You’ve just been accepted as a new intern for a Summer of Solutions program…let’s say Iowa City. Aside from being jubilant with excitement, you read further down the email and find out that your cohorts will, in a little over a week, be hopping into a car and spending five days (at an undisclosed location) preparing for skill sets in leadership for the summer’s program. You are enthusiastically welcomed (and subtly encouraged) to join the group on this outing. Perplexed, you scratch your head. You are new (not only to January Gathering, but to Summer of Solutions), but ambitious. As such, you reply that you will be joining the crew for the January Gathering in Chicago. You are set in your decision, though wondering who the members of your chapter are, what Grand Aspirations actually is, and, perhaps, how you got into the position that you’re in right now. The feeling of affirmation and mild terror dance in your stomach.
This is exactly (and candidly) what happened to me the week and a half right before January Gathering. Rest assured, I made it to and from Chicago in one piece and perhaps more importantly, I made it back a more ambitious person. While I can only speak for myself and my experience with those that make Grand Aspirations grand, going to a January Gathering is as much a baptism by fire as it is a chance to find a genuine community of quality people who WILL make the world a better place. There’s something to be said about jumping into the back seat of a Suburu Outback with two young guys, a young girl and her mother (the driver) and having enough humility to learn that those in the car with you are going to become some of the most impressive people you’ve ever met. And that’s before even getting to Chicago.
Inspiration comes in many forms, and from the perspective of a newbert (a word I just made up to mean “new person”), few can be matched by a January Gathering. Whether it’s Timothy or Ruby (fearless leaders who will shake your hand on day one and be giving you a meaningful hug on day four), our lovely hosts from Chicago or any of the other fabulous members that made me laugh, think or do both, the space was permeated by people interested in what I cared about and what I had to say about matters, as if my newness did not matter. After getting past my initial awkwardness (that seemingly follows me everywhere I go), I was opening up to people in a circle of trust, feeling more and more like a part of the group. I used time to learn about my group and their collective goals while hearing from other SOS chapters in what they had done and where they were going. Each new breakout session was a chance to educate myself on anything and everything, and it was great. Flabbergastingly exhausting, but great!
Days started slowly, but in the blink of an eye, Sunday had arrived. In the past three and a half days, I had met with people from every other represented chapter, worked within my Iowa City chapter several times and in scrutinizing detail, walked to the Lake three times and really started to get excited about the summer (which is now fewer than four months away). By 1:30, I was packed up in the back of the Suburu again, fighting ardently to not sleep on the ride home. When I left, I did not come back the same person, at least in the sense that I now knew what we were trying to do back in Iowa City. But for the first time in a long time, I feel positively about the future and what it might look like. That’s not to say that I will never get tired, frustrated, fed-up or feel down; if I do, I can think back to those four days and remember what it means to have a purpose and what purpose looks like when applied with people who care. Perhaps that is the manifestation of January Gathering: a focal point of synergistic enthusiasm that takes problems of the world and, through the appropriate channel of Solutionary action, creates opportunities to fix them.
We may all start small, but there is no denying that what we are doing is big to someone. I like to think that this type of behavior is contagious.