The Greatness Within You

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By: Sarah Jolly, 2018 Fellow at National Louis University


The elevator opened to a secure corridor which culminated in a set of locked glass doors. Beyond them, the lake. It chuckled, tickled by the wind, sun breaking over it now and again, waves breaking out. I waited for a coworker with a key card to let me into the WeWork offices, sheepish, not wanting to do the wrong thing on the first day. I took a long deep breath, felt it spread smoothly over my lungs while smoothing the pleats of my new dress pants with nervous palms. Should I sneak in behind someone? Did I have anyone’s phone number yet? Why didn’t I have anyone’s phone number yet? I waited until as close to nine as I could stand, and then decided to just walk in. There was no more waiting, no more time left for fear. It was time to work.


The Partnership for College Completion has two corner offices and its own corner in the education non-profit world. On a mission to improve the state of higher education in Illinois through policy, technical support and public awareness, the Partnership choreographs the use of these levers boldly, expertly, and with great passion. If the full-time staff of five dutifully sail the uncharted waters of institutional improvement by way of equity, justice is their north star. I wondered what my work as an intern was going to look like, feel like, as I settled into my own desk in the corner of the corner office. The lake’s reflection glittered in the windows outside, whispering something about the beauty in persistence, in the newness.


Sarah Jolly, 2018 Fellow at National Louis University

Braven connected me to the internship opportunity at the Partnership and cemented the notion that courage and authentic effort leveraged daily are the necessary ingredients of success. While with the Partnership, I was invited to attend citywide events and high-level meetings. All the networking I’d done as a Braven fellow paid off. Not only did I feel at ease introducing myself before large groups, giving my elevator pitch, and asking questions of new people, but I actually already knew some of the important players in the room from my time as a Braven panelist. Neither of my co-interns could say the same. The impression I was empowered to make was a strong one, demonstrating a vital skill I’d never known myself capable of prior to my fellowship with Braven.  


Toward the end of the internship, I was offered an even grander opportunity, one I thought was still years away.  I was tasked with writing a literature review and accompanying a presentation on a complex funding policy, both of which were to be shared with the Illinois Board of Higher Education in less than two weeks. I poured over piles of policy until sleep took me. I wrote and rewrote for hours after work and on the weekends. I was electrified with purpose as a deep and startling joy found me, and when it did, I was working.


However, doing something this real and meaningful to me and the people around me was scary. What if they trusted me with this and I failed? How long would it take them to discover that I didn’t belong here, or wasn’t as smart, diligent, or hardworking as they thought I was? Was I the person they believed me to be, and if not, how could I ever try again?


In these grueling moments, I remembered the Braven Capstone project. I hadn’t known the first thing about app design or banking (the two central themes of my Capstone) and on top of that, my team lost the competition. But watching my friends compete as finalists and give the keynote speech, I was moved to the powerful realization that victory is, in fact, the act of trying. It is the hustle, not just where you’re hustling to. So I hustled on. There has never been something as wonderful as the birth of a stronger you. Maybe that’s what the lake had been whispering to me so many weeks before, at summer’s start.


Before I close with some advice, you should know I was asked to stay on with the Partnership for College Completion, to lend a hand in the unending work they so willingly face. I believe they asked me to continue for a few key reasons.


I say yes to every opportunity offered and give unrelenting effort in return. I try to speak at least once in every meeting I sit in and ask questions about what I don’t understand right away. I am honest and proactive in my communication. I own up to mistakes and apologize whenever the situation warrants, which is more often than you’d think. Apologies are not admissions of weakness, and in fact are high yield-low investment social moves that foster respect and will make a valuable difference in your career—try it and see for yourself. I say no to what will overwhelm me, and use the energy I’ve protected to produce quality, timely work. And I cultivate enough empathy and self-awareness to not take anything personally. This way, I give and get positivity. 


Sarah Jolly, 2018 Fellow at National Louis University

Go forth, apply for the job, take the last-minute project that scares you and do your best. Say you’re sorry, but say yes twice as often. Protect your energy, always give respect, and understand unequivocally that you are more capable than you have been allowed to imagine.


Remember your Braven training. Send thank you notes. Love your job and love yourself. Because you are not destined for greatness, so much as you already are great.

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