Oh, Washington DC, you make me feel so many feelings.
I lived here for six months in college, which isn’t very long or unique, but it was transformative for me as a barely 21-year-old. It was the first time in my adult life that I took a big risk. As a 27-year-old looking back, it doesn’t seem like I did anything THAT risky — I’ve certainly taken bigger ones since — but at the time taking an entire semester off school, delaying my graduation date and moving to a place that I’d never even visited felt daring.
I learned a lot about being by myself, about the way the real world works and about privilege and access while I was there. I interned some place pretty fancy and when I had my employee badge on, had access to just incredible thinkers (including Wade Davis who I will have a crush on for the rest of my life) and I soaked that atmosphere up. I never would have had access to it without that badge, as this kind of intellectual space just wasn’t common in my day to day life growing up. To this day continue to look for opportunities to put myself in proximity of great thinkers. (Preferably non-stuffy ones since the other thing I learned in DC is that I really, really can’t stand pretentious people, even when they’ve earned the right.)
I love coming back here, because usually when I have the chance to these days its for a conference where I can soak up more greatness from others. Except this time, I was actually invited back as a speaker myself.
Yesterday when I went the opening reception I felt totally overwhelmed and kind of scared. The place was just full of incredible people. What could I possibly have to say to any of them that would be interesting or thought provoking? I was definitely the youngest person there who wasn’t an intern and I felt like I had a giant arrow, like the kind that float over Sims’ heads, pointing to my head saying “out of her depth.”
Right before my panel this morning I was wishing for a natural disaster or a power outage or the earth to open up and swallow me so I wouldn’t have to go sit on a stage wearing a microphone and attempt to add value to a conversation.
Then I remembered that this is what DC has always been about for me — jumping in, trying things and learning.
So, I plunged in. The first question I answered I do think my voice sounded kind of small and scared, but I warmed up.
It went great — people liked what I had to say. I think I realized something important: the smarty pants people I’ve always admired are really not that different than me. They’re just people who are in love, or maybe the word is obsessed, with what they do and can’t wait to tell you about it, get you obsessed with it too. Just like me when I start talking about what I love.
And, they’re all swimming in the deep end out there with me because anyone accomplishing anything is swimming in water slightly too deep for them. That’s where you figure shit out.