Dear twenty-year-old Rhonda,
I wonder what you’re wearing. If it’s anything with shoulder pads, it’s time to let it go. I know Mom has already sewn them into almost everything you own, but let’s be honest—like Dad says, you look like a linebacker. And I know I’d laugh at your hair if I could see it now.
Perhaps you’ve just finished working on a social work paper on a mainframe computer, making a weekly phone call home, or your internship shift at the Rochester Police Department’s Victim Assistance Program. Whatever you’re doing, I know you’re content in your organization and planning; you know what’s next. At least, you think you do.
In two years, when you graduate, you will begin working as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) in a group home for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) with an agency called People Inc. You don’t know it yet, but this job will change your life.
You don’t have any experience in the field, but you’ll learn quickly. What you’ll learn fastest is how much you love working with people, making connections, and helping create an accepting society in which everyone can grow and thrive. You’ll also learn that you don’t have to be able to understand what someone is going through in order to help them, and in fact, sometimes you can’t. It’s okay to accept your limitations of understanding based on your experiences; it doesn’t mean you can’t make a world of difference.
It sounds cliché, but don’t sweat the small stuff. So much will happen in your life, and honestly, most of it is small. Don’t lose sleep over a grade, job, or boyfriend. Look to the future and know you’re ready to take on anything. The things that really matter—friends, family, making a difference—invest your energy there.
Don’t be afraid of your ideas; speak up. You will be surprised how others react. Don’t be afraid of your mistakes; they are your best lessons. Someday, you will be the one people look to for advice. Lead with kindness and confidence; people will listen.
I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but People Inc. isn’t a bad place to be. Stick around…you’ll never imagine what’s coming.
Remember, Rhonda: nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. (I can’t take credit for that; it’s Conan O’Brien. But it’s true.)
And who knows? That amazing thing might just be your dream come true.
Rhonda Frederick, a proud Buffalonian, is president and CEO of People Inc., a health and human services agency.