Why Not Me?

Training week: 6 of 18
Money raised: $2,573 of $8,000
Today’s run: 11 miles, 40 degrees
Cumulative training miles: 135

A lot of people dream about running the Boston marathon one day. It’s an epic physical feat, and Boston is one of the most prestigious and competitive courses in the world. I actually never had that dream. I was quite satisfied with casually running a half marathon twice a year, never chasing a specific time, and never looking beyond that distance. I’ve been a serious runner for over 10 years, but I didn’t yearn for that accomplishment like so many others do. That is, until one day in December, when I woke up and applied for a Boston bib.

I blame my students. Let me explain.

I have been a career counselor for over 4 years, starting at the Posse Foundation, which supports diverse students from urban public schools to excel at top-tier universities. These student leaders are challenging the status quo on elite college campuses, and, as they graduate and enter the workforce, they are working to make our boardrooms and our political leadership groups reflect the country’s full diversity. It’s hard to describe how amazing these young people are. Let’s just say that when you meet an 18-year-old Posse scholar and hear what she’s up to, you’ll wonder what the heck you’re doing with your life.

Now, I work at General Assembly, which helps professionals from all backgrounds and education levels find careers they love. As our adult students complete GA’s intensive courses, they build hyper-relevant skills like coding or UX design and can quickly transition into high-paying jobs. It’s a relatively fast career move (compared to earning a new 4-year degree), but honey, it ain’t easy. Our students quit their jobs, put their lives on hold, and place incredible trust in this brand-new model of education. Completing a GA program takes a lot of guts and grit, and it can be life-changing.

I feel lucky to have found these amazing organizations, and through them I have helped empower hundreds of wonderful humans to drive success in their careers. It’s rewarding and humbling.

Recently, though, I realized that I had been spending too much time on the sidelines. I had spent 4 years standing next to people who were pushing themselves beyond what they thought was possible, who were constantly teaching themselves new things and developing new skills, who were reaping the benefits of their hard work despite significant challenges and setbacks. I was proud of all of these students for what they had accomplished. Their stories have pushed me to reach for more in my own life.

Take Saddan, for example. Saddan is a Posse scholar at Denison University, and he is about to be the first in his family to graduate from college. Saddan told me that, when he was flying out to start his freshman year, one of his high school teachers picked him up at 3 a.m. to drive him into Boston to make his early-morning flight to Ohio. I thought that this teacher deserved a medal for going way beyond the call of duty. But as I got to know Saddan, I realized that anyone who has worked him would consider it an honor to be the guy helping him catch his flight to college at 3 in the morning. I think Saddan held the Posse record for the number of summer internship applications he submitted each year. He probably also held the record for the number of rejections he got back. It didn’t matter. He was going to build his resume, work hard, and earn a career where he could grow and contribute. I will never forget his unflagging courage and tenacity. You can’t forget Saddan. (By the way, Saddan has already lined up a competitive job for next year — way ahead of most soon-to-be-college-grads. That employer doesn’t even know yet how lucky they are.)

At General Assembly, I met Carling, who, like me, already had a lovely, happy, manageable life and job! She fell into a role in the recruiting industry, and it was going fine — nothing to complain about! But there were no fireworks. No passion, no sparks flying. Then she discovered user experience design. Almost against her better judgement, she quit her job and signed up for GA’s 10-week UX bootcamp that isn’t kidding about being “intensive.” Many times she questioned the mess she had gotten herself into. But as Carling told me, if you’re not going to love what you do, why do it? And if you need to take some considerable risks to get there, why not? Why not me? Why not now?

Then there’s Jon, who spent many years working at dead-end jobs, until, in his 30s, he was forced off his feet by a life-threatening illness. When his health returned, he committed once and for all to building himself a career that he could look forward to day after day. He fell in love with coding and enrolled at General Assembly, knowing that nothing was going to stop him from finding new meaning and happiness in his professional life.

I could go on, and on, and on about my students. Imagine 600 more stories like these:

  • There’s Kayla, a Posse scholar who graduated from Hamilton and then won a prestigious fellowship to travel to Brazil, South Africa, Ghana, England, and Jamaica studying the stigma surrounding mental health care systems for youth.
  • And Davina, who, as a college sophomore, could have been leading the career workshops I was organizing at Posse, and who taught me more than a few things about career ambition.
  • Julia (a Boston finisher!), my colleague at GA who admitted so many students into the web development program that she decided to enroll in it herself and start her own career adventure.
  • Lisa, who had reached a ceiling as a communications freelancer and was committed to leveling up in her career at GA, now that her children were older. “It’s finally time for me,” Lisa told me.

I feel the same way, Lisa! I’ve got the same questions as you, Carling! “Why not me? Why not now?” And so, taking the lead from my students — those darned, ambitious, hard-working students — I found myself on the Boston Athletic Association’s website, wondering if it was even possible to enter the race so late in the year. There was only one way in: running for a charity. And it just so happens that a single bib remained at the Trinity Boston Foundation, an education organization that empowers young people by helping them achieve seemingly impossible goals. That bib had my name on it. This was my chance to get off the sidelines.

So if you’ve been wondering what really drove me to turn my life upside down, now you get it. If you were curious why I’ve pestered you so many times about donating to the Trinity Boston Foundation, now you know who to blame. Oh, you haven’t donated yet? Why not you? Why not now?

I owe it all to these guys!

Some of my first web developer students at General Assembly.
Knowing so many Posse scholars gives me hope for the future. This is a just a few of them!
That time when Denison Posse 11 took over my Snapchat.

One Reply to “Why Not Me?”

  1. Everything about this post is AWESOME!! Keep rocking on, Julie!!! (And thanks for the shout out!) Can’t wait to cheer you on from the sidelines!!

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