Passing the torch : A letter

About a week before the week before I graduated college (yep I meant to write that) … I “passed the torch” in two organizations that changed my life, and made my college career a revolutionary one. She’s the First, and the Black Student Association. But I’m not going to spend this post being mushy about how wonderful those organizations are, or how much I love the people in them… because that is a whole other post in it of itself.

What I would rather do is write a letter those that I passed the torch to, and any others that might find these words helpful. Those with the torch.

Dear torch holders,

You’re not supposed to have all the answers. Take this from someone who searched for as many as she could and ended up burnt out on many occasions. You don’t have to be 100% sure of what you’re going to do. Take this from someone who doubted herself every single time someone gave her another responsibility, or a new title. Be humble, but take pride in what you’re passionate about. There is what gets you through a lot of times… your passion.

I wish I could put into words how amazing you all are, even those that I do not know who are reading this, you’re wonderful. Being a leader is a blessing and a curse, and I’m sure each of you have already overcome things to get to where you are today.

If you don’t feel 100% confident in your ability to lead then you’re doing something right.

If you feel the weight of it all, already bearing down on your back and nothing has really started yet? You’re doing something right.

If you are more preoccupied with the health and progress of whatever group or institution you’re leading than what your resume or linkedin looks like? Congratulations, you’re doing something right.

In my short time as a leader, I’ve experienced highs and lows, but no matter the point in the journey, I learned so much each and every step of the way. So as I write this I try to imagine what I would have wanted to read before taking on some of my previous leadership positions, and a few things in particular come to mind.

First – Building and cultivating that passion is a process, and you have to remember to take care of yourself in order to take care of your passion. If I could go back and change anything, the only thing I would change out of all the failures and successes, would be the level of self care I actually showed myself. It’s something all leaders struggle with, and as I write to you one week out from graduation, the consequences of not showing myself enough self care are still here with me.

Second- Don’t ever think that being passionate about something is a crime. Go for what you are passionate about, not what you think you should be passionate about. Some of my happiest moments came from doing something I wholeheartedly believed in. Showing solidarity is important. Diving into what you are passionate about truly is even more important… don’t ever support something just because everyone else is doing it. Find your stake in it, and stand on that.

Third- Ask questions. Ask deep questions, ask shallow questions, ask questions period. There is a reason why great leaders always have people to thank, it’s a symbol of the fact that they didn’t do what they accomplished alone, and some of the people in their thank you speeches were the folks that they trusted and asked questions to. Seeking knowledge is important. My mind jumps to my political science and sociology professors that answered a countless number of my questions , and i’m not only a better leader but a better human being because of it.

Fourth- Delegate, Delegate, Delegate. Some will probably laugh that this isn’t at the top of my list, but it’s because I still struggle with it at times. I’ve had the opportunity to admire and observe some pretty wonderful leaders and people over the years, and this piece of advice is something common amongst all of them. Good leaders delegate. They help build other leaders. For those that are too prideful to share something they created with others, take a step back and breathe, realize that the life of your creation, of your passion, of any project, often times depends on others… the others you share it with, the others that help you build it, the others that keep it going once your gone. As a person who struggles with delegation to this day… I don’t know the perfect key to this. All I know is that change isn’t built in a day, nor is it built in 4 years, and so the work must continue, even after you have to move on.

Fifth- Be open to learn from everybody. Learning from others around you both young and old is always a good idea. Leaders are just two letters away from learners. No one knows all the answers. There are folks who have been doing what you want to do for years, sit back listen, and learn from them. There are folks who are young, energetic, and creative, let them speak up, give them a chance, and learn form them.

Sixth – Last but not least, enjoy the ride. Chances are you will not have this position forever. Chances are you won’t get to everything you need to do. Whatever you DO get a chance to do, and for the time you DO have… enjoy it. Look at the people around you, how long have they been there? Are they new? old? Do you laugh with these people? Can you? Do you cry and lean on these people? Can you? If so… do it. Do you see a newbie ready to jump in? Embrace that, help them get connected. Do you have the chance to get to know a fellow vet (in your respective fields or year) then do that. Some of my most memorable times have happened in the last 6 months… with folks that I finally had the fate and chance to spend more time with this year.

