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Several interesting things happened over the past 10 days or so, which I only now realized connected. Last week, one of our outreach coordinators went to the Austin Foundation (where my colleagues Freddie and Emily work) to give a talk. My supervisor, knowing that some DukeEngage interns were also working there, asked me if I wanted to tag along and see the site. So of course I went.
The Austin Foundation, back when my DukeEngage group was choosing placements, was on my list of preferences along with a few other organizations, including my current community partner. We had been given a list of organizations as options, with mission statements and tentative work plans to help us decide. Considering the goals of each organization and the skills required for the positions, I picked out a few that either interested me or that I thought I could contribute to. I must admit though, that even though Year Up was on my list, I was surprised when my program director recommended it above the others as a match for me. Since I don’t like passing up opportunities just because they’re unfamiliar, I went along and moved forward with the application and interview process. However, I was extremely skeptical, not of the organization, but of my ability to contribute, and of the fit. I had expressed interest in some of the other organizations because I had experience working with such programs, or with a particular population. This…well, I had listed it because it seemed interesting, but I didn’t have any event planning experience or networking skills that would be useful to development.
But as it happens (quite often), I discovered that I was wrong. Slowly, over the weeks, I grew more comfortable in my quasi-corporate environment. Through observation, I picked up on the nuances of proper workplace behavior, took note of interactions, and slowly adapted to my placement site. I learned procedures, took on unexpected new roles and projects, and asked questions when these new things became confusing. It eventually came to feel like MY place, and I never thought about what it might have been like had I gone anywhere else…until I visited the Austin Foundation.
I won’t go into detail about my visit, but suffice it to say that I came away from that experience 500% more confident that I was placed where I should be. I also left with a better understanding of my own strengths and the environment (work and otherwise) in which I thrive. What I saw was not better or worse than my own placement; it was just different. It differed so much from my expectations, I’m not sure how I would have handled it had I been put into that situation. Sure, I would have adapted, but I doubt I would have ever gotten to be as comfortable as I have at my site. If you want to know more about my visit, please ask and I’ll be happy to tell you (yes, YOU) all about it. I’m leaving it out for the sake of brevity because I tend to write on and on…(In case you haven’t noticed.)
The main take away from this experience seems to be something that doesn’t get emphasized all that much in our society, which tends to value a strong will over flexibility. That lesson is the importance of going into (new) things with an open mind, and respecting other people’s judgments. You may think you know a lot (for example, I thought I knew a lot about myself and my skills), but most of the time, you don’t have the whole story (in my case, the work environment). But if you possess flexibility and adaptability, you can make the best out of any situation, and it might turn out better than expected. That’s something they don’t teach you in school.