Let’s Talk! A conversation with U.S. Senator Duckworth

BY Valerie Breslin Montague

U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth is an Iraq War veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, who was among the first handful of Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Duckworth served in the reserve forces for 23 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel in 2014. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016 after representing Illinois’s Eighth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives for two terms.

Senator Duckworth and her husband Bryan are proud parents of two daughters, Abigail and Maile. I had the privilege to interview Senator Duckworth and ask her about her career, her family, and her goals for the future.

Be bold: I asked Senator Duckworth what advice she gives to those that look to her for guidance. She immediately exclaimed, “Be bold”! She gives this advice to women who are seeking roles in politics as well as her own team. She also highlighted the importance of identifying a passion project and even encourages her staff to do the same. She added, if you work towards something you are passionate about, people can see that, and you will find a path to push it forward. Senator Duckworth didn’t envision a life in the military but did always feel a call to serve her country. That passion for service led her to her role advocating for fellow veterans, which ultimately led her to her current role as a U.S. Senator.

Ask for help: New laws, regulations, and agency guidance keep my health law practice dynamic and keep me constantly learning. I asked Senator Duckworth how she is able to keep up with the legislation that she is championing, the issues facing her Illinois constituents, and everything going on in Washington, D.C. In her advice, she stressed the importance of asking for help. She added she never leaves a conversation with anyone, be it a pig farmer in Illinois or a fellow Senator, without asking for their help. That help may include institutional knowledge, help understanding the other side of a debate, or a source of guidance. She said, “Asking for help has always been one of my superhero strengths."

Find your north star: During our conversation, I asked Senator Duckworth where she finds her motivation. She expressed her gratitude for her fellow veterans who saved her life during her military service. She views each day as a second chance at life and uses her leadership to advocate for all of our veterans. Senator Duckworth noted the importance of finding that internal motivation to drive us in our work.

It’s OK to fail: Senator Duckworth approached her military work, trying to be perfect. Eventually, she learned through failure that trying is the most important part. Through losing her first Congressional campaign, doors were opened up, and in time she stated that this loss made her a better candidate the next time. She shared that, unlike men, who often choose to run for office on their own, women have to be asked to run for office an average of seven times before they accept—a statistic I found shocking. Women need to resist the fear of failure and just go for it.

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Valerie Breslin Montague


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