Moving from my small campus community in Central Michigan to Washington, D.C. was terrifying. Any life transition causes you to internally evaluate yourself as well as your goals, aspirations, and fears. I remember sitting in my new apartment, both unfamiliar and empty, and wondering: “What if I fail? What if I’m not cut out for the city? What if I’m not good enough for this Fellowship?” Very quickly, these questions transform into intersecting story: I wasn’t good enough to be here or succeed, and I would let those who have supported me down. In the early stages of my position I lacked confidence, felt uncertain, nervous, and a bit lost. I had shut down any possibility that I could fit into this world all while I focused on surviving it, not experiencing it.
A narrative becomes a storyline of how we live our lives. It affects how we view ourselves and our peers and how they perceive us. The way we speak of ourselves can build a remarkable path forward or a wall. I did not grasp the story I was penning for myself until beginning my role as a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow at the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) at the Aspen Institute. The work of CNAY is extensive, intentional, and rooted in the power of youth voice. It’s impossible to exist in this space and not reflect on your own narrative. Have you ever sat and thought deeply about who you are, where you come from, and what keeps you grounded? Do you actively reflect on the “why” of your work beyond grant deliverables? That’s my office space, so it’s only natural that CNAY would have a profound impact on my development.
So, who am I, really? As a 23-year-old I struggle to answer that, but I do have a few facts. I’m a proud first-generation college graduate, perusing a master’s degree focusing on International Peace and Conflict Resolution. It has taken a village of mentors to empower me to overcome adversities to get me here today, all of whom I’m thankful for. Cooking brings me peace and connection to the Earth. I can quote The Office line by line; I love public transportation, and podcasts. To be candid, I experience what can at times feel like debilitating imposter syndrome and fear of letting down those who invested in me.
In my short year at CNAY, I have discovered an entirely new layer of who I am. This organization has encouraged me to take control of my story, including the past and future. I was given the space to process my narrative and to use it for the better. I was supervised in a way that enabled me to get out of my comfort zone, take on responsibilities, and gain creative freedom. I worked with youth who inspire me to be better every single day through their stories and mission. It was this process that I realized my story was changing.
The empty apartment in Washington, D.C. is filled with laughter from two beautiful roommates. Paintings by local artists hang on my walls, photos of friends new and old are framed, and a Pendleton blanket I was honored to have received by MHA Nation hangs on my rocking chair. Without knowing it, I was penning an entirely new narrative for myself. A narrative that was transforming a very insecure young woman into a competent, confident young professional.
I will be forever thankful for my time as a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow. I am grateful to have been placed at an organization that places voice and narrative at the center of its work. I have been allowed to fail, to challenge myself, to grow, and see the world in an entirely different lens. While it is incredibly sad to see the year end, I feel better than ever about the path I am writing for myself. I encourage anyone to step back and ask, what narrative are you writing?
By Jennifer Peacock, NOF Fellow at Center For Native American Youth, Washington, D.C.