DCFunemployment: Tell the people – Who are you?
Just the other night, I answered imperviously to the DC standard greeting “Hi! What do you do?” I said, “I’m an international woman of mystery without the ‘inter-,’” and it was surprisingly well received by my new acquaintance who understood it as the commentary I intended it to be. He said, “You’re a national woman of mystery. I like it!” We are all so much more than a title. So, ya’ know. It’s tough to say.
But, really, if you ask me who I am I’d say that I’m just ME – a quirky nerd girl ex-jock turned grown woman trying to support myself and navigate my way through the big little city that is our nation’s capital.
I (Erin Meadors) hail from Slidell, Louisiana. I’m the lovechild of two folks who are still happily married and annoyingly cute. I have a little big brother who is four years younger but a half a foot taller. I’m a Montessori brat and a proud graduate of a public high school – Salmen High School (Geaux, Lady Spartans!). I moved to DC to attend Georgetown University (continuing my Catholic school education) where I graduated with a degree in English and a minor in African American Studies – the latter of which was just approved as a major at the university. (You can find me way too excited about the announcement here at 1:05:30.) And, I spend a great deal of time continuing my student engagement through my alumni volunteerism.
DCF: What does being funemployed mean to you & what was your path to funemployment?
EM: I left the U.S. Senate in 2010 to work in local government, so in that sense I am a public servant with 9 years of government service under my belt. Technically, my agency resides within the Executive Office of the Mayor here in DC Government, and after 6 years of service I’m now working under my 3rd Mayor, 6th Deputy Mayor, and 9th supervisor in my 5th role – working on transitioning to my 6th. I was just able to automate the workflow for the program I manage, so I’m on to the next challenge after putting that software project and related training to bed. Although, I might soon do a case study as it could be replicated across District agencies given the uniformity of the District’s payment processing requirements. My HR title is Program Analyst. (DCF: Aka the day job, which we are finding to be just one of many hats people in the DMV wear!)
EM: I also own a travel business and a full service travel website through Paycation Travel. There’s an opportunity here for folks interested in learning more, but I’m a certified travel agent.
EM: I have a few friends who keep moving out of the city yet still own properties here and so they are beginning to want to rely on me – as the friend in town – to help them with upkeep, so I’m looking to become a licensed property manager.
EM: I have planned quite a few events, and I work in fundraising or development a bit for a couple local alumni entities, including one that supports University Row at the Virginia Gold Cup and one you know well (DCF: And love!) – The Annual District Gala – of which I’m one of the original organizers/hosts. Stay tuned for this years details, folks! Morgan is an organizer now, too (DCF: and I couldn’t be more excited!!).
EM: Relatedly, just before Mardi Gras 2016 an acquaintance and bar owner – who I have relied on for fundraising donations in the past – asked me to help curate a Fat Tuesday party at his downtown venue, which is a premiere nightlife destination. In that sense, I’m now also an event planner and a development professional. We turned a party around in a week and the analytic and only 2 paid guests show I brought the party that night. So, it’s something I’m toying with – creating an event company LLC and doing a few curated events to fit a market I know exists here and is under-served. (DCF: So keep your eyes peeled for more folks!)
EM: If you coalesce my revenue stream and volunteer hats, they all boil down to doing work that allows me to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships, create solutions, communicate through an array of mediums, provide customer service, and get ‘er done with integrity while having fun! So that’s what being funemployed means to me – being able to financially support myself in this tiered way and through work that allows me to be personally and professionally fulfilled by constantly tackling new challenges and diverse tasks.
EM: Relatedly, I’m often told that it’s time for me to job hop from my primary job. So when I think about how I got here I can only think back to the 2005 job market and my status as an English major with an unpaid gig still living in my senior year housing weeks after graduation. Immediately thereafter, my family experienced the devastation of Hurricane Katrina back in Slidell while I was in a commission-only gig working a field that required licensing for me to truly work. Even then, I had an odd part-time job and had worked such gigs for years here in DC until I landed in the Senate in 2007. With my guy giving up his seat for the Vice Presidency and his replacement not running, local government was where I knew I needed to be to avoid the political turnover of every so many years. So, I have loved the stability here. Although I haven’t gone up the political chain into leadership positions here, I have had some pretty sweet lateral moves that allowed me to write my last two job descriptions. (DCF: Whoooo looks like I’m not the only person wearing multiple hats.)
