It’s ironic how we spend the majority of our childhood so eager to “grow up.” As creative and energetic 5-year-olds, days were spent preparing meals of plastic vegetables and facilitating marriage ceremonies between our stuffed animals. At the age of 10, we bragged to our parents how one day we would be successful doctors and longed for when we could finally fit into a pair of Mom’s high heels or wear Dad’s favorite baseball cap. Come 15, we were temperamental teenagers who yearned for the independence that a car would provide and dreamed of emancipating ourselves from parental tyranny by moving into our apartment. When we were 19, we were in college, at last on our own, but still impatient to graduate, order a drink at a bar, and rid ourselves of the restraints of homework and the judgmental gaze of our hall RA. Finally, we’re 22 and we have everything we’ve spent our lives longing for only to find that adulthood is much different than the romanticized version we had concocted during our youth. It’s nothing like we imagined it would be. At least, that was the case for me.
I have never been one to shy away from an adventure. Even when I was little, my parents would drop me off at summer camp, and instead of crying like many of the other kids I would happily smile and wave as I watched the family minivan disappear into the distance. I moved out of state for college and spent my summers running off to work in and explore new cities all around the country. In undergrad, I eagerly took on new assignments, projects, and extracurriculars optimistic about their outcomes and the lessons I would gain from each new task. As an extrovert, it was not uncommon for me to be the first to crack a joke in an awkward situation or start a conversation with a total stranger. With all this being said, I am not one to cower in the presence of uncertainty. I would say I embrace it. So then why was it that my first official year of adulthood scared the living daylights outta me?
My year as a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow working at Propeller in New Orleans, Louisiana, has been a hysterically odd series of “well, this wasn’t supposed to happen.” I remember the week I was planning on moving to New Orleans. I was at home packing up the remainder of my belongings, still riding the high of our first Fellows retreat a few weeks earlier, excited to begin my new life in NOLA when I received a text from one of my supervisors. He had asked me how I was settling in and if I was staying safe despite the crazy weather. I wasn’t there yet so I assumed that it was just raining, but boy was I wrong. The city was FLOODING. I mean, people were riding kayaks through the streets kind of flooding. Ultimately, my flight was canceled and all of my moving plans had been quickly washed away (pun intended). “Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen.”
Eventually, I made it down to the Big Easy and started my role as Propeller’s Policy Outreach Coordinator and everything was going great. As someone with a background in food, business, and social justice, working for a nonprofit that grew and supported entrepreneurs tackling social and environmental disparities was a dream come true. My coworkers were brilliant and fun, my supervisors were supportive and personable, and my work was engaging and rewarding. Weekly, I was doing everything from reviewing marketing strategies with a waffle catering company to merchandising produce in corner stores in New Orleans East, to designing site visits highlighting the intersections of food, race, and slavery in the United States. What could go wrong?
A few weeks after I started my position, I had a one-on-one meeting with my other supervisor. She debriefed me on some upcoming projects including that of a national conference we had been selected to help coordinate. Energized by the opportunity to be a part of something so monumental I remember thinking to myself “wow this is amazing.” That was until she also told me that she was pregnant and that I would be taking over her conference responsibilities while she was on maternity leave. “Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen.” Shortly after, I found myself in the same boat with yet another coworker. She was pregnant and, since both she and my supervisor would be on maternity leave, I would be responsible for managing our city-wide healthy corner store program in her absence. “Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen.” Fast forward a few months later and all of a sudden New Orleans is a hot spot for coronavirus infections, all of my meetings are via Zoom, everyone is wearing face masks and baking banana bread, and I’m forced to figure out how to be a young professional during a global pandemic. “Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen.”
I believe that it was moments like these, the moments that weren’t supposed to happen, that made adulthood seem more like the monster hiding under my bed than the fairy tale I envisioned as a child. The unexpected moments that left me feeling anxious and out of control. The ambiguous moments. However, the thing about ambiguity is that there is room for interpretation. Merriam-Webster defines ambiguity as “a word or expression that can be understood in two or more possible ways” meaning that, technically, we have autonomy over how we define the moments that weren’t supposed to happen. We have power over how we allow them to impact our lives and influence our growth. I realize now that it is these moments throughout my Fellowship that I have learned the most from. While I jokingly tell people that (thanks to said moments) these last 9 months have aged me more than the entire 4 years I was in college, I also acknowledge that they have made me a better critical thinker, employee, advocate, and person. They have forced me to be adaptable and to embrace the unknown instead of fearing it.
At the end of the day, this Fellowship was something that wasn’t supposed to happen. I applied on a whim with low expectations of a positive outcome and look where I am now. I am incredibly grateful for my time at Propeller as a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow. I have a job in my desired field at an organization whose mission aligns with my values and coworkers who are invested in both my professional and personal success. I live in an exciting and stimulating new city that challenges my perspective on race, class, and inequity in America daily. Most importantly, I have a community of bright, encouraging Fellows to navigate the ambiguity of adulthood. Adulthood may be nothing like what I imagined it would be when I was 5 or 10 or 15, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that means that I have a lot more moments that weren’t supposed to happen to look forward to.
By Kaitlin Morris, 2019-2020 NOF Fellow at Propeller, New Orleans, LA.