And so to those with the torch. Don’t ever think you’re alone. You have folks who have been at it for a while supporting you, folks who just left and are starting over who support you, and you have folks who look up to you and support you.

I sincerely hope that you find your stake in whatever you’re doing and stand on it, you have the torch now, so keep on keepin’ on.

Much Love,

SWC

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Re-learning the dream – My journey to a graduate school decision

There is a bit of madness that is a part of planning. No matter what you do, you can’t avoid it. For other type A folks like myself, your inner instinct is telling you to rebel against this notion, but you know I am telling the truth.

Applying to grad school felt like a big race. Race to what? I have no idea, but a race nonetheless. It felt like I was running three lives actually, one in the present, one for the future, and one just because I’m human and well life is a race (excuse me, I mean a marathon) let’s be real. Having to balance school – which I did not take my loved ones advice when it came to taking it easy- balance planning for the future and having 10 different plans, while trying to balance the avalanche of emotions that would come in waves about leaving a place that has become my home and the fountain of a huge portion of my own personal growth.

Application process

I set out with the intent to apply to 8 schools and 4 fellowships.

What actually happened was three fellowships, and 3 schools.

I was contacted for two interviews, for a fellowship, and one for a graduate program.

Went to both, loved both, and then had to go back to doing one of the things I’m honestly pretty bad at doing – WAITING.

LAWD when I say that on God’s perfect plan for Stephanie year 2015 agenda, “teach her how to wait and if she does’t learn keep making her wait some more” had to be in the top three because I feel like I’ve spent 85% of my Aug 2014- April 2015 waiting.

Finally word came back, and 1 fellowship and 3 schools. 1 – come to another interview, and 3 yes.

Then I had to WAIT some more.

It came down to this week, 1 fellowship, 2 schools.

Re-Learning my dream

On top of learning how to wait. I’ve learned how to really think and process through what I claim to be my dream. I’ve sorted through it a hundred thousand bajillion times. I’ve had all sorts of plans in my head for each possible way it could work out, but what I didn’t notice before was that I chose to assign the backdrop of my dream to be New York City, when at the core my dream didn’t need a city to become a reality.

My decision for my next steps boiled down to two schools. Once I heard from the fellowship (another no sadly) there was no way I could put of the decision any further.

And so there was a point in time where I felt frantic. I prayed. I stressed. I dreamed. I googled. I didn’t everything, I made a dozen pro and con lists, and all of it pointed me the same thought “follow what feels right”.

Claiming this decision as my own.

I’ve tried so hard to not include my loved ones in this decision. And as bad as that sounds, there is a very particular reason why I did that. It’s because, my loved ones are already at my core. I will take them no matter where I go. I tried to keep their words out of my mind because I knew that if I let them all the way in, that they would control my decision completely, rather than the realistic portion.

The question then was, should I stay in NC and not be in debt, or should I follow my lifelong dreams of going to NYC and be in a good deal of debt, good enough to make a growing public servant get pretty nervous about the actual possibilities of paying them off.

So the school I chose, I chose not because my family wanted me to. Not because my boyfriend wanted me to. Not because of the money (completely). But because throughout this race of a process, and all the craziness, there was one school that made me feel the best. There was one school that allowed me the opportunity to vouch for myself, to think about my decision, but most importantly, cooperated with me as I relearned my dream.

You see dreams are constructed. We rest in the little tiny details, without stopping to remind ourselves what the main goal is. So I began to think, is my goal to be in New York City, or is it to further develop as a leader? Is my goal to be around bustling buildings and live the city life again, or is it to use my leadership skills and experience to help make a difference in the word. And finally, did I want to be in New York city… or have I been saying it for so long that I was afraid to let go and consider anything or anywhere else?

I chose to let go.

Momentarily of course – I’m stubborn I know- but I chose to let go and pursue the real goal. The real reason I want to go to graduate school in the first place.

And so I’m very excited, for a number of things.

1) I get to stay in my beloved yet in need of some fixing state of North Carolina

2) I feel great about the school that I decided on going to.

