I drove to south OKC for lunch with a colleague I’ve known for a while, though mostly in a professional sense. But for a long time I’ve wondered if I’ve neglected a friendship blossoming on the periphery. I let her choose the restaurant since I don’t often make it down that way. After minimal discussion we settled on Panang, a relatively authentic little Thai restaurant near the Oklahoma City Community College campus. Since Aimee and I travelled to Thailand in 2013, it has been difficult for me to reacclimatize to Westernized Thai cuisine. But at Panang, I was in for a treat.
Aislinn and I both serve on convention planning committees. She is with SoonerCon, and I’m with SUPER! BitCon. That’s how she and I first became acquainted. And the first part of our conversation revolved heavily around that very topic – as BitCon had recently been waylaid by a powerful storm that closed us down on one of the two days of our annual event. It was a convention-planner’s worst nightmare. But we were incredibly thankful for the support and rallying cry of the Oklahoma City community. Aislinn and her SoonerCon colleagues helped out a lot with that effort. It was an exercise in leadership on-the-fly.
“That’s why our skin is so stretchy,” Aislinn said, “So we can be flexible.”
Aislinn is politically activated. She has been regularly involved in getting people registered to vote and is an advocate for civic engagement. As the conversation transitioned from conventions to politics, we both shook our heads at the state of democracy in America. But Aislinn puts a lot of blame on the Democratic National Committee as well as President Trump and the GOP. It was a relatively tone-deaf DNC that created much of the rift we see now in the party.
“Are you really surprised that our national platform looks like this?” she asked me.
Aislinn has a knack for the spoken word, often quoting from literature or history – but also poetic and insightful in her own right.
In discussing the “economic uncertainty” and other frights that brought us Mr. Trump, Aislinn cited Dune: “Fear is the mind-killer.” The quote goes on to say that “Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” One has to wonder what would remain of those addicted to fear-based media on TV, radio, and the internet if they turned off their funnel of confirmation bias. Without a constant flow of fear, uncertaintanty, and doubt – what intrinsic values would remain?
Aislinn believes moral agency is crucial. Too often our legislators and leaders worry more about the special interests than the constituents. Too often they worry more about the choices of others rather than their own decisions. Aislinn said she believes as a leader you should “hold yourself more accountable than those around you.”
Aislinn and I both ordered off the lunch special menu. When it arrived, I was treated to a delight of delicacies. There were noodles and curries and spring rolls. It was all perfect.
Aislinn admits she didn’t know why I invited her for lunch that day, but that she also enjoyed the mystery of it. So I didn’t explain.
We shared in the marvel of how convention planning has made each of us into better leaders. Specifically, we’ve both learned a lot about how to find everyone’s strength and channel it toward success.
“We have to learn to work with the folks behind us,” she said of those volunteers who push us toward our own successes, “Isn’t it amazing to see what people give back when you give them a little room?”
She was right. I’ve had to learn in my hobbies and career that delegating will almost never result in a product that is 100% what I want. However, if it’s close enough – it’s close enough. Letting go lets others achieve greatness with you.
“If I let go of what I am, I can become what I want to be,” Aislinn paraphrased from Lao Tzu.
She works as the Marketing Coordinator at OCCC. “It’s exactly what I wanted to do – what I told the universe I wanted to do.”
Both SoonerCon and her previous job in the cellular phone industry have given her perspective over the years – particularly in dealing with certain at-risk communities. In her phone job, she often travelled to some of the poorest parts of the country and interacted with those in situations of poverty. “There’s a want there,” she said. Everyone strives for a better life.
“When you can define what you want, the doors open for you.”
At this point I had made myself comfortable on Aislinn’s proverbial therapist couch. I told her of some of the external annoyances in my life. Frustrations. Roadblocks. Some of the chaotic influences around me.
“Sometimes people manufacture chaos to feel comfortable,” she said, reminding me that “We choose to be here.”
We do choose to be here. Aislinn is right about that; and it’s something that I have to get better at reminding myself. I am where I am as a consequence of my choices – choices that, for the most part, have been improving as I’ve aged. But I can always continue to improve. I can always evolve.
“Change is the one thing we can affect,” Aislinn assured me.
She loves her job – and admits it proudly. I said it is so rare to hear someone say they truly love their job. But she feels like she is regularly changing lives, and that’s a rewarding feeling.
We did good work on our meals, but we both had plenty of leftovers. As we boxed them up, I asked the big question I’ve grown used to asking: “What’s next for you?”
“I’ve been asking that question since November 9th,” she said.
Aislinn sees a paradigm shift happening in the country. She wants to find a way to position herself in a more servant-leadership capacity going forward. She has a lot of options out there – and a lot of people pushing her toward some very distinct public-service oriented directions.
As we began to leave, the ugly topic of the Trump Administration again reared its head. I suppose that’s to be expected in my newly-elected position and the circle of folks I run with.
Aislinn and I had a bit of disagreement – she believes everyone must take ownership for Trump’s election. Everyone.
“I didn’t hold my party accountable,” she said of the Democratic Party’s muted response to the progressive wave that swept the nation last year. Aislinn feels she could’ve done more to help get a Democrat in office, even if it wasn’t necessarily her first choice. I said I have a hard time taking ownership over Trump. But I somewhat agree – I trusted too much in the electorate to not take us down Trump Road.
But Aislinn is hopeful that good will win out over evil.
“Does the arc of history bend toward justice?” she asked.
“Ultimately?” she said with a knowing eye.
“I guess so,” I said, still unsure. All I could think of were the worst-case scenarios. “I’m a bit of a pessimist,” I admitted.
“Some people see the glass half full, some half empty – but the engineer says the glass is too large for that amount of water,” Aislinn quipped, “People don’t like to hear that their glass is too big.”
I told her that I am having a fun time adjusting to a new life of more public service – and also of my past predilection toward firm solutions and no second chances. And now I’m learning that closure is an indulgence I might not always enjoy. Going forward, I may not know the how. I may not know the why.
“Sometimes you are not afforded the luxury of why,” she said.
And so we have to learn to let things go. To not have closure. And that’s something Aislinn says she likes about #52in52. Sometimes the stories just end.