I am an avid explorer. I love new experiences and learning new things. Some of my favorite memories are things I never would have experienced had I not taken a chance on something that many people wouldn’t or couldn’t. I’m also privileged, and acknowledge that I have fewer barriers than most to these kinds of experiences.
When I decided to pursue my Masters in Social Work a few years ago, I only applied to one school, The University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. The mission and values of this institution were principal in my desire to attend this college. As unsure as I was about what I wanted to do with this degree, I knew where I wanted to go.
What I didn’t know is where that decision would lead me – to Austin, Texas and the Texas Legislature. My initial reaction when I first heard about the Austin Legislative Internship Program was that it wasn’t for me. I don’t know much about policy and, while I have experience with advocacy groups, I knew little about their engagement with legislators. Being insatiably curious, I decided to attend an information session. My partner and my daughter would both tell you how excited I got after I learned more about the program in that first meeting.
Call it intuition, call it taking a chance on something out of my wheelhouse, or serendipity. Something in me knew I had to apply. My interest increased during the interview process, where I learned from previous interns about their experiences and knowledge gains. I also learned what new doors opened to them while in Austin. Thankfully, I was accepted to the program!
But what would I learn? What would it be like? How would I fit in with the rest of the cohort of graduate students? I don’t have a background in social work or politics. I am not credentialed. All I knew was that this was something brand new, something challenging, and something that could have an impact. And that is what I love. That thing. That potential. That expansion of my brain, my network, my empathy. That learning.
I believe that learning is the most amazing gift bestowed upon humankind. We have this amazing capacity to learn, grow, and change. Often, fear creeps in and hinders this capacity. Fear becomes a barrier we must overcome.
I’m here to tell you to embrace fear and change. I am 44 years old and continuing to grow. If you had asked me three years ago if I would be working in the Texas State Capitol, I would have laughed with you. But this opportunity, this gift, is bountiful. Starting in November, when I met my cohort via Zoom, I made new connections, new friendships, and met new challenges. Accept those challenges. Learn from them. Put yourself out there and you will grow.
I struggled to figure out how I fit into this role and this amazing group of thinkers, helpers, and change agents. What I have learned this first month of this internship is that everyone can fit. There’s a place for everyone in this push for global peace, basic rights, and well-being. Social workers, by nature, are an inclusive bunch. The other social workers we have met in and around the capitol have been so welcoming, reassuring, and helpful.
In all this, I present two key points. First, I encourage you to take risks, speak up, reach out, and lean into challenge and opportunity. I promise you will be better for it, and if you’re looking for permission: GRANTED! Second, I am thankful for the people I am connected to now that I would not have been had I decided this was too risky, too different, or that I wasn’t a fit. I love learning with and from the Texas Legislative Study Group crew.
We will struggle. We will cry. We will hurt. We will help people. We will endure. We will learn. And we will all be better for it, together. So if you ever find yourself in a position to say yes to something that will challenge you and you’re not quite sure if you’re cut out for it, say yes. You’ve got this.
Opportunities are out there. Barriers are also out there, but do not let fear be one of them. Go for it, and you will learn something, about yourself and about others. And that’s the most amazing thing we humans can do.
In the past few weeks as part of this internship, I visited military bases and training centers, spoke to soldiers, civilians, liaisons, and Directors of Government Affairs. I flew in a Black Hawk helicopter and a C-130J transport aircraft. I met with education, women’s health, and energy advocates and lobbyists. I reviewed bills, attended briefings, and watched the House floor and the legislative process unfold. What an experience I’ve had already!
Do I belong here? Yes.
Why am I here? To learn.