3) This program felt right from the moment I stepped onto the campus.

4) I get to join the ranks of one of the world’s largest networks – the UNC Chapel Hill Family.

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And so forgive me that I kept some of you -who don’t live near me -in the dark. This process had me all in my feelings for weeks at a time. I truly grappled with this for a very long time, and didn’t feel prepared or like it was necessary to chart each step out to you as it happened…

I won’t ever stop dreaming. NYC will never lose it’s spot as my dream city. I know i’ll fulfill that urge to live there one day, but for now…

 

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I am over the moon excited, slightly terrified, and hella (totally appropriate word) determined about my next step; beginning this August 2015, I will pursue a Masters of Public Administration in the School of Government at UNC Chapel Hill.

 
Much love,

SWC

But what if I fall? Oh darling, but what if you fly ? : Choosing not to crumble.

If someone told me that senior year would have been the way it has been for me, I would have only partially believed them. I say this because the past eight months have been eight of the most ridiculous roller coaster rides I would have ever expected. I’m not talking the duo-toned roller coasters where it’s just up and down, good and bad. I’m talking the up, down, in the middle, half up – half down, super down, lower than low, higher than high, middle-high, middle-low, you name it… sometimes in a week.. hell let’s be real, sometimes just in 24 hours.

I’m stubborn though ya’ll, this post isn’t exactly like me…

I’m not the type to show my emotions to everybody, or even if I do show my emotions, show the depth to which they are affecting me.

But it’s time for some honesty, because honestly, I now know for a fact after talking to a handful of seniors, and even some juniors waiting in line for the senior year ride, that I cannot be the only one on this campus, nor in this world that hasn’t felt like this at some point, or right now.

Truth is..

I have been in a constant state of fear, anxiety, depression, happiness, and emotion for the past 8 months. Nights are especially hard, because that’s when all the meetings, classes, and talking stops, and the only talking, the only sounds I hear are swirling all around me in my head, my heart, in and out of my ears, overwhelming me even more. And many might say “Pssh, how can that be? You have it all together”, and to that I say LOL , a huge laugh out loud. I don’t think there has ever been a period for more than a few hours where even i’ve felt completely together, and although I don’t think that is a bad thing, I do want to say that not having it all together all the time is definitely a part of humanity, and I don’t try and be perfect and act like it’s not a part of my reality.

There’s this large fat ball of anxiety (my friends have heard me describe it as a fat guy) on my chest at all times. The size fluctuates, somedays it’s tiny, somedays it’s huge and the smallest of things, positive or negative can 15528391258_8c107335cd_otriple or double its weight and size. Somedays its a lump in my throat. Somedays it sucks all the energy out of me and feels like a million bricks.

I have trouble wanting to get out of bed in the morning.

Among my friends and colleagues they know that I am a heavy sleeper. In times of humor I pride myself on it. Oh yeah I could sleep through anything, if Jesus came back tomorrow morning he’d have to poke me and tell me to get up cause he knows how hard I fall asleep. But it’s not that part that is the tough part, not the opening of my eyes, but the willing my body out of bed part. Willing my mind to slow down and just take the first step of the day, the step onto the floor. No, oh no, my body and mind, and heart would rather just curl up and stay in bed all day long… and avoid the roller coaster ride for just one more day.

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I am constantly surrounded, consistently supported, and yet I feel alone.

In the past year I have seen my inner circle grow tinier and tinier. And the results are some pretty amazing, ambitious, hilarious, and wonderful people.

In the past year I have to deal with this weird soap opera like love life that I know is bound to teach me so much but I’m still waiting for some of those lessons to begin, but I guess they only start once the pain ends.

In the past year, my mind has grown and opened its horizons, grown stronger and better at defending my dreams from doubt and sadness… all the while my heart has been lagging behind.

And so I come to my inspiration for this post. A decision I made that completely tore me apart in ways i never expected it to.

