2016-11-28

By Sam Slaughter ‘12

When I started at City Year, I was coming off a year of working as a newspaper reporter for two small newspapers where the only real effort I had to put forth was staying awake for the fifty-five mile trip to and from the office each day. I’d had a year of grad school under my belt as well, and I was ready for a change. When I got to Manchester in the summer of 2011, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hadn’t worked with kids, but I’d run organizations in college and I was coming in older than many of the other first year corps members. I figured I could handle whatever was thrown at me with ease.

Flash forward to the first night, a weeknight in October or November, when I found my first gray hair. The school days were long and they were beating me down. I was tired constantly, stressed out by my students, and generally not too keen on the idea of putting on my boots and red jacket every morning at a time that was way-too-early (though, now, is normal for me). I persisted, though. I set myself to work harder, to figure out new solutions, and worked to communicate better with my teammates to try and figure out the problems that we faced not only with our students but as a team as a whole. It was in these months—let’s say November through March—that I developed a number of skills that I still use in my life every day.

First, I learned what actual hard work meant. Before CY, I was at best what you might consider mildly productive. I was one of the kids who didn’t have to work hard to produce—I could get decent grades without studying and writing a paper or working on a project never took that much out of me. (I never and still have never had to pull an all-nighter to do something.) For City Year, though, there was always more work to be done. Papers to be graded, lessons to be planned, activities to be prepared for. I had to learn new ways to work smarter and more efficiently. They weren’t always big, but they were effective. Meal planning, prioritization, and a slew of other tasks often referred to as “adulting” all became parts of my life because of City Year.

Second, I learned how important open and clear communication is to any successful relationship—business or otherwise. Currently, I work as a spirits writer (read: I write about alcohol) for a number of magazines. Most of my work is done through emails, phone calls, et cetera. I cannot successfully do my job without speaking to people daily. Learning how to talk to my team at Wilson school, even if we were upset or annoyed with each other, was a great lesson in learning how to approach a wide variety of conversations that I’ve engaged in in my work.

It’s easy to pull out these two skills as things I learned during my time in City Year, but it really goes beyond that. I used a variety of skills to learn more about myself and what I was capable of in that year than in any other before it. I learned that if I set my mind to something, I’d get through it. I might not always be successful, but failing has had and will continue to have its benefits, too. In the end, if I can wake up and make progress of some sort on something, then I know I’m doing well. 

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