The Freshman Year of Life

The freshman year of life. That is how most people call the first year right after college. Like most recent college graduates, I scoffed at this idea and walked into the Newman’s Own Foundation office with the determination to change the world within the first three months of my first job. All my co-workers admired and encouraged me to keep up the energy, creativity, and hard work. Despite the positive feedback from my manager and coworkers, I knew something was missing, there was something I was blind too.

As a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow, we were introduced to 12 other Fellows who are placed across the country in different nonprofit organizations. These highly qualified individuals are aspiring to do great things with their life. Some want to dive into politics, business, theater, social activism, or education. Although we all have different interests, we all have one thing in common: we all have the potential for greatness. Despite being in a room with highly competitive people, there was something that bewildered me. These fellows were driven by compassion and love. Compassion for oppressed communities and love for their friends. It was reflected in every word they communicated. It was something that I never experienced while playing competitive soccer for 10 years. Slowly, I let my guard down to recognize my biggest lesson during my freshman year of life.

I loved my job. I loved the people I worked with. And I loved the mentors I built a relationship with. I think that is one of the biggest value propositions of the Fellowship, it exposes you to a network of leaders that very few people my age has ever been exposed to. People like Miriam Nelson, Jennifer Smith-Turner, Jeff Brown, and Dave Best, all upper management executives that poured time and energy into my professional development. These are invaluable relationships that I will hold dear for the rest of my life. As I talked to these highly successful individuals, I was able to recognize a trait that is hard to put to words but was reflected in every word they said. I’ll just hope for the best here. They were kind and humble.

I am amazed by a Harvard study that took 75 years to accomplish. The goal of this experiment was to identify the secret to success and happiness. After tracking the emotional and physical well being of 724 men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014, their conclusion was simple. Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. I thought that the key to success was to outperform, overdeliver, work hard, and crush the competition. I am not saying that is not a part of it, but what this study points out is that positive relationships are the key to real success in life. I was blown away. From the great leaders that decided to mentor me, to my co-workers, to my fellow fellows (this is a great pun), they were all intentional about building positive relationships.

Through many workshops, countless meetings, and everyday interactions with co-workers. I realized that kindness and humility are an open door to establish great relationships. Something that I used to think was a weakness in the “business” world is a strength in life. If I could start it all over, I would kick my ego out the window, and go inside the room with a willingness to serve others and be kind to others, while still treasuring my energy, hard work, and creativity.

I am so thankful for this opportunity. I believe that God placed this Fellowship in my path as a doorway to understand this: Humility is the way forward. Without my faith in God, this year would have been a year of despair and turmoil. But, I had Him guiding my steps every day, so I can finish off this wonderful year saying that this has been the best year of my life. Thank you NOF family, I will always carry you in my heart.

By Juan Munoz, 2019-2020 NOF Fellow, Newman’s Own Foundation, Westport, CT