Thank you, PLEN, for reminding me that I have always been enough.

When I imagined my last semester of graduate school, I imagined gathering with my family and friends, attending and presenting at an academic conference, and my graduation ceremony. All of that changed in March when COVID canceled my graduation ceremony and my ability to see my friends. Many job leads I had, were halted. The life that I carefully crafted and planned was radically different. As most students during this time, I was grieving the loss of normalcy and the ability to close this chapter of my life properly. 

My feelings of despair and loss changed when I found PLEN. PLEN was exactly what I had been looking for, an organization that empowers women through policy, leadership training, and so much more.

When I saw PLEN post a Summer internship position, I thought, what did I have to lose? I went into the interview extremely prepared, with detailed questions, and a passion for empowering other women. Even though I had the experience and passion, I never thought they would pick me. 

My imposter syndrome flooded over me. I had a list in my head, 1. I’m just a girl from South Texas. 2. I didn’t go to an Ivy League college. 3. There was so much I had yet to learn. 

When I was offered the position, I believe we both took a chance. PLEN trusted someone outside of DC to take this on the role, and I jumped into this position, ready to bring my organizing experience to DC.

PLEN taught me how to plan a virtual online event, how to send a mass email, and about nonprofit databases, even so, this blog post will not go over any of those hard skills. Because while teaching me those hard skills, PLEN also taught me I am worthy, powerful, and reminded me that I must help lift the women after me. This blog post will highlight my biggest takeaways and how I plan to transfer this knowledge to the next girl.

Stop feeding your imposter syndrome.

A powerful sentiment from PLEN speaker, Francella Ochillo, “stop giving imposter syndrome oxygen.” 

From my first interview with PLEN, I have been feeding my imposter syndrome. I had been continuously doubting my abilities, my experiences, and my ideas. I was scared that this girl from Texas couldn’t make it at a DC non-profit. I was terrified that the PLEN staff would suddenly figure out that they had made a mistake.

I was the only one who believed I didn’t belong. By continually feeding my imposter syndrome, I was holding myself back. As Francella reminded me, my parents and grandparents fought too hard for me to have imposter syndrome. I am everything they dreamed of and worked for.  To honor them, I must fully step into my power.

I know my imposter syndrome will try to resurface, but I have figured out a few ways to fight it, and I would like to share them with you. First, ask yourself, “Who said these things?” Can you name the person that said you are not doing a good job? More than likely, you cannot name a person who has said these awful things. More than likely, you are the ONLY one thinking negatively about your efforts. Once you realize, your internal dialogue is draining you, choose to change it and ask yourself, “What can I give myself credit for?” Did you finish a project? Did you create a post? Focus on how you are contributing and celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small.

If you need more solid concrete, I challenge you to compile the evidence. As a passionate researcher, I need to see facts to ground my thinking. My therapist challenged me to create a scrapbook of my accomplishments to look at my evidence. My evidence has some of my favorite organizer wins and personal letters. When I glance at my evidence, I remember when I felt those tasks were impossible, but I did them. I can overcome these new challenges too.

It is never too late to reinvent yourself.

People often believe that once we put time and energy into one field or an unfulfilling job, that we have unintentionally sealed our fate and that we must continue on our current chosen path, regardless of how unhappy it makes us. I have learned that it is so far from the truth. PLEN taught me that our path to our dream life is not linear; rather, it is an adventure filled with detours, mistakes, and lessons. The experiences and mishaps you gather along the adventure are honing your skills for your dream life, but you have to go out and take it. You have to trust yourself, have people in your corner, and pivot.

If we want to make spaces diverse, information must be accessible.

As a woman from South Texas, the DC nonprofit world is new to me. As I have navigated this new arena, I have found a gap in services.

I am not a student from a privileged background. My parents did not attend an Ivy League school or hold fancy corporate jobs. Unlike my parents, privileged people often have generational wealth. The accumulation of wealth also comes with a large network and generational knowledge. Like generational wealth, generational knowledge is the ability to pass down best practices, tips, and rules for succeeding in the corporate world. 

While privileged families can easily pass this information on, the rest of us have to work twice as hard to be noticed and keep up with these arcane rules.

As the first person in my immediate family to go to graduate school or envision a life outside Texas, my parents could not advise me on how to navigate this life. 

Due to that, before interning with PLEN, I had never heard of an informational interview or how to connect with others properly. I quickly found I was not the only one missing out on this valuable information, as so many of those around me were never given this handbook to success that privileged students are given.

How can companies say they want more diverse candidates when so much of this information is inaccessible? How can candidates like myself compete when we are missing a gigantic piece of the puzzle?

PLEN has inspired me to change that. If we want to make spaces diverse, information must be accessible. If we want more women of color, first-generation, and women from Texas at the forefront of policy and activism, we have to create spaces to gather this information. I am starting a side hustle to do just that! (Stay with me to see what that will look like!) 

PLEN reminded me that our current system is not working for the most marginalized, so we must reimagine it and transform how knowledge is shared. Transferring power from men to women isn’t enough. Are we authentically building relationships and creating spaces where everyone is given the tools and resources to succeed? We all have a role to play in dismantling our current system and ensuring that people from my rural community and rural communities all over the world have the knowledge, resources, and spaces to thrive. 

My PLEN Destiny 

Finally, I will leave you with what felt like my PLEN destiny. One day when I was creating a social media campaign, I was researching the women behind PLEN. Frances “Sissy” Farenthold was one of the women who brought PLEN to life. Guess where Sissy was born and raised? Corpus Christi, Texas. Where I went to college and spent so much of my childhood. The whole time when I thought I wasn’t good enough, our founder had explored the same city I did. 

I was always meant to be at PLEN. I was also meant to take up space. I was always meant to amplify the voices of those who are often forgotten about. As Francella reminded me, I am a living dream. My grandparents and dad did not work in the Texas fields for me, not to demand space. To all the brown girls reading this, you are meant to take up space too, and I can’t wait to fight alongside you. 

Thank you, PLEN, for reminding me that I have always been enough. 

Ariana Rodriguez was the Summer Communication Intern for PLEN, where her main focus was to assist the Programs and Communications Manager. Ariana is from South Texas, and recently graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with a Masters in Public Administration.

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