I’m an intern at PLEN this fall, and I’ve been temping on and off for months, taking on DC largely alone. I write to you all my lessons learned with the perspective of a woman of color who has had great difficulties in landing her dream job. I cannot say I'm good at what I do, but I can admit to my longing and determination to get better. I want to get better. The following are bits of gold that have been able to carry me through my quarter-life crisis.
1) Don't compare yourself to others. You can't compete; you will always lose!
I know, what a way to start off right? Believe me, this has saved me from the blues. When I started out my undergrad career at my local community college (S/O to De Anza and yay transfer students!) I took a class in which my forever supportive mentor, Alicia Cortez, had us complete the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. Now, this isn’t your Buzzfeed-esque “answer these following questions and we’ll tell you what type of cookie you are” quiz (Christmas cookie, if you must ask!) This is a serious test because 1. It takes forever to complete and 2. It’s backed by research. In fact, some organizations even take your results into consideration when contemplating whether to hire you or not. After spending an eternity on my computer trying to complete these twisting questions, I finally got my results. According to my MBTI report, I tested as ISTJ.
Now, the meaning of this acronym isn’t meant to be taken to heart. It’s more meant for one to consider, analyze and self-reflect on. I was reported to be an introvert, which despite 7 years post-MBTI completion, I still find this to hold some truth. When I’m on social media sometimes I have thoughts of so and so are at this cool event and I’m here in my jammies or so and so knows all these people and is way better connected than me, why? Come on y'all, I know I’m not the only one here with these thoughts. Now, I’m sure y’all too have been told to not compare yourselves to others, but I guess I’m a bit of a masochist. This advice is old news, and for me it goes in one ear and out the other. I was stuck in a cycle of comparing myself to my counterparts, putting myself down because of my tendencies as an introvert. It wasn't until a great ally of mine made me realize that I was comparing apples to oranges. I was being unfair to myself. As an introvert, I can’t compete with extroverts. There is no point of comparison because I am one way and they are another. I will never win and it’s ok because we can each be fulfilled in our own way. I finally realized that. With much work and mindfulness, I now know. I am in my own way and it works.
2) Make sure they know your name!
They as in your coworkers, your higher ups, they as in everyone including the man outside of 711 every morning asking for your change. They all need to know your name. All levels, all ranks, all locations, all fancy alphabet soup positions. They need to know your name, and likewise, you need to know theirs. Its out of mutual respect, it’s demanding your value, because you are worth the world, and it is attaching humanity to your entity. It’s you. (*Feel my palm on your heart.*)
It seems so simple that we disregard its impact; I didn't even realize how important of a concept this was. As you now know, I am a bit of an introvert. Admittedly so, I am shy, as in I’ll acknowledge you every workday, but it might come off as strained, because it is, though there’s no offense to you. Shy, as in please don't ask me how I’m doing, I’m not good at small talk. Shy, as in goodness, we've made eye contact too long someone has to say something and it’s not going to be me. If you find yourself nodding at all this, just know shy is ok. What is not ok is for people not to know your name because of how timid you are.
During my time here in D.C., I temp-ed for a short time at an organization that I so wholeheartedly admire. I was part of the administrative team on the top floor headquarters of my dreamboat organization. This particular department held monthly department wide meetings, and I was lucky enough to sit in on one. We had remote attendees who had dialed in and were on speaker for all who sat in to hear. Everyone who was anyone was there, well except for the top two, but the third in command (a woman who is goals, BTW) and all the top policy analysts were present. Just sitting in on all this made my insides melt. We were in the middle of such a transitional period in our nation's history, where inauguration day hadn't passed that long ago, and I was sitting in on all of this! I was so excited to listen in on a sort of state of the union address presented largely by people who are of the same pigmentation as me, analyzing this change in administration’s foreseeable impact on our community. This was what was going on in my mind as everyone went around the room to introduce themselves. As I was turning my head, the lead health policy analyst nudged me, waking me from my fangirl daydream, informing me that it was my turn. Holy cow. Those thoughts were quickly replaced with panicky blurbs of, but I’m just a temp, I’m only sitting in, I’m not really here forever so no need for an intro. Thinking back to all this, I wish I could have shaken myself awake. You are Brenda Luna Macedo! You are someone! After a couple of seconds of loud silence, I finally introduced myself, timidly, but it sufficed.