Less than three weeks ago I let go of a person who presented their heart to me in a box. Who’d filled my last few months with laughter, care, emotion, attention, intensity, and faith. All the while, I’m struggling with everything mentioned above, and with some things dealing with this person as well. And my fear, anxiety, and emotion won. In addition to practical reasons that led me to let this person go, the fear-anxiety-emotional combo is what truly sealed the deal. And what’s worse is that making the decision to do so revokes all my rights to the laughter, care, emotion, attention, intensity, and faith. What is worse, is that I did to this person, what just a year ago, was done to me. And so I know exactly what the receiving end of my reasoning feels like.

And the first quote that came to mind when I verbalized my decision, was
” What if I fall? Oh but my darling, What if you fly?”

There are days when I regret the decisions I make that are inspired in any way-shape-or form by fear-anxiety-and emotion. And then there are days when I have a glimmer of confidence that it was the right thing to do. And the only advice I can give to people searching for the key to not crumbling after making a hard decision… is to think it through.

Thinking may not always help, but it can calm you down.

When thinking of reversing any hard decision. I think of how. After I figure out how, I think of why. Why is the Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 9.45.07 PMhardest part. Is the why the why you truly see or the why that everyone is telling you to see? Is the why how you truly feel? Or is the why the why that people are inspiring you to feel? Then after that mess is semi-figured out, I return back to how. How to reverse or not reverse. How to crumble and stand back up, or not crumble and grow stronger.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about my choices every night when the words are flying all over my head. And I’d be lying if I said that I will never change my mind, because I know that is a possibility. But if that truly ends up being the case, I can only hope for the best… and prepare for the worst.

Crumbling just CAN’T be an option right now.

This is what i tell myself every morning to get out of bed. Ultimately I admit this not to gain pity, nor worry…but to make others with their own options, with their own pep talks…realize all of this mess is not a singular thing.

What’s that saying? Keep on keepin’ on?

Yeah.

Keep on Keepin’ on

And if we fall? We fall…. But what if, what if…we do fly?

Besides… Who ever said chasing your dreams was easy?

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Much love,

SWC

Dreaming up dreams is hard, and so is following them

You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you reach the peak of a roller coaster and it’s about to go zooming down this steep decline and its way too late to even stop or get off? That’s how I feel. That is how I’ve been feeling for the past two weeks.

When I was little, I day dreamed a lot. I mean I had the whole day dreaming – imaginary friend thing down pat. My dreams were so plentiful sometimes I had no idea what reality was really like. And that saved me throughout the years, from heartache and from a hard heart even after life slung some foul pitches at me.

I always knew Dreams came at a cost.

Dreaming was always lined with that little bit of doubt, they’re scary, and the uncertainty you get when you dream and dream and dream, and invest all your time and effort and hard work into these dreams for years and years…. that’s supposed to be the hard part… or so I thought.

Recently I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to continue my education at the graduate level. I’m also up for the opportunity to learn and grow in the field I want to study in a program worth dreaming about. And although I am thrilled and grateful beyond belief, the same feeling I felt when dreaming about all of this is encroaching on me now… that doubt and that fear… and the realization that pursuing my dreams now that they’re semi realized is going to be a challenge too. The decision-making (oh lord this pro and con list will be epic), the financial commitments, the re-location costs, saying goodbye to friends and family, saying goodbye to comfort and security….

And so…

The tips I’ve gotten are plenty.

“Go with your heart Stephanie”

“Go where the money is!”

“Make a pro & con list”

“Do what YOU want to do”

“Go to the best program for YOU”

And the list goes on and on and on. Through it all I remain grateful and thankful to even have the issue of deciding… but I can’t ignore the facts.

Turns out following your dreams is just as hard as dreaming them. And so when in doubt, I find these quotes slapping me in the face with their realness.

dreamcitieslove         daretobegin         couragetopursue

And so all I ask are prayers and good vibes… that I may have the courage to pursue, to begin, and to work through the difficult parts… and find peace with the decisions I have to make this month.

In light of this vent-post, I must also share that i’ve started a gofund me campaign in hopes that anyone who is able and willing can contribute to this wonderful (But costly) undertaking. Any and everything is appreciated. This dreamer thanks you for it.

Much Love,

SWC