Friday, August 2, 2013

My EMERGE Experience: Katie Vitale

Guest post from EMERGE 2009 and ESSENTIAL 2013 alum Katie Vitale. Here, Katie shares her experiences learning about Leadership Austin and applying for the EMERGE program. 

Having no expectations is a mindful and challenging practice, unless you pair that with having little to no experience of the situation you worked hard to thrust yourself into. I had no idea what to expect when I first walked into that downtown law firm conference room for my first Leadership Austin EMERGE class session. I had no idea who any of the faces around those tables belonged to. Of the dozens of people in the room, I knew not a one. I had no idea what sort of activities we would engage in to boost our leadership skills. In the midst of all these known unknowns was just where I needed to be.

The year before, one of my candidate clients at work gushed about the classmates she had in ESSENTIAL, and I became curious. When I saw these same classmates rally around her bid for office and offer the kind of support you would expect from life-long friends, my interest mounted. I can still remember attending my first ESSENTIAL recruiting reception. It seemed like everyone knew everyone else, and the conversations flowed freely echoing against the walls into the impassioned din of a pre-revolutionary salon. I was initially intimidated by it, and despite my extensive volunteer service, did not feel like I belonged in ESSENTIAL and decided to apply for EMERGE as further research - a way to determine if the further commitments and expense of ESSENTIAL were really what I wanted.

When I applied for EMERGE, it had been less than a year since I learned of Leadership Austin and its bevy of programs. I had thought of EMERGE as the junior ESSENTIAL program. Both are selective entry, both require not insignificant commitments of time, and both are enhanced by the synergy of the cohort’s composition. That was a cognitive shortcut I did not shake until my first EMERGE class.

It was that night - that first class - when I realized how two dimensional my understanding of Austin truly was. Even though I had been very active in the community, I knew zero of my classmates. At that moment I was sure that the novelty of the experience wouldn’t end there. I was really excited to see how dozens of strangers could become as close as that candidate and her classmates.

For months we met every other week, growing closer as we worked and reflected and reflected on our work. We spent the whole fall that way, sharing meals, happy hours and embarking on challenges together. Participating in the EMERGE program expanded my understanding of my city, my work, and myself. It also solidified my interest in ESSENTIAL. Today I am still in regular communication with many of those EMERGE classmates. Joining the Alumni Association fostered those bonds, but I can say that the curriculum, content, and camaraderie we generated those evenings that fall will stay with me for a long time. I expect that you will find what you are looking for in EMERGE, and it will stay with you too. Even if you have no expectations and no idea of what you will do.

In fact, in that case it’s easy, easy as walking into a conference room.

Katie Vitale is Giving Manager and Webmaster at People's Community Clinic in Austin. Leadership Austin is currently accepting applications for the EMERGE 2013 program through Thursday, August 15.

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