By Diane Bui, former AALEAD MD High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Diane Bui and other AALEAD Staff
In summer 2015, I had just returned from my post-grad gap year in Australia unsure of what next steps I wanted to take in my life. I knew I needed to get a job, but I had no idea what job I wanted.
I found the position of MD Middle School Program Coordinator at AALEAD and thought it would be a good fit.
My first day at AALEAD was September 8, 2015. And I had no idea what these next three years had in store for me. I will carry the lessons I learned at AALEAD with me forever. Below are a few of my favorite lessons that will always remind me of my first big-kid job that led me to who I am today.
My first position as a Middle School Program Coordinator taught me that young people have their own opinions and know what they want. They are incredibly intuitive and aren’t afraid of taking risks.
You can tell a young person not to put half a bottle of Sriracha in their bowl of pho but they will still do it. And they will never admit they were wrong even while sweating and crying because of the heat. We as people learn through trial and error. Even if it’s wrong, the lessons we learn from making a mistake will stay with us much longer than an older person saying “Don’t do this because I’m an adult.”
Mistakes are inevitable. Instead of harboring on the mistake, the most important thing you can do is learn from it and move on. So what you forgot to bring a knife to cut the sushi. Instead of sushi, it’s now a handroll. It’s more important to take the lessons with you, and at the very least, it’s a great story to tell others later.
I grew up thinking adults had the answers to everything. I thought once you turn 18 you magically have it all figured out.
Spoiler Alert: You Don’t.
You probably won’t figure it out for a very long time. And that’s okay. It’s important to understand that life is messy and changes and you just have to roll with it.
As an adult working with young people, I had to let myself be vulnerable. I had to let them know that I’m still learning and figuring things out. I shared embarrassing stories of what I did as a teenager (nothing makes you feel old like having “when I was your age” slip out of your mouth).
Youth are curious. They are going to ask questions you don’t want to answer, they’re going to want to know everything about you.
And it’s okay to let them in. Over the years I have shared stories about my pets, what it’s like to be in your mid-20s and living with your parents, my college experience, lessons I’m still learning, what I hope to be when I grow up.
Vulnerability is a beautiful thing. It is what connects us to each other and humanizes us. In a messy world, unsure of what’s to come tomorrow, human connection is what makes the world feel a little brighter.
The world can feel like a lonely place sometimes. When you’re sitting at a desk for six hours a day, creating your own curriculum, sometimes your job feels solitary. Over the past three years, I learned so much about community. It’s not just the area you grew up in. Communities are formed through supportive individuals that challenge, uplift, inspire you.
AALEAD is a community unlike any other. I never met a more dedicated group of people truly committed to creating change for the better. My coworkers have inspired me to continue chasing after what I am passionate about. My youth taught me the power of communication, the power of laughter, the power of compassion.
This job is stressful. There are a lot of moving parts and you are expected to wear many different hats. There were times I was so overwhelmed or stressed, that I forgot to have fun. I forgot to laugh when jokes were made, I forgot the reason I love this job is because of the people. With all the stress and work this job brings, there are so many more positive memories with people that will stay with you forever.
It took me a while to remember this, but it is something I will never forget. My favorite memories from AALEAD were not the lesson plans I facilitated, but the people. I remember the 20-minute stories my youth would tell me, I remember the planning meetings with dance and coffee breaks with my coworkers. I remember feeling happy and full of positive energy, just by being around the people around me.
You are going to get the job done, but that’s not what’s important. Remember to laugh, to smile at the silly details, to collaborate and surround yourself with people who not only help with your work, but will be a shoulder to lean on when you need support.
Thank you, AALEAD, for being the most stressful, tiring, rewarding part of my past three years. As I continue this wild journey through life, I will never forget the people and the organization that played such a crucial role to who I am today.