When I first came to TBR last Fall, it was right on the heels of two pretty negative experiences with internships. I had an internship over the summer where it felt like the administration was having a hard time adjusting to the prospect of working from home. It also felt like they didn’t have a plan on how to utilize my talents as a Social Work student. I felt a total lack of guidance and direction. Although I built some positive relationships with my coworkers, I decided to leave. Before that, my first year internship just didn’t feel like a good fit. I wasn’t making the kind of difference I wanted to, and the layers of red tape and bureaucracy were incredibly stifling. And although we are told by the school that screwing up is okay, that our internships are a learning opportunity, I was constantly afraid of screwing up and I didn’t feel like the folks at the internship were invested in my learning. Needless to say, I was pretty anxious and disheartened, while still remaining hopeful that TBR would be a better fit.
I mentioned in my last post that I’ve always been afraid of only being good at “book smarts.” Call it impostor syndrome, anxiety, or whatever, but that fear has haunted me my entire life. You see, when you’re “smart” as declared by other people, it puts a ton of pressure on you to live up to those expectations. When you’re a kid, you pick up on things really easily and everything feels like a breeze. But it’s a double-edged sword, because, when you grow up, you realize things aren’t that easy. You quit at the first sign of trouble. You struggle to stay motivated. You’re afraid of failure.
Growing up, I constantly tried to reassure myself that I wasn't doomed to fail, that book smarts would have to translate to job performance, that other people screw up or have similar fears. But when I started my undergrad degree, the idea was just solidified in my head all over again. I had started a work-study job at LSU, and it was related to my Psychology major, so I figured I had to do a good job there. But I ended up getting fired. I beat myself up so much, thinking, Who gets fired from work-study?! Looking back on it now, I realize I should have been kinder to myself. I had just lost my father to suicide and was trying to balance school, Tiger Band, and work-study all at the same time. On top of that, I was in a toxic relationship that was draining the life out of me. In the moment, though, I felt like a complete failure.
Fast forward to today, and, while I still have that fear in the back of my head, my confidence has ballooned, and my time with TBR is a big reason why. I remember walking into the office to meet Khalid and my colleagues, and I don’t know how to describe it, but the vibe was completely different from any job I’d had before. I immediately felt welcomed. Our culture of constant self-critique, improvement, and reflection meant that it felt okay to screw up. Khalid and my Social Work supervisor, Mary Mikell, seemed genuinely interested in me and my success. I had finally found my place!
One of my first assignments with TBR was to reach out to the Mayor-President candidates and schedule them for our Accountability Sessions. I was completely terrified. How was I supposed to cold call these people who I perceived as so powerful and put-together?
There were some roadblocks along the way, but in the end, my scheduling efforts were successful. I learned that, like everyone else, the Mayoral candidates were just normal people with normal lives. I learned that there was no reason to be afraid to pick up the phone and call somebody, and I learned to ask for help when I’m having trouble.
My next task as an intern was to see how the state legislature works first-hand. Edgar Cage took me along on one of his daily trips to the state Capitol and, again, I was totally terrified to walk into this building with so many powerful people in fancy suits (I’m still a broke college student, so my clothes didn’t exactly fit in). Just as with the Mayoral candidates, though, I quickly learned that the legislators were just normal people. I learned that with guidance and support from an experienced mentor, I could get through it. I learned that I had gained valuable knowledge through my schooling that even the legislators didn’t have. The information swirling around in my head wasn’t just “book smarts”, but valuable wisdom I could use to become a public person.
The first semester also marked the beginning of a series of relational meetings that I did through TBR. I was tasked with doing one-on-one meetings with a list of hugely important figures within the organization, and again the task terrified me (seeing a pattern?). I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing or that I wasn’t very likeable. But I had been set up for success, rather than being forced to “sink or swim”, like so many times before. I learned how to develop my own story and share it with others to facilitate their own sharing. I met with wonderful leaders who were curious about me and my goals, and who shared similar insecurities and anxieties. I learned that people naturally crave connection and conversation. I learned more about the Baton Rouge community and felt more connected to it than I ever have before.
Then came the Amendment 5 Civic Academies. This, believe it or not, was actually something I felt pretty comfortable with! But working on this project was still a huge confidence builder. Presenting that content to the public and getting such positive feedback finally gave me some validation that my public speaking abilities did indeed translate outside of the classroom. I got to continue building my public relationships and network within Together Baton Rouge. I also had a team who relied on me and came to me for help. I saw all of the hard work put in by myself and other leaders across the state pay off when Amendment 5 was resoundingly defeated. I learned then that I could make a difference with these new skills I'd developed.
During the second semester, I had the pleasure of meeting and building relationships with folks from University Presbyterian Church. I messed up a few times - who knew that young people can have issues with technology, too? But because of my experiences last semester, I didn’t let mistakes get to me. I leaned on my colleagues, Abel and Phillip, who picked me up when I was down. Each person I met with shared their fascinating stories and talents, and welcomed me with open arms. It all paid off with a great showing from UPC at the Delegates Assembly and now a successful kickoff of the church’s Relational Meeting Campaign.
Now, as I get ready for graduation and the biggest transition in my life so far, I feel more confident and ready than I ever have, and it’s thanks to the relationships I’ve built here at Together Baton Rouge. I can’t thank y’all enough for the experiences and lessons y’all have taught me, and I can’t wait to see where TBR goes from here.
Ryan (right) hits the streets with a fellow TBR/TLA Vaccine Equity Canvassrer, Clifford Young