It was eerily quiet around the large conference room table as we ate our free Subway sandwiches and chips. None of the students seemed to have much to say to each other. Many of them had never met. We were waiting for a few stragglers before getting started with the first Great Expectations Social of the spring semester.
Even for me, as a charismatic guest speaker for the group, it was difficult to find words to engage with the students. Many were still taking surveys or were on their phones. I couldn't quite find my voice and knew I'd be talking a lot later so I decided to save it.
What is Great Expectations?
Great Expectations is a Virginia-wide program at several community colleges across the state. The program is partially government funded, but does heavily rely on individuals' generous donations as a supplementary funding source. The focus of the program is to help young adults who are transitioning out of foster homes get acclimated to college life. The aim is to ensure that these, typically at-risk students, succeed, both in college and life.
I was particularly interested in getting involved with the program after speaking with Alicia Lenahan about Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers here in Charlottesville and the Piedmont area. More importantly, I wanted to get involved because of my own experience in foster care, and being partially raised by a mother who suffered from addiction and mental illness.
I met with the new director of the Great Expectations program at Piedmont Virginia Community College, Sarah Groom, several times over the course of the last few months to work out where I could get involved with the program. Sarah and I instantly clicked. We were of like minds and definitely on the same wavelength with the message I am trying to share. She recommended I give a presentation to the group about my journey coming from a low-income/dysfunctional family to achieving success and working to find happiness and contentment with life after emotional trauma. I gladly took on this task, and was finally able to give my presentation today.
The initial focus of the presentation was on the tools and skills I had learned over the years to achieve material success, you know, a college degree, a good job, a nice car, and an almost debt free life. The four basics were: 1) the ability to willingly adapt to changing circumstances 2) be willing to take smart risks 3) learn and grow; if you're not being challenged, you're not learning or growing, and you learn by making mistakes 4) give it your all and then some; don't settle for less than better than your best.
Money means nothing
The focus then shifted to me realizing that money means nothing. A true measure of success must take into account the state of my mental and emotional well-being. I cannot be truly successful in life if I am plagued by fear, doubt, and anxiety that I let control me. I am not successful if my negative attitudes and past traumas are in control.
I went on to share that I can apply the same strategies (adapt, take risks, learn and grow, give 110%) to working on my emotional and spiritual well being. First, learning to become more self aware and paying attention to that internal monologue was key to understanding that my thoughts influence my external reality and my quality of life. Second, cultivating intention - the practice of shaping my thoughts and behavior around an idea or value I want to create in my external reality - has been key to attaining happiness for me. My intention focuses on compassion, gratitude, acceptance, service, passion, and self exploration. Third, I then outwardly create and share this intention with others through these Small Acts because we are all connected. We share a collective energy so I want to contribute positively to that energy.
To conclude, I reminded, change, on whatever scale it might be, is in their hands, and it starts on the individual level. It starts with a choice to take the first step. It starts with Small Acts.
Passing on the guidance
I have no idea if any of this made sense to them, especially the latter half of my presentation, but they seemed to stay engaged. Sarah prompted a discussion afterwards and many of them participated about ways they can start to change the way they think or pay more attention to their thoughts and stay motivated through hardship.
No matter the impact it did or did not have, it was an honor to be able to share my journey with them. I am grateful for the chance to take the Small Act of sharing some of the guidance that others have gifted to me and I have struggled to learn on my own.