Today I accepted a job. A job I’ve wanted for one year, 2 months and 4 days. I remember where I was and how I felt when I learned about the company, Global Health Strategies. I told my parents that finally someone understood what the world needed: a company that could provide communications, research and advocacy support for the movers and shakers in global health. Organizations like the Gates Foundation, the WHO, USAID, and the UN all do amazing work, but they don’t have the time, energy or resources to pour into communications.
These days, communications could not be more vital. If we truly seek to garner political support on the world’s most pressing global health issues— such as tuberculosis, NTDs, HIV, female empowerment, etc— we have to start with strong communications. We have to publish the groundbreaking articles. We have to give the inspiring speeches. We have to make the cool videos that go viral. We have to tweet the stats and Instagram the effects.
Without communications, none of the most important issues become relevant. None of them receive funding. None of them earn a policy or a cultural change. None of them get fixed.
Words are powerful. I first learned that when I started a blog my freshman year of college. Words can bring people together, spark conversation, encourage and inspire.
Words, when tactfully and diligently put to the right causes, can change the world.
Global Health Strategies provides the words for the organizations seeking to change the world. They do the communications work for the leading actors so that they can have the political and financial support to implement world-changing interventions in the world’s poorest communities.
This July, I’ll be joining Global Health Strategies.
Now, let me walk you through how this happened. Let’s back up.
Senior year of high school, I chose Duke because it was the only school I applied to that had summer service opportunities (Duke Engage, supported by the Gates Foundation), and the only school that allowed me to create my own major. Though I had also heard quite a few negative things about the school, and though some key mentors in my life really discouraged me from attending, I chose Duke.
I took the risk.
I knew I wanted to study poverty, and within the first few weeks of getting here I began the RIDICULOUS process to file my self-designed Poverty Studies major.
Sixty pages of writing later, I turned in an application to the administration about why I deserved to major in Poverty. I was denied.
This began a year or so of utter bitterness towards this institution. I thought Duke was a place where people could come and learn how to change the world? How the Hell were we supposed to change the world if we didn’t learn about what poverty is, why it exists, what works to help eradicate it, and what has massively failed to help eradicate it?
The administration felt that if I studied Global Health, I would learn all I needed to learn about poverty. I told them I didn’t want to be a doctor and professionally, but promptly, walked out.
Perturbed and skeptical, I begrudgingly enrolled in Global Health 101.
I took the risk.
The first class I was so engaged that I stayed in my seat after everyone left and told my professor I would be dedicating my entire life to the causes about which he spoke. It finally clicked that health, education and poverty are all interconnected, and that we cannot lift people out of poverty without implementing multi-level, multi-topical interventions.
I got a 100 in the class.
I became so invested that I changed my entire plan for my fall study abroad experience. I had planned to go to Spain and practice Spanish, to return to a country I knew so well from visiting and studying there with my dad growing up. Instead, I went to Spain over the summer and went to Geneva, Switzerland for the fall of my junior year.
I found a global health program where I could learn French (a crucial language in the field) and work at the leading global health nonprofit: Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres). I convinced my friend to come with me, too.
My mom was baffled. What was I doing??? Learning a different language? Going to a random country? Working 9-5 at a job as my study abroad program instead of “having fun”?!? The program also had horrific reviews.
I took the risk.
It was the best semester of my life. I fell in love with my work, so much so that I’d come home from the office and keep working. My supervisor and I got really close, and she became an advocate for me in the global health space, recommending me for jobs, fellowships, and internships, and sent my work to be featured on various global health platforms.
While I was in Geneva, I got an email from the Duke global health department about an exclusive network of schools that partner with USAID, the United States Agency for International Development. USAID is the third largest player in the global Health landscape (behind DFiD and the Gates Foundation). They support research at eight universities and provide internship opportunities for students from these universities. Duke happens to be part of this network, which meant that if I applied to their internship program, my resume would automatically be considered first. USAID receives thousands of resumes, so being able to be at the top made all the difference.
I got interviews for two different departments at USAID, and then ultimately got offers at both. I will never forget calling my dad as I walked around Lake Geneva, during my lunch break, happy but also overwhelmed about which one to accept: one was in the Feeding America division and one was with the Health Research Program of the office of maternal and child health.
I was bouncing back and forth my indecision with my dad:
I could go where I’m comfortable. I know a lot about our world’s hunger issues, I care about it, and the office seemed to have a good culture.
Or I could take the risk.
I could join the Health Research Program, something I knew nothing about. It would challenge me. I knew literally ZERO about maternal health issues. In fact just thinking about child birth makes me want to throw up. (About to throw up now…)
I took the risk.
