A note from Kelly King: Have you ever had those “not just right” thoughts about leading? Were you considered too young or too old instead of realizing that you are “just right” in God’s economy? If so, you’ll be encouraged today by Denise Gitsham Jones!
I remember being ten years old and having all sorts of grand ideas, but being told (and believing) that I wasn’t old enough to execute them. “Children should be seen rather than heard,” my grandmother said. “You can’t teach experience,” my father told me. So I tabled my ideas, and let myself settle into a “someday” mindset. “Someday,” I promised myself, I would act on my ideas, but only when I was “old enough” to be taken seriously.
Then, I remember being a twenty-something on George W. Bush’s campaign. New to Texas and a political neophyte, I was utterly intimidated by the brilliant minds leading our team. I gave my job all that I had, but inside I felt inadequate, uncertain, and when things went right, just plain lucky. “You’re too inexperienced to make any meaningful contribution to this campaign,” I told myself.
In my early thirties, I started my first public affairs firm. Substantively, I knew my stuff, but I literally had no idea what I was doing on the business front. I’d always worked for other people, so starting my own firm was way out of my comfort zone. I knew I had good instincts and a track record of success in my field, but for some reason, it never translated to confidence in business. While some thought I was just being humble, the truth is, I just felt like I wasn’t “experienced enough” to succeed.
At thirty-eight, I ran for Congress. Having spent a lifetime in politics, with campaigns as my forte, I finally found myself in my sweet spot. And I was, for about three hours, until my opponent and a few journalists declared that I was “too young” and “too inexperienced” to represent California’s 52nd Congressional District. Since voters didn’t yet know me, and only my parents and friends supported me at first, I let their negativity infiltrate my thoughts. Never mind the fact that my career in public service at the federal level outpaced my incumbent’s. Never mind the fact that I knew God had called me to run. Never mind the fact that I’d dreamt of this moment all my life. I suddenly felt as out of my league as I did at the age of ten.
Now that I’m 42, I’m on the other side of “too young.” The minute I turned forty, the clock started counting down in my head. Forty years, I realized, was all I had left to make a difference in this world. And as I started looking at what others were doing—people far younger than me, who I’d dismissed as “dreamers” rather than “doers”—I suddenly realized that I hadn’t made nearly the impact I’d hoped to in my first forty years on this earth. Simultaneously, I thought to myself, “You’ve missed your chance. You’re too old now.”
I’ve had that recurring thought more than a few times over the past two years. Until I met Josh, it was “You’re too old to get married.” Since our miscarriage, it’s been “You’re too old to have a baby.” When I’m in the presence of millennials, it’s “You’re too old to be relevant.” And when I’m in DC, it’s “You’ve been out of the game too long.”
How I went from “too young” and “too inexperienced” to “too old” and “too out of touch” is still a mystery to me. Up to that point, I’d never once thought of myself as “just right.” But it wasn’t humility that made me underestimate myself. It was a misplaced reliance on my own capabilities.
What I failed to grasp is that I’m not the one who’s ultimately responsible for making things happen. It’s not my “just rightness,” but God’s that matters. Outcomes are determined by Him and Him alone. My only responsibility is to prepare, listen, show up, and obey.
C.S. Lewis wrote that “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” How right he was. The minute I assumed a posture of true humility—one that recognized my own limitations without letting them affect my belief in what God could do through me—I felt free. Free to dream, free to believe, and free to fall headlong into His plan for my life. The pride, pressure, self-limiting thoughts, and doubts I’d carried with me all those years disappeared. And now, at the age of 42, I finally feel “just right”—not because of what I can do, but because of what God can do through me.
For nothing will be impossible with God. –Luke 1:37
Prior to starting her own public affairs consulting firm, Denise practiced law at K&L Gates, worked for a San Diego-based renewable energy company, and served as a presidential appointee at the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as a law clerk in the U.S. Senate. Denise ran for Congress in 2016, and as a first-time candidate, earned 44% of the vote in California’s 52ndCongressional District. Today, Denise is a strategic communications consultant, as well as a published author and speaker on topics ranging from politics to business, leadership, and faith. In 2018, she completed a six-city tour with Propel Activate, a national conference focused on developing leadership skills in women. She has spoken at CPAC, delivered keynote addresses at political, religious, and business conferences, and written op-eds that have been published by local and national media outlets. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.