DCF: Who was your first cheerleader?
EM: This has to go to both my parents – as they are and have always been one unit. They were my life architects, if you will. And, where one might have held me back, the other pushed to let me fly. They were always and have always been symbiotic in that way. I could always do any and every thing, but date early… Parents, they just don’t understand! But, I do owe a great debt to them, and my time will come to show my gratitude as they age.
DCF: What experiences in your life prepared you for where you are now?
EM: Rejection best prepared me for where I am now. If it were not for bullying and the taunts of children, I would not have been prepared for the insolence of adults. Were it not for experiencing the racism of people thought to be acquaintances, I would not know how to deal with intolerance often guided by ignorance. If not for the rejection of lovers, I wouldn’t know what I love and need most in my life. (DCF: You better make lemonade and take lessons from the negatives in life and use them to shine.)
DCF: Where do you get your inspiration and/or motivation?
EM: I start with God and my Catholic faith. As a millennial, I do fall prey to being both in and out of the Church at times – as my philosophical leanings and practical influences often conflict in ways that make that relationship tumultuous for me to confront in the mass social setting that is a weekly Mass. However, when it’s time for me to have a spiritual reckoning, I often find myself on Georgetown’s main campus back at Dahlgren Chapel for Mass, prayer, or just to sit in awe of the beautiful building. I have the same thing back home in Slidell with St. Genevieve Catholic Church on the bayou where I grew up. The serenity and beauty of the moss and the boats on the dock there do it for me. So, it is definitely my faith and prayer followed by self, family, and love, which we all are.
DCF: What does balance mean to you and how do find balance?
EM: Balance is super difficult for me to find, but for me it is centering myself and my life and life’s work around God, self, and family. I want everything I do to help me remain centered. So, I am constantly trying new things, remembering to do old things, and really taking time for solitude. People are surprised by this last thing, but I truly enjoy time alone. It’s then that you can truly relax but also be introspective, set goals, meet goals, and the like. Exercise, meditation, and prayer also support my work to remain in balance – and sometimes just a good stiff whisky drink!
DCF: What sacrifices did you have to make to get here?
EM: I’ve found that I often sacrificed balance to get where I am. I found myself putting everyone ahead of me – including family. And, that family you adopt – your colleagues. So, I have been very intentional over the past couple years about not sacrificing my wants, needs, desires, and goals because I’m spending my time on securing those of others. For example, I didn’t go home for the first time in a year last year after returning from Christmas 2014. Ten years ago or even three, that would have been laughable. But, I’m prioritizing Erin now and sometimes that takes stepping away from yourself and speaking in the third person to even realize, because it does feel like an out of body experience. That’s not who I am – I’m selfless. But, in being that way I have sacrificed too much of what I want and where I want to be. It’s also something I have to be very mindful of in interpersonal relationships, particularly with the opposite sex. You have to remain selfish sometimes just to remain a serious prospect. So each day I’m constantly trekking that hike up my mountaintop to plant my flag – for me.
DCF: What struggles have you faced as a women in your industry?
EM: One of the biggest struggles women face is not being heard. And sometimes I don’t know how to disconnect that from being a black woman but we are hyper visible and yet invisible. So, when I’m up everyone knows it, and when I’m busy, I’m angry. When I need a phone at my desk, the question is what’s the number to make it live – but I don’t have a phone. And no one hears this until they’re in my face spitting about not understanding my request – written in plain English. So, whether it’s a colleague who doesn’t hear you unless you’re yelling or almost being patronizing or a fellow volunteer who doesn’t think you’re pulling your weight because your load is not a physical one, I find that I struggle with my voice and its relevancy. That’s a challenge that makes getting stuff done in systems that require other people all the more interesting, I tell you. So, for me it’s everything around one’s voice and being heard for who you are and not who someone sees or – more likely – wants to see you as.
DCF: What is the early advice you didn’t listen to that you wish you had?
EM: :Shakes head.: True to form, what advice?! Yea, I cannot really think of any. I think my circle, like my family, is really good about stating an opinion and then backing away and letting me make a choice. So, if ever there was any advice I didn’t take it wouldn’t resonate in the same way for it to be memorable. I’ve been blessed in that way, I guess, as this question seems foreign to me. I also don’t believe in regrets, so maybe it’s that, too. Maybe that’s why nothing comes to mind here.
