If you Google images for “still water reflections,” you’ll see picturesque beauty–strikingly vivid photographs with open and expansive horizon lines, and crystal clear cuts of water and sky that highlight a depth known only to rivers that show no current.
As I stood before my 16 classmates last night at one of the most amazing dinners I have ever been blessed to have, I was in such a moment of “still water reflection.” My classmates were mirrors, showing me exactly who I had become. I knew it was impossible to find the right words to express my gratitude for their presence in my life during the past two years. And when I didn’t have the crutch of a pen to capture my many thoughts, my only resort was to refill my wine goblet and speak from the heart. It was a moment made special with a communal drum roll, my classmates patting their hands against the wooden table, hooting and hollering for me to speak.
It was special because not only had I been invited to the table, I was now standing at the head of it, and everyone was looking forward to hearing my voice. It seems too simple and commonplace, but it is an incredibly rare experience for me. All of my life, I have performed in the face of cut throat competition where standards of excellence are high and the price of failure is even higher. Not to mention, the idea to do things differently is a sunk cost incurred, as your name is branded
Now all of a sudden, I was being celebrated by a diverse group of incredibly talented and experienced professionals that I am so proud and honored to be able to call some of my most treasured friends. They have seen me in my most trying times of struggle–especially my fevered attempts to articulate the complex–and have saved me from making things unnecessarily complicated. They have helped me make sense of my imperfect self, and have been inquisitive of my calm and quiet demeanor. Instead of provoking me to perform, they were gentle and soft in asking questions that helped them understand my approach. And the truth is, I was so enamored by the way they did things, thought about problems, handled challenges, and just flat out communicated that it’s taken me all of these two years just to find my own words. They were (are) great leaders, each at different points in time and in different ways for me. I was so unsure of the path I was on, but knew enough to trust that I was following the right footsteps into the pure unknown. They knew how to make me laugh, how to take the pressure off, and deeply cared about any progress, whether it was two steps forward or three steps back. Above all else, they were kind. They met me exactly where I was two years ago, and somehow are not at all surprised at where I’m at now. There is no doubt that I owe my successes to these brilliant minds and inspired hearts.
I must have been the most boring person in the world to them–my entire focus was about work. I could hardly offer them my personality. Sometimes I fear that if this the true gift to be given in this kind of experience, I have failed them. But I also know that they know me better than that to actually believe me. They also know that failing early has enduring rewards, and I very much plan for our lives to continue to be connected. We will celebrate birthdays (real or otherwise), we’ll run our own design thinking workshops, we’ll collaborate on side projects and future endeavors, we’ll be on advisory boards and hosting fundraisers, we’ll travel across the world (see you soon, Guatemala!), and they will all be invited to my future wedding (so help me find a husband). I want to marry adventure next.
I know I will always have a home in Philadelphia because that is the environment this tribe has created for me. They have said “You’re welcome” even before I could find the words to thank them.
With love, Philadelphia.