I have been on the job in my new position for three weeks, and it never fails--I walk through the door to my house and declare, "I love my job!" I mean, that's great, right? Everyone wants a job they love. But I don't just love my job. I love the opportunity it gives me to be myself to the fullest extent possible. I really feel like I have been waiting for this nexus of opportunities for my whole professional life.
I've always had a mind for big things. In high school Anne and I sat around dreaming up "Spirit Week." Fast forward 15 years, and "Spirit Week," (with it's class competitions and bright, enthusiastic displays), is a veritable institution at my high school. In college I successfully convinced the Academic Dean to let me design my own major. It was 2002, and people struggled to wrap their brains around "Community Health." Today, the First Lady has taken on the mantle of promoting how important the built environment and the amenities therein are on the health of the residents. After college I participated in a variety of clubs and programs for up-and-coming nonprofit professionals. From our bright-eyed and bushy-tailed twenties, we have evolved into 30-something leaders of our respective industries. In grad school my friend Liz and I would take the theories we learned from the likes of Frank Hritz and the late, great Ted Bradshaw and extrapolate on the amazing things we would do to apply those lessons to the real world.
And then I got to the real world.
I applied for four jobs at the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency during my last year of grad school. Needless to say, I REALLY wanted to work there. I learned all I could about the 13 redevelopment areas and the dozens of projects. I was so excited about the synergy of the joint powers model that pooled both human capital and financial capital of six separate entities. I finally managed to land a job, (which ironically was the bottom one on my list), and started the same week I celebrated my 27th birthday, did my thesis project defense, and bought my first house. It was a momentous week, to say the least.
I was in for a rude awakening, though. I was stunned to find out that the ideas of a junior analyst fresh out of grad school didn't carry the kind of sway I naively thought they would. Surprise, surprise. But in my five years there, I learned many important lessons. I developed tenacity from surviving the worst economic downturn of my lifetime--and STILL managed to close deals. I cut my teeth on incredibly complex projects, with intricate financial layering and numerous feasibility hurdles. Most importantly, I cultivated patience and humility. Being the youngest and least experienced in my department within a large bureaucracy, patience and humility should have been a forgone conclusion.
I think that all those lessons were just what I needed. I learned tenacity, patience, and humility, AND I gained valuable technical skills throughout. Armed with my new personal and professional skills, I have now been given the opportunity to exercise all those qualities that are so very me: enthusiasm, optimism, sociability, and ingenuity. I have been waiting my whole professional life to get totally juiced about an idea, see the possibilities for it, bring in the players who can bring it to fruition, and create something that has not been done before. However, 20-something Bernadette just did not have the knowledge, life experience, or personal fortitude required to bring projects of this scale to fruition. It just wouldn't have happened.
I was watching "Family Feud" one day, and the top answer for "The age at which a woman is most fascinating" was 30. I think there is something to that. But maybe 30 is just the starting point. Like a fine wine, I think I have just turned the corner from glorified grape juice to a smooth spirit. Hopefully, I too will only get better with age.
I took time off over the last several days to spend time with my brother, (who is visiting from Boston where he is attending law school), and a friend of mine from high school, (who has been working for the USAID office in Budapest and hasn't been back to visit the States in 7 years). I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with each of them, not only because I enjoy their company, but also because they helped me see my surroundings through new eyes. Certainly, Boston and Budapest are entirely different places--culturally, geographically, etc--but the perspective of these two Nor Cal ex-patriots remained pretty consistent. I've put together the following list of things big and small that Ray and Suzi particularly missed about our state.
Diversity: California is a diverse place. I brought Suzi to the annual Jazz Festival in Old Sacramento, and we came across the Syncopating Sea Monkeys, a great high school jazz band who apparently hail from the high school a mile from my house. The set we heard was performed by a white female vocalist, an African American male drummer, and a brass section consisting of an Asian female, a Russian male, and a white male. Where we were standing a middle-aged hippie invited a senior woman to swing dance and a Latino couple with a baby was swaying to the beat. California has been a "minority majority" for years, but recent studies have also shown that we have more age diversity than the rest of the country, resulting from aging baby boomers and fewer immigrants and young families.
Food: I have never seen a place that had as many Farmers Markets as we do here in the Central Valley. We have a huge ag sector that ranges from small family-run operations to small organic teaching farms to extensive commercial farms. The Pacific Coast and our rivers have excellent fishing opportunities (well, when we aren't having water wars, but that's another story), and in my personal opinion Ghiradelli chocolate, Its It Ice Cream Sandwiches and San Francisco sourdough can't be beat. Blend all that with a plethora of ethnic foods and spices represented by our many immigrant populations and ad a dash of world-class chefs from places like Napa and you have a recipe for amazing! I'm getting hungry just thinking about it all!
Santa Cruz: Lake Tahoe. Crissy Field. Mount Tamalpais. Half Moon Bay. The American River Parkway. Thanks to the movement of tectonic plates and the efforts of generations of conservationists, we have breathtakingly beautiful place to get our nature fix.
Sunshine: 'Nuff said.
Smiles: Blame it on the weather--Californians are nice. When Ray and I went for a jog passersby smiled and nodded to acknowledge our presence. The waiter gave recommendations on margaritas to Suzi with a friendly grin. The deli staff at the grocery store and I swapped stores about our toddlers. At McKinley Park I stumbled across a drum circle and participated in an impromptu game of Capoeira interspersed with playing frisbee with a 4-year-old boy.
So what if our state budget is a travesty and our former-action-star-turned-governor has a trail of illegitimate children? So what if I have to pay a whopping 10% in sales taxes in SF? I am so fortunate to be able to take day trips to the multitude of festivals, national parks, and world-class cities within 100 miles. In 50 years politics and the economy will be a small footnote to the memories of people I've met and places I've seen right here in my own backyard.