DCF: What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
EM: My greatest failure was college. I failed up, however. My GPA was or is a wreck, but I came out socially as if it were my next debutante cotillion. I haven’t looked back. I learned that when I spread myself too thin, it will show somewhere. But, I also learned that some people like me, and that I’m not as socially awkward as I thought I was. Or, if I am, the people from my alma mater were just my people. I had a hard time as a youth never quite finding my friend group but having a friend group or five. In college and as an adult, I’ve come to embrace my many circles with their many overlapping interests. And, I revel in that and the fulfilling nature of friendships, learning, and activism each embodies. So, I guess I learned to not bury my head in my cocoon and to be a butterfly already. My GPA won’t change, but I think the life experience I’ve garnered along the way will help me write my next chapter.
DCF: What is your proudest moment?
EM: I’m so nostalgic… Like, can it be “christening” a park in Mandeville where I hit the first home run on a huge field?! (DCF: Of course, whatever makes you happy!). Seriously, I was a national softball champ at the age of 8 and “Babe Ruth” or “the Babe” for short were just a couple of my diamond-related nicknames. Shout out to the Bayou (Creoles!) and the Slidell Bantam Baseball Association!
EM: More recently, I would say it’s finding out a young lady from my high school got into Georgetown. You know, a parent of some friends once said: “You went to Salmen and you got into Georgetown.” And, it was dig – to an 18-year-old. Now, I think there’s a standard for a Salmen High School graduate attending Georgetown University and what that looks like on paper (being potentially ominous) but also socially on campus being positive and in that aftermath through alumni activity also being largely positive. I could be making all this up, but I don’t know anyone before me to attend Gtown after Salmen, which is also my father’s alma mater. So, with her credentials and her wonderful application and all of us reaching back and reaching out to shepherd her through it with small talk, I do feel some small stake in her success and future success. My friends were really great to carve time out to talk and email with her, too. It makes me proud to have a future Hoya on deck from my small town, but in particular from my high school. (DCF: It takes a village)
DCF: So what’s next??
EM: In my day job, I am writing contracts now! I am super excited about it. Bringing automation to the invoice program I manage was a beast, but now an intern could do half my job in the way of time saved from pushing paper. So, with government staffing always being sparse I’m just trying to find ways to stay active, pitch in to assist the team, and learn new things. For me, this is the direction I want to go in, as I have interest in the law as well as entrepreneurship. So seeing what these contractual agreements look like and how they are carved out from an inside out perspective is really important to me and my long-term interests.
EM: Personally, I’m working on carving my niche and staying connected to academia. I see a future for myself there – whether studying more intensely or being a professor one day in the far off distant future. Something about it draws me in – these lofty intellectual conversations but more importantly the academic research and writing that supports and sustains them. So, I’m working to read more and to be more engaged in library, museum, and university happenings in order to stay in touch with how that world feels. And, the players, they always suck me in. My dad’s mother was a teacher and a guidance counselor; following college I sent half my books home to her and a couple still sit at her feet, as they traveled with her amid the hurricane. Shoot, I’m still in touch with my high school guidance counselor. And, my English advisor from Georgetown, some friends and I are doing dinner this month. Oddly enough, way too many of the men I date or have dated are still in school, just got a cool beanie cap, and so on… So, I’m all the way drawn to lifelong learners. I just like being on a college campus, particularly Georgetown’s since it’s the one I most know. But, I think that could translate.
EM: So, for me it’s no longer just talking about going back to school but at least taking those small steps to be present at symposiums and conferences and book talks to remain engaged and to keep my mind sharp as I contemplate and take action toward next steps. For so long, it’s been “I’ll go to law school;” I just want to make the next investment there the right one for me so I’m sitting with it yet.
EM: In the interim, I hope to step back and write something academic and concise on Beyonce’s #Formation, which I started as a four-part series and need to go back and finish discussing the video and then the whole of the project. (DCF: and of course, Lemonade, she gave you a lot of material there!)/ But, those are next steps for me – more researching and writing – all the way around. And also, having fun prepping for and attending URow and Gala!
You can find more on Erin, including how to follow her –> About.me/erinmeadors
All of her handles are linked there – Medium, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, IG, Google+, and more)