Maybe you've found yourself in this situation, going through somewhat of an imposter syndrome moment. After that meeting, I went back to my assigned cube and printed out my name in large bold letters that I folded into a makeshift nameplate. I stuck it right up on my cube wall. It was prime real estate for display. When walking down the hall to the kitchenette or to the restroom it was there to be acknowledged. Brenda Luna Macedo. (*Gesture hand in form of a rainbow*) I’m sure they must have thought about it while walking through the office or while sipping their coffee. After that, they knew my name, and I knew theirs. They will remember me for good or bad, but they'll remember me by name. Foolish was I to have started out that assignment by introducing myself as “one of the temps” or as “just a temp”. It would have been easier for them to pay no mind to me if I didn’t humanize myself, and, as someone in search of a career track job, this could very easily proved to be quite destructive.
3) Get out there!
I’ve lightly heard this mentioned over the years. People I Iook up to have shared with me that attending events, networking receptions, and even volunteering is a great way to meet people. Free events are oftentimes hard to come by and let's be real, my name isn't at the top of anyone's invite list granting free entrance to an at-cost event. Networking receptions, on the other hand, are almost always free to attend. Only thing is, there's nothing in the world I dislike more than social interaction with deeply rooted inorganic origins. I too often pass up these sort of gatherings, simply because of my own perceptions, but don’t let me plant these ideas in your head! Networking receptions are fun and they're easy to find on Eventbrite! (This is how I stumbled upon PLEN.)
I’ve learned that success in being an active member of the world you wish to be part of (nonprofit, tech, legal) is all about what works for you, as an individual. Volunteering has been the ultimate way I’ve been able to get out there in establishing myself as a familiar face. Being fully aware of my shy tendencies, I’ve found sanctuary in offering my time to organizations around town. This relieved the pressure I experience with networking receptions. This allowed me to have more free flowing social interactions, sans twiddling fingers out of restlessness. Having a role and a responsibility during my time volunteering gave me a definite purpose. There's always time in between tasks to connect with attendees. Volunteering gives me something to bounce off of in conversation, introducing myself with my full name and adding the I’m one of the volunteers here as a cherry on top makes people light up with interest. It’s kind of interesting how much more free flowing conversations are in this way. The way I've experienced it, people are almost more open in speaking and connecting with you. I’ve met so many people this way. Organizers are always grateful for you offering your time. They'll remember you by this; everyone will. Attendees are always a goldmine of social capital, if you're brave enough to dive in. I’ve found community in my fellow volunteers in an organization I regularly volunteer with. They might not know this, but they helped me get over my winter blues being away from my family for New Year’s Eve this past year. Volunteering gave me so much over the past months and it has been the best way for me to get out here.
Perhaps after reading all this you might find yourself thinking: Duh, all this is just common sense. Well, for me these little things haven’t came across so naturally. This is for all those women who can connect with me on some level. No, these bits of wisdom I’ve outlined are not so obvious. I’ve gone through blood, sweat and awkward handshakes for these things to really make sense to me. How will my future look like if I continue comparing apples to oranges? What really is the lasting impact of people knowing your name? How will these connections I work on making an impact on the world I’m trying to be a part of? The right answers to these questions will paint a bright future for me, and I hope for you as well.
Brenda Luna Macedo is the Fall ‘17 intern at PLEN. Her main focus is to provide supplemental support in planning upcoming PLEN seminars for students to come. A native Californian, Brenda grew up in the heart of the Silicon Valley and can frequently be heard humming Frank Sinatra’s classic I Left My Heart in San Francisco. As a first generation college student from Foothill-De Anza College, Brenda spent the last two years of her undergrad career hiking to class through the grand redwood forest at the University of California, Santa Cruz. As a Sociology major, she spent a quarter of her final year in University of California’s Washington Center located in our nation’s capital where she fell in love with the city. Two years later, Brenda finds herself missing her father dearly since making the lone move to DC in efforts to pursue a career in advocacy work.