*disclaimer: I’m way behind on blog posts, so stay tuned on the things that go between this and the Pacific Northwest bike trip! I have not forgotten…
It was May 1st, my last day at work, the day before my birthday and the only real plan I had was to take time off with the hopes of eventually finding work related to urban planning.
I had a vague memory of running into a member of the Somerville Bicycle Committee (SBC) a few years earlier at a local bike shop who had invited me to attend one of their monthly meetings. For some reason, the thought of attending a meeting related to biking around Somerville felt silly to me–to this day, I don’t exactly know why I felt that way except that maybe I didn’t feel like an empowered individual to promote change, and I didn’t think I had the social bandwidth to pull it off–so I never went to a meeting. Here I was three years later, on my last day of employment, strategizing my next move, and I recall the interaction I had with the guy from the SBC years before, so I email the Bicycle Committee chair as eager as ever to get involved. Turns it, it was Ken Carlson! He encouraged me to come to their Rush Hour Race event on May 12th to talk in person about ways to get involved. It just so happened the event was the day after I was arriving from vacation, so the timing could not have been better.
I consider myself an extroverted and social person, and my peers would support that sentiment, but that evening of May 12th, I was nervous. I briefly considered not going. There was no huge impetus for me to go, and there would be other events in the future. I thought to myself. “No, Daniela, just go. What’s the big deal?” – My inner coach (she’s the best).
I realized once I arrived that I don’t ever show up to events without bringing someone I know, moreover, this was an event held in Somerville just a half mile from my apartment and yet I didn’t know a soul there. I was shocked that not a single face looked familiar. How is it that I’ve been biking around Somerville and Boston for the last four years and never once interacted with the cycling community? Whatever, I showed up, walked around and looked for people that looked like they were in charge. Somehow I spotted the SBC chair right away. I introduced myself. “Oh hey! I’ve never gotten a more enthusiastic email from someone wanting to get involved! That’s great! Great to meet you.” Apparently, I’m good at showing my excited via email. We chatted a bit more, but he was busy running the event, so I continued milling about awkwardly trying to insert myself into conversations as un-awkwardly as possible. That’s not easy. I may have freaked some people out, but I did what I had to do.
Eventually, I noticed a guy that had probably the brightest blue-green eyes I had ever seen (totally besides the point, but, c’mon Doug, I’m sure you’ve gotten that before), seemed extremely friendly and most importantly seemed to be involved in the event. So, I start talking to him. Turns out he was (and still is) the volunteer coordinator (he does WAY more than coordinate volunteer. This guy is an advocacy pro) for the Boston Cyclists Union, the other organization that partnered with the Somerville Bicycle Committee to put on the Rush Hour Race. I tell him I want to get involved and if the Bike Union needs someone with project management experience that I have six years under my belt. Knowing what I know now, the Boston Bike Union is a two-staff non-profit organization that stays afloat with the hard work of their staff and the dedication of their volunteer base, so Doug was not about to turn down a volunteer offer. He points out their Executive Director (ED) to me and tells me he is the person I need to talk to.
At this point, I’m not shy. I’m on a role. I’ve met the Somerville Bicycle Committee Chair, the Boston Cyclists Union’s volunteer coordinator and I’m about to meet the Bike Union’s ED. “Hi Pete, I’m Daniela. I wanted to introduce myself. I’d love to get involved in any way I can. I have extensive project management and process improvement experience. If that is something the Bike Union could use, I’d love to help out.” He looked at me as if an angel had just shone down on him. In hindsight, I realize that non-profits only hope they get the kind of eagerness in prospective volunteers that I showed that night, but in that moment I had zero advocacy/non-profit experience, so in my eyes, I was just really sticking my neck out with nothing to lose.
The evening turned out to be a lot of fun. I helped clean up the event and Ken invited me to some after-event drinks and snack with the rest of the SBC members to meet them and talk more about getting involved. The Rush Hour Race set the tone for the next six months which have been full of bike advocacy and volunteering for both the Bike Union and the SBC.
I feel so fortunate to have gone to that event and stuck my neck out a little. I powered through that super awkward feeling of not knowing anyone, casually inserting myself into conversations and pretending like I fit right in. As a result, I was presented with amazing opportunities. In fact, in July, The Boston Cyclists Union asked me if I wanted to take the lead in planning and organizing their annual fall fundraising event, Biketoberfest, which I did. I had an incredible time working with smart and passionate people for this event. We set a goal to raise $17,000 and not only did we meet that goal, but we also blew it out of the water. We raised $23,000! Working on this event is one of my proudest achievements. The Bike Union’s staff, volunteers and board members are some of the most dedicated bike advocates I’ve met and that fundraiser would not have been so successful without the help of everyone involved. I’m so proud to be a part of this non-profit.
Next time you hesitate to meet someone or to go to an event related to your area of interest out of fear or nervousness, just remember, it all starts with a little bit of fear. I’ve turned fear into my motivation. Thus, the quote I picked for this blog. “Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid and act anyway.” – Robert Anthony