisions than somebody else because I know I'm going to be as thoughtful as possible."
Someone once said to me that part of being a leader is you have to be able to absorb a lot of pain. The president is able to absorb a lot of incoming fire.
There's nothing worse than boredom.
I'm low on drama. That's one thing I share with the president. Our challenges are too big for us to have to fight among ourselves.
It doesn't mean we don't debate ideas. One of the president's strengths, I think, is his ability to make people feel safe expressing themselves, knowing that if he disagrees with you it doesn't mean that he disrespects you. He simply disagrees with you. A healthy disagreement enables him to make better decisions.
You have to look at people in order to be able to read them.
I did question the president back when he decided to run for the U.S. Senate. I wasn't sure it was the right time for him. That has generated periodic humor at my expense.
As you get older, it gets easier to know who to trust.
If you had asked me on the night when I first met him, could that be possible, I probably would've said yes, but it would've been a fantasy. But to then live it and share it with my daughter, who thinks it's perfectly normal to have your mom's friend become president of the United States...
You can have it all, just not at the same time and in all the proportions that you may want.
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