When I left Conference in 2011, I knew I probably hadn’t made it through the Texas Teen Ambassador application/interview process. The youth who were leading during Conference were far too awesome for me to ever fit in. I was intimidated to say the least, because I had seen a level of leadership set at a bar that was very high. However, I knew that I’d given my best effort during my interview and shared my experience and expertise to the best of my ability on my application. I just had to wait.
And in came the Acceptance Letter a few weeks later.
My first In-Service as a TA was, quite frankly, one of the most stressful experiences of my life. There were people I didn’t know, words I didn’t understand, and what the heck is a teambuilding activity and why are we participating in so many?? My body doesn’t deal with stress very well, and I got sick progressively over the weekend. The last day of In-Service, I had no voice left. However, despite the unfortunate circumstances I was under, I actually learned a lot. I learned about why our program exists, what brought us here. I got to know people, make friends. I got a crash course in public speaking AND “legal” tobacco information. But, one of the most important things I learned was that the idea of tobacco control and prevention was bigger than me, and bigger than us as TAs. I returned to my community with a fiery passion to make a difference. However, I was met with much opposition, everyone trying to “pop my balloon of prevention,” so to say.
I felt very alone. My school group said they were going to help, but they didn’t. Everyone promised they would be supportive, but all I got was a pat on the back and an article in the newspaper (barely grazing the issue of teen tobacco use and the prevention efforts I was standing for). I was very confused, and letting the critics keep me down sounded like a good idea at times. However, I thought back to the other TAs doing awesome stuff in their communities and receiving the same kinds of opposition. They were resilient; they stood their ground. Over the last few years, my friends in the TA program have influenced me to stay true to what I believe in. We’ve traveled out-of-state together, we’ve done extra training on our own to be better-informed advocates for this cause. Some of us have even taken on this idea and passion as a career.
When I remember what I’ve been through these last few years, I realize that there is still something I can give to this program, with these new and returning TAs, to my friends. I can offer support, encouragement, knowledge, wisdom. I can serve and be a resource. And I can learn, and continue learning. My role at In-Service was to provide the TAs with knowledge and skills, but what after that? Support. I can give them support. Because there’s nothing worse to kill your motivation than the idea that you’re standing for something alone.
“Everything happens for a reason.” Darrien wrote this warm fuzzy for me at In-Service this year. We’ve been through a lot together, Darrien, Cassie, Kayla, Daisy and me. We’ve become stronger leaders and stronger friends through it all. We prepare each other, push each other, but never cut down or make each other feel worthless. Instead, we build. We know what’s most important to each of us and always keep it in mind. And the returning TAs, Cecilia, Kimmy, Fomby, and Alexus. I watch them grow as leaders and strong individuals every day. They take on responsibilities and ask for very little recognition in return. They are amazing young adults, and I am privileged to have them as friends and be a confidant to them.
New TAs, know that I’ve been where you are – we all have. It’s hard, and it doesn’t get much easier. But you learn and grow. You try things that fail, but you change your approach and try again. And know that you never stand alone in your beliefs. There is support all around you, and sometimes it’s only as far away as a text message to your Consultant. In-Service was a dip of your toes in the water of prevention. There’s so much we can do and so much that will never get done, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s as simple as being an example – being a tobacco-free youth in Texas. Sometimes that’s the BEST thing you can be!
Reminiscing always makes me emotional, so…
Until next time.