As my Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship year comes to a close, I find it difficult to sum up my experience with just one topic. This year has been full of everything from major professional accomplishments to identity crises and outright failures. My Fellowship experience has been the most transformational year of personal and professional growth of my life to date. And with that being said, I would like to highlight my major takeaways from my first year in “the real world.”
- Be confident. Own your voice – even though you may be less experienced that does not make your perspective less valid. I struggled with impostor syndrome during the first few months of work. I was full of self-doubt and questioned whether I was really smart or accomplished enough to deserve this fellowship. It may sound silly, but once I convinced myself I was worthy of my position I started to be more vocal, ask more questions, and speak up. When I became more confident, I got better at my job.
- Put yourself out there. When I first moved to Chicago I was, for the first time in my life, not surrounded by people my age to be friends with. There was no built-in community when I moved hundreds of miles from my home town and college. Making new friends took time and effort. It was daunting at first, but after I joined a group for young professionals, a volunteering program, and the Fordham Alumni chapter of Chicago I began to find my place and my people in this city of 9.5 million.
- Embrace uncertainty. Entering my Fellowship year, I was unsure about where I wanted my career to go. I had several interests and I thought I would have a better sense of “what I want to be when I grow up” at the end. I thought that my experience at the Women’s Business Development Center and the professional training from Newman’s Own Foundation would help me decide on a narrower career path. Well, expectations rarely align with reality. I am now interested in careers I never knew existed before this year and am applying to jobs that are unlike anything I have worked in before. While I am not sure which I will pursue long-term, the Fellowship gave me experience and skills that I can translate into whichever path I decide to take.
- It is okay to not love your job. I doubt that anyone’s first job out of college is ever their dream job. However, it is important to re-frame a negative work experience as an opportunity for growth. Just because something is not the right fit does not mean it is a dead end. A great amount of professional growth can come from doing something that does not come naturally to you if you work hard and make an effort to learn from it. In my current position, I spend a lot of time writing grants (among other things). While grant writing has never been my passion, I am now a much better writer because I seized the opportunity to improve my skills.This lesson came from my post-grad “slump” – the period of time when I was starting to settle into life as a full-time employee, but was missing the schedule and social life I had as a college student. My self-esteem, drive, and work performance were lagging. There was a week that I did not know if I could make it through the year. But I persevered and re-framed the experience. Once I got through the slump, I reached the best part of my Fellowship and felt like I was thriving in my role.
- Make time to reflect. It is easy to get caught up in life. I am guilty of over-stuffing my schedule so that I am always busy. There was a point a few months ago when I realized I was exhausted all the time and, if I continued to be this overwhelmingly busy, I would burn out. I started to cut back on extracurricular activities and social outings and made purposeful time for self-care and reflection. Since then, I have been more in tune with who I am, what my strengths are, and what actually brings me joy in life and work.
By Shannon Kelsh – NOF Fellow at Women’s Business Development Center, Chicago, IL