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Great story: The light bulb moment

Sierra ThompkinsThis great story was written by Sierra Thompkins, a 2020-21 AmeriCorps high school senior coach at College Possible Washington. These stories are written each year by AmeriCorps members and then read weekly at team meetings as a mechanism for our team to reflect, share learnings and stay connected to the students and coaches who have come before us and will come after us.

From my very first meeting with Josie, a high school senior, our conversation flowed easily, and we fell into a rhythm right away. During this very first meeting, she shared her goals, her hobbies and why it was so important for her to go to college to make her family proud. When I asked how I could best support her in achieving this goal, she informed me that she was having trouble with her college essay. She said she had a few ideas bouncing around in her head but couldn’t seem to come up with a fully formed essay that she was proud of. From here, we scheduled a meeting to talk through her ideas and get her started.

When we met up for this meeting a week or so later, I could tell right away that Josie had no shortage of great ideas. There were so many aspects of herself that she wanted to share with the admissions team—she was just having some trouble condensing them all into one cohesive narrative. We began an exchange and flow of ideas that lasted for over an hour.

She talked me through her history on the wrestling team and how she had worked extremely hard over the years to improve. She talked about how helping her mom care for her uncle from a young age led to her desire to pursue a career in nursing. However, the idea that she kept conveying to me most clearly was her need for perfection in many aspects of her life. This was most apparent in an anecdote from her childhood when she got extremely upset after unsuccessfully recreating something she had seen a woman on the bus do. Josie honed in on the significance of this event, as it represented an early failure to achieve perfection.

As I listened to her story, what struck me was not her need for perfection, but rather her constant resilience in working toward the goals she set for herself. In reality, she was not defined by her perceived inability to measure up, but rather her continuous effort to try to.

When I shared this with Josie, I watched a huge light bulb go on in her head. All of the sudden, the mental blocks she had to write a perfect first draft essay melted away, and her ideas were flowing out of her naturally. It was as if this was the missing thread needed to tie all of her bouncing thoughts together.

From here, we talked about the core of what she wanted to communicate and spent time coming up with an outline to organize her narrative. We ended the call shortly thereafter, but Josie assured me she would reach out if she needed any further assistance.

A few days later, Josie sent me the final draft of her essay along with a message expressing how proud she was of the final product she created. As I read through it, I was struck with a great sense of pride as well. It was so great to see the contrast between where her essay started and where it ended up. Josie expressed her gratitude for me and my help. While she claimed that she never could have done it without me, I know that isn’t true.

She had it in her all along—all she needed was a little push in the right direction.

Josie’s lightbulb moment is one that I hold onto when I get overwhelmed. It is moments like these that make this work so incredibly rewarding. I am so grateful to have any small part in these student’s stories, even if it is just to help them find the best way to share theirs.

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