I am in Raleigh, North Carolina, this weekend as a finalist for the E.A Morris Fellowship for Emerging Leaders.
My interview is in 15 minutes, and I am sitting here typing up a blog post instead of preparing. I just don’t know how much more I can prepare. I have looked up everything I could on policy I want to discuss, my dress is ironed and my hot pink lipstick as been applied. How else am I supposed to calm these nerves of mine? Write. That’s how.
In the less than 24 hours I have been here, I have learned a lot about myself. I first applied for this Fellowship back in late 2012 when I was planning my return from Washington DC. I was little young for the Fellowship last year. You must be 25-35 to be considered, and at 22 I wasn’t going to make the cut. To my surprise this year, I was contacted by the Foundation and was asked to resubmit my application to the program. You know when people say they will save your application and will contact you at a later date? Yeah, the ones you don’t believe. Well it actually happened this time. I hadn’t even put a second thought to the Fellowship for 2014. Politics hadn’t been my genre for a year. Did they know that? I didn’t think I stood a chance, so I didn’t even bother reapplying. When I was contacted, I realized how much I wanted to be a part of this program. Now I sit in my most comfortable hotel bed, writing a blog post, and in 15 minutes I’m going to ride the elevator downstairs in the heels I am so over for my final interview.
I arrived in Raleigh last night 20 minutes before cut-off. Some might say that is cutting it close, but to those that know me are pleasantly surprised at my punctuality. I look around the room and did not know a single soul. The bellman offers me a warm chocolate oatmeal cookie that I DECLINE for some reason that only God can understand and am handed my room key. During the entire drive I was so nervous I would have to share a room. Katelyn Garlow does not do strangers. Luckily, when I opened the door it was to my own hotel room, and I do love sleeping in my own hotel room. I change, reapply my brand-new-please-help-me-be-confident hot pink lipstick, twirl my hair into a bun, and am ready for action. I strut my stuff down stairs into the reception area and start to make my rounds. I try to get into some conversations, but it’s just not working. I freeze. I am completely terrified. I feel panic rising in my chest. I take my cranberry vodka from the bartender and try to casually walk back to the elevators before anybody can see my ankles locking in my heels and my nerves shaking. I panicked. I have never panicked before like that in a social situation. I own social situations. I could not understand for the life of me why I froze. Now everybody is going to remember me as the girl that got her vodka and went to drink it by herself. Or was anybody going to remember me at all?
I don’t know how I made it back to my room walking in heels. I had a serious case of tunnel vision, and tried to get into the wrong hotel room, twice. Panic took over. I was sitting on my bed shaking, I couldn’t even get a coherent iMessage out on my phone. While I was sitting there I was thinking to myself that I didn’t belong here. I don’t work in politics anymore, hell, I didn’t even watch the State of the Union. I thought I looked ugly. I thought I was stupid and nobody would want to talk to me, or even worse, that I wouldn’t have anything to contribute to the conversation.
Honestly, I have never in my life felt such an overwhelming sensation of self doubt. It was a horrible, gut wrenching experience, but it lead to something bigger. It helped me grow in who I am. Sure, I might be the youngest one here. Sure, I might not work in the political arena at this moment. Sure, I might be up against District Court Judges, members of the General Assembly, and campaign managers. But I was told something that made me put those heels back on, get my shit together, and walk back downstairs.
I made it just as far as they did. We are all finalists. We are not separated by our job titles, but by our capacity to lead. You might be a District Court Judge, and I might work for the YMCA, but we both are leaders. That’s what matters here.
With my cranberry vodka in hand, I walked up to a group of older men watching the Duke v. Syracuse game. If there is anything I can do well, it is talk sports. I finally found something I was comfortable doing, watching ACC basketball with grandpas. The first hand I shook was the President of the Board of Directors for the E.A Morris Fellowship. Thank you college basketball.
To steady my hands, I went and grabbed a cheese plate. I didn’t want to eat it, I just needed something to hold. A prop in my attempt to be genuine. While at the table putting three crackers, and three cheese cubes on a plate, I ran into some other finalists. There are a lot of finalists from Winston-Salem, one just so happens to be my real life neighbor. “Are you the girl with the golden retriever?” Why yes, yes I am.
Then once dinner started, I found a table full of misfits like myself and sat down next to a man who ran for State Senate in 2012, a woman who did her graduate and PhD studies in Hungary, a petite white woman who runs the Durham Black Republicans, and then myself… a Program Director for the YMCA. And you know what? People love the YMCA. I was so terrified that people would look down on me for my job. That I wasn’t going to be good enough to these people. The moment “The Y” slipped my lips, every person I talked to had a story about how the YMCA has affected them, about what a great organization I work for, and how they are glad somebody with such community influence was finalist for this Fellowship. That hot pink lipstick sure paid for itself. I was still nervous, but I had confidence. I was feeling like my old self. The one that could walk into a room full of 25 strangers, and come out with 25 friends.
It’s hard taking a sabbatical from politics like I have, and then enter the arena full-force. Last night, February 1st, marked one year since I began working for the YMCA, and one year out of politics. One lap around the sun was all it took. It was necessary break, something I desperately needed if I ever wanted to get back into the political spectrum. When I left DC I was tired, I was drained of all my political wanting. I was defeated. Defeat is never a good feeling.
I just finished my interview. (You know I couldn’t have written all of this in 15 minutes) One of her questions was, “what do you want to get out of this Fellowship?” And I responded with, “opportunities.” I talked with her about how when I was working in Washington that opportunities were getting thrown at me left and right. I am still getting job prospects in DC while I am living in NC. That is how abundant opportunities are in DC. But how in North Carolina, there are those same opportunities, almost just as many, but you have to search for them. You have to do the work. You have to find what your passion is and seek out the best fit for you. The reason there are so many jobs in DC is because people take them, don’t like them, and then throw them away. Here, in this fellowship, I want to get to the seed of my passions. I want to figure out what exactly I want to do in politics. In Washington, I worked with activists, I was a ghost writer, I picked apart policy and wrote on the benefits or detriments of every House bill you could imagine. The list goes on and on.
That stopped me in my tracks. I flew from A to Z. I didn’t take the necessary steps to find out my B. That caused met to lose my sense of C through Y. This Fellowship, if I am accepted into the program will help me find my B, and will help me execute my C through Y. And then, just maybe, I can go on to change the world. (or just my little slice of North Carolina)
And I’ll do it in my hot pink lipstick.