It seems only yesterday that I started off my first day of DukeEngage Detroit extremely jet-lagged from a 12-hour flight from Korea and trying to stay awake to socialize with my peers (who were then basically strangers). Although it took one day to adapt to the Eastern Standard Time, it has taken a full eight weeks to adapt to three key habits that I will continue to work on.
- Rest is mandatory. How to balance work and rest—this was an unexpected challenge I encountered in Detroit this summer. At Duke, it is easy for us to forget the boundary between academics and personal downtime. We are living with our “co-workers,” having unlimited “working hours,” and literally live in our “workspace.” During DukeEngage, I realized that I have gotten into the habit of not knowing when to stop working without feeling guilty. Through interviews and research, I also learned how this feeling is present in many nonprofit professionals. Although their work to create structural challenges takes a lot of time to see its progress (even generations), they feel like their work should never end. They feel guilty, even selfish, for taking time to themselves rather than to work more for the community. However, this has often led to many emerging and current leaders leaving their organizations and even the sector. You need to maintain a constant routine of working for structural changes while having self-compassion and giving yourself some time to breathe. Inspired by our project and the healthy culture of Co.act that emphasizes its employees’ wellness beyond its work, I have slowly learned how to build a wall between work and rest every day.
- There are limits to what we learn from Duke. Although Duke is a great institution that has provided me with so many opportunities and resources, DukeEngage has made me realize more strongly than ever the limits of my education. College just does not prepare you for what comes after. While researching the leadership pipeline project, I recognized how I have learned many of the topics that are identified by Co.act and covered in the literature. I was confident that I could contribute my knowledge to the project. However, interviews with nonprofit professionals revealed my ignorance in thinking so. Those who are actually involved in the work have another dimension of knowledge that Duke has never prepared me for. It is unfortunately something that only comes with time, extreme self-reflection and self-awareness, and diverse experiences. It is impossible for me to reach that level of expertise. Nonetheless, I am glad to be aware of what should come after Duke in my career and how I can get closer to being one of those nonprofit leaders.
- Attitude and passion are more important than skills in taking us far. When I first attended the program meeting for Co.act with all Co.act members, I was daunted. I was daunted because I did not know anything they were talking about—their language, their programs, and their numbers. Although I constantly doubted myself for giving inputs during those early conversations with the team, I squeezed my very small, inner bag of courage to share my ideas and thoughts. I doubt that all of them were relevant or helpful. However, the team appreciated my input every time I shared it with them. And with every encouragement, I had more courage to speak up. Yes, it was an uncomfortable experience in the beginning—something I would like to avoid as much as possible. But I have come to realize that even though I may not be the most knowledgeable person in the room, I still have my own experiences and thoughts to meaningfully attribute to the work.