The internship started off pretty rocky. I was bored out of my mind, to the point where I listened to three audiobooks in one day on my fourth day of work.
My supervisor noticed I was not feeling challenged, so she referred me to the head of the entire division, Sara. Sara and I really hit it off and she started giving me more and more projects. She let me sit in on unbelievable meetings. I did the entire literature review to inform exactly how we would spend $5.25 million for Zika prevention programs in Latin America. I was floored, humbled and inspired.
My supervisor also loved Jesus and would take me to church with her, which was so insane. I couldn’t have been happier sitting by her side singing hymns and then diving into how much we love fighting poverty. God’s protection and provision that summer were so evident.
Throughout the internship, we worked with a consulting firm that was contracted in to help us on various projects. The consulting firm was just starting to invest in communications, and they didn’t know much about it at all.
Having run a blog for three years at that point, I knew a thing or two about communications. I knew how to design websites, write content that’s public-friendly and how to use social media to advertise it.
They discussed hiring someone to run their communications, and I sat in my seat squirming. I knew I could do it. But I was 21, an intern, and was going to be moving back to Durham.
But I took the risk.
At the end of the summer, they hired me to work virtually part-time throughout the school year to run their communications
I’ve loved working for them. They give me an immense amount of responsibility. They’re hardworking, kind and supportive. I’ve learned invaluable skills from them this year that I’ll take into my new job. In fact, I don’t think I could have gotten my Global Health Strategies job had I not worked for them. The skills I learned are going to be absolutely essential for my new role.
I went into fall of senior year anxious and overwhelmed. I had just worked an UNPAID internship, I was doing communications part-time and virtually, taking some hard classes, and was surrounded by people getting fancy job after fancy job.
What was I doing?!?!
I started applying for anything that sounded prestigious. Most of them didn’t work out.
And you know why? Because 1) it was probably obvious I didn’t belong there, 2) God was protecting me and leading me to something that was a better fit, and 3) those jobs did not match my skill set. I don’t like crunching numbers. I like words. I don’t like organized excel spreadsheets. I like well-designed graphics.
I wanted to apply for Global Health Strategies, but they weren’t going to be hiring their July class until March. I scoffed at that and told my parents in October that there was no way I’d wait until March to apply for a job I might not even get, when 90% of my friends already had six-figure-salary jobs and were sitting pretty for all of senior year and all of summer.
[For the record, my mom told me to pull the stick out of my butt and realize that 95% of jobs don’t work like that, and that I happened to be surrounded by some of the most driven, successful, intelligent and anal people ever. And that she happens to run an awesome company that hires people, oh I don’t know, a few weeks before they need them. Like most companies. Anyway.]
I applied for every communications job I could find. I got a lot of them. But they weren’t good fits in the end. Some of them wanted me to start just days after graduation. Some weren’t who they said they were. Some had terrible benefits or none at all.
I began applying for mission work placements, knowing that if all else failed, I knew I loved Jesus and loved people. And ministry would allow me to lean into those loves.
The end of February rolled around and I didn’t have a job. I pulled up the Global Health Strategies application, laughed, and turned it in.
I remember lying in bed crying out to God that night— I’m talking full on bawling —that if I could do exactly what I wanted, I’d work for Global Health Strategies. But that I was impatient, tired, confused and overwhelmed. And I didn’t know how to even fight for that job, how to believe I even could maybe, just maybe, get it.
I really felt God calling me to make the most of my free time, to invest in people and continue to take risks.
So I went to Iceland, and had the time of my life. I turned in a thesis. I organized a fundraising dinner. I got meals with amazing people. I ran a half marathon. I lived.
April came. In the same week, my consulting firm offered me a full time job for after graduation, I was accepted into a mission program, and Global Health Strategies offered me my dream job.
God is so good, and even when I make it infinitely more difficult for Him to provide for me (by applying for 86 things instead of the 1 thing he wanted for me), He still provides.
I had to turn down working for my current company, and that was really hard. I love them. Maybe I’ll find my way back to them one day. We’ll stay in touch. I am grateful to them and to God that they took it so well. In fact, I think they were even happy for me. They knew the communications training I’d get would be second to none and would give me the skills to make the kind of change I hoped to see in the world. I turned down the mission job, and that was pretty easy. My whole life is ministry. I’ll be loving people and loving Jesus for every minute of the rest of my life, and I can do that through my job, through buying groceries, through walking down the street, through literally anything.
What’s the point of all of this? The point is that we can’t control our own lives. We can only take risks, pray and trust that the Lord will protect and provide. And He does.
