Lessons From a Recent Grad
Hello dear reader, it’s nice to talk with you again. It’s been a while, so let’s catch up! My name is Julie, and I am an alumna of The Washington Center (TWC).
Even as I type the word "alumna," seven months after graduating from the TWC program and my undergraduate university, it still hasn’t quite sunk in as reality. When I moved to Washington, D.C. in May of 2016, I did so thinking that I was going to enjoy ten weeks of Washingtonian fun. I had an internship that hit close to my heart, an incredible support system at home in New Jersey, and a sense of certainty in my future that made me feel very comfortable.
Today, I write this post with a full-time position at the Arthritis Foundation, a budding support system in a city that still feels very new to me, and a sense of uncertainty about the future that empowers and emboldens me. I have changed so much since I moved to the District for The Washington Center's program and it boils down to something rather simple: TWC gave me the confidence to say yes to new opportunities, and the courage to say no when something came along that wasn’t a valuable use of my time.
My TWC summer was all about learning to plan less and say yes more. By August, I was practiced in the art of saying yes. Soon after the conclusion of the program, however, I realized that there is a fine line between being a Yes-Person and being a Pushover. That is what these past few months have been about: learning how to say yes because I truly wanted to, rather than because others expected me to. There were a number of things that I took away from TWC that have really helped with this:
#1. TWC encouraged me to commit myself to building a life in my new city.
By the end of my internship experience, one thing was clear to me: I would do anything to stay in Washington, D.C. While many people were ready for me to simply say “Yes” to returning to small-town life in New Jersey, I realized that that was someone else’s dream for me rather than my own. My dream was to begin my first post-graduate chapter in this city that had stolen my heart.
My drive to remain in this city translated into a Craigslist search to find my new home. The more I searched, the more it hit me—the living situation at the Residential Academic Facility (RAF) spoiled me completely. All summer, I took for granted the appliances and fully-equipped apartment that was a short walk to the grocery store and easily Metro accessible. When I moved out of the RAF, a paradise that I never fully appreciated until it was gone, I shifted gears into the most affordable place I could find: a house in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
My new home was a single room that was about as big as my 2009 Honda Civic—just big enough to house my two pieces of essential furniture: my bed and my bookcase. While the lifestyle was affordable and practical, I would recommend that anyone exploring opportunities to be in D.C. to secure a place to live in the city. Living so far away was an obstacle to building strong relationships and routines in Washington, D.C.
Earlier this month, I moved back into the District, to a beautiful home with two incredibly kind, friendly, and welcoming new roommates. In only a few short weeks, I have felt a sense of relief wash over me simply at being able to again call this city my home.
#2. TWC taught me to recognize my value and never settle.
During my tenure at TWC, I realized that my voice and my story were central to my sense of self. This was in large part due to my experience as an intern at the Arthritis Foundation. I have had arthritis since I was seven years old, and the opportunity to shift my role from patient to professional, as an intern and now employee at the Arthritis Foundation, is something that has changed me at my core.
I spent years of my life compartmentalizing this piece of myself into a small and suppressed part of my character, doing everything I could to lead a normal life that was not defined by my disease. I have learned to accept my arthritis as something central to my story rather than something to be ashamed of. Had it not been for TWC, I would never have had the opportunity to redefine my perspective on my disease and give back to a community whose struggle I intimately identify with.
Today, I get to go to work with a team that has become a family to me to fight for policy that protects patients facing the daily struggles of arthritis. TWC taught me to value my story and honor it by translating my experience into action. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to devote my days to a cause and community whose collective voice includes my own.
When you devote yourself to the job search, don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities that don’t make you feel passionate or engaged; your occupation can be a reflection of what is most important to you as a person. Don’t settle for anything less. If that means pursuing a graduate degree before securing a job, don’t hesitate. If that means taking a job that you’re unsure about to learn what you want, do it.
#3. TWC connected me to the people that have brought out the best in me.
I would be remiss not to mention that TWC has brought into my life some of the most brilliant, compassionate, and engaging people I have ever known. My friends at TWC helped me approach the world with a broader sense of self because the conversations we had challenged me to see the world with fresh eyes that weren’t limited by my own liberal bubble. These are the people who have allowed me to hope for a brighter future—one where our communities aren’t divided by partisanship, but instead strengthened through discourse and disagreement.
I believe at my core that the people I met during my summer at TWC are going to be the people leading our communities, businesses, and non-profits in years to come. That certainty has given me a sense of hope and confidence in a future built on a strong bipartisan foundation committed to building a brighter tomorrow.
One person, in particular, deserves a superlative for teaching me more about the world and myself than any other. To my favorite fellow blogger, former friend, and current boyfriend: Ethan, thank you for encouraging me to fall in love with life. You are a dream come true.
So, dear readers, this is where I leave you. I hope these new lessons supplement my old ones well, and that you accept my challenge to endeavor on a semester at TWC—there is no doubt in my mind that the program and the staff will set you up to realize your potential and succeed in the next steps of your life.
On a personal note:
Today’s blog is anchored by a song that has been a definitive part of my new life here, a favorite to sing in the shower, while I’m walking to work (yes, I am still rocking my tennis shoes with my dress pants), and while I’m just goofing around. Enjoy.