Congratulations, you have been accepted into the Atlas Corps Fellowship. Now the euphoria is subsided, the fanfare gone, time to get to work. One of the things you will quickly realize is you are in the spotlight, the world your stage. You will discover also, there is service (pure, undiluted work) to be rendered. Now, you will almost certainly note the difference between work/volunteering in your country (Nigeria in my case) and work/volunteering in the US.
It is time to get to work. You will be staked against succeeding or failing; learning or contributing. Often time, you might be racing against becoming kind of irrelevant at your host organization or championing causes and leading conversations.
It is therefore important to not only learn but contribute. It is time to work, to learn and contribute. This is the experiential agreement you penned, remember. This is the crucible to spur your growth. So don’t be given to the travels, sightseeing, the glee and fun alone; find the time to not only immerse yourself in the culture (this is important), but to truly learn; learn how the normal American business is structured, and how workplace politics play; learn what tools are key for business operations and engagement; seek to know the fine lines and boundaries that holds the work environment together. If you are on a mission to promote a cause or business, it is crucial for you to learn these things.
Sometimes, it could feel you are really doing or learning nothing. Sometimes, you could feel like an outsider in the spheres of things. This is okay, just don’t stop learning. Anytime you feel you are not doing enough, or like an outsider, or just simply wonder how your progress is measured, these three things will help you get back on.
Take the Volunteer Stance.
Be willing to contribute, offer to work. Accept challenges even if you are not sure how to execute. Volunteer even in areas beyond your capabilities. Today’s workplace skills are more interwoven and related. You cannot simply bring in a couple of related skill set and expect to truly succeed. It takes people who are competent in more than skills set in related and unrelated fields to make a true difference. This is essentially a part of the whole experiential learning process. Volunteer to take on responsibilities even beyond your department or profile. Eventually, everyone learns on the job. You are ON THE JOB now.
Ask Reach out.
Ask for help. Speak up. Do not assume you know it all. I found that in most cases, projects are not designed or managed simply by your skills; there is a story behind every decision. These are the stories that form the focus of any (business) decision. So, when put on a project, be curious to know, to learn. Ask questions. Open your mind to grow. Enough is only expected of you, not perfection, and every work environment have its own peculiarity. When on a project, gather information as much you can. Reach out when you need help. Be clear of what’s expected of you (one way to do this is to take notes and feed back the questions/task to your supervisor to ensure you both are on the same page). Carry your supervisor along all the way.
Yes, from time to time, ask how you are doing. Know your progress so you can plan for your next training focus. At intervals of one or two months, have a deep level check in with your supervisor to get direct feedback from him on how you are faring. Try out the things you are not familiar with (for me, public speaking was something I needed to work on, and my host availed me the opportunity).
Being an Atlas Corps fellow is a huge opportunity. So saddle up for the ride, and by all means, make it count.