Sometimes it’s hard to see God’s hand in your life until you look back. Thank God I didn’t get any of the jobs I applied to in the Fall. Thank God the jobs I got in the Spring weren’t a good fit. Thank God I worked for my current consulting firm and learned invaluable skills. Thank God I chose the maternal health internship at USAID. Thank God I worked for Doctors Without Borders as my study abroad. Thank God I briefly hated Duke and failed a test so that I was led to start my blog. Thank God I went to Duke to even have the opportunity to intern at USAID, to major in global health, to narrow down my passions, to have this job.
I wanted you all to know that I got a job. But I didn’t just “get a job.” I worked really hard. I took risks. I failed a bunch. I was rejected from club after club.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes throughout the successes, too. I got too vulnerable on my blog sometimes. I got emotionally attached to guys that didn’t care about me. I was a bad friend to some people. I let down some key people in my life by not following through. I hit a rough patch mentally and physically, and the selfishness I resorted to during that period of my life led me to make some dumb decisions.
I’ve been beaten down more times than I can count over these last four years, but I’ve also been built up. I’ve realized that I do have gifts and talents, and that it’s okay that those are different from my peers. I’m not going to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or work in finance or business consulting. But I’m going to be a damn good global health communicator.
Yeah, I got a job. But it came after years of a lot of setbacks, and some successes. I wanted you all to know what I’m going to be doing next year, but with a lot of context. Because we are never just one decision or one position or one experience. We are a collection of moments — good and bad — that have shaped us in important and amazing ways.
I have so much to learn. My job is going to be difficult. Moving to New York and navigating that city is going to be… something else… but I am ready for the challenge. I am ready to take more risks.
Besides God, I would like to thank some truly integral people in my life. To Frank McNair, you have been the greatest mentor, friend and sounding board. Thank you for your unshakable faith and never-ending encouragement. To my parents, you’ve had to deal with a lot of my shit. (There is really no other word for it…). Thanks for doing that, and thanks for loving me through it. Thanks for telling me to stop all the times I almost settled— professionally, academically, relationally. Thanks for letting me fail and building me back up after. Thanks for celebrating my successes. To my grandparents, thank you for being the greatest examples of living a productive, generous, and intentional life. Thank you for supporting me for my entire life. Thank you to Liz Albertson for being the most incredible mentor ever since age 12, for working out with me all the time, for investing in me and showing me what it really means to have courage, tenacity and faith. Thank you for believing in me that I would get this job. Thank you to my amazing friends: Vanessa, Ashley, Chris, Sarah, Carley, Kari, Kyra, Connor, Colin, Betsy, Dibet, Joy, Lydia, Lindsay, Ryan, David, Jack, Doug, Madi, Anne Marie, Analisa, Priya, Julia, and Bella, to name a few (but wow they are so many more). You all are some of the most amazing people I have ever met and I could never begin to put into words how you all have forever touched my heart. Thank you for for being there at 3am when the going got tough, but thank you also for choosing fun when we both needed it. Thank you to the new friends I’ve made this year. You all remind me that it’s never too late to find your people, and that Senior Spring is all about investing in the people you love — David Hubble and Grace Geib: You both mean SOOO much to me and I can’t believe I barely knew y’all less than six months ago. Thank you Kristin for the realest of real talks, for understanding me better than anyone else ever ever ever has or ever could. Thank you to my professors and mentors— Dr. Rogerson, Dr. Babinski, Dean Wilson, Dr. Toole, Deb Johnson, Jim Ferguson, Sam Terhune, Mary Mac, Dana, Sarah Barlow, Charlie, and Caitlyn. You are all so wise and I would be an even bigger mess without you all.
And thank you to the people who never get thanked but should be: thank you to all the employees at Duke who served me food every day, who opened the door for me or cleaned my dorm rooms and bathrooms. Thank you to my apartment leasing office for always brightening my day whenever I come home. Thank you to the workers at Happy and Hale, Jamba Juice and Panera for literally being my daily meals this year and bearing with me when I take too long to decide what I want, even though I eat the same thing every day. Thank you to the Uber drivers who drove me to campus on days when I was interviewing and didn’t want to get sweaty riding my bike. Thank you to all my doctors for helping me stay healthy this year. Thank you to the staff at Pure Barre as I show up late every day and leave sweaty. And thank you again to my parents because they are truly incredible and just need to be thanked a million times more than they are.
Thank you all for being by my side through these four years. I’m looking forward to living and learning together for many years to come! Here’s to risks!! <3