3 Things I Learned At WashU that Help Me At The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

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You’ve Been Here Before

One of the most interesting aspects of being a person, especially an athlete, is our short memory. It’s our ability to take what we need from a prior experience (probably a failure or in my case more three-pitch strikeouts than I’d prefer to mention) and apply it moving forward, without ruminating on it. 

Think back to your first day of practice. I’m guessing this moment elicits some good-natured laughter, perhaps a funny anecdote or two. If you can, pull back a few more layers and try to remember how you felt. As an outfielder for the baseball team, my head was spinning. I knew I was in trouble as our captains led us through new stretches and unfamiliar banter swirled around me. My stomach made its way towards my throat and my palms sweated uncontrollably. The ball whipped around the diamond in a pattern I didn’t recognize. Something that had been a comfort for so long suddenly threatened me. 

I didn’t play well that day or the days that followed. My movements were rushed and uncertain, my throws off target, and my feet even tripped over one another. It wasn’t until a couple practices later when a junior pulled me aside and told me ““Hey, it’s just baseball. You’ve done this before.” It was like that moment in Hoosiers, when Coach Dale uses a tape measure to show his team the court dimensions of the giant arena in Indianapolis are the same as their gym back home. This wasn’t quite a fairy tale moment for me — I didn’t suddenly turn into Mike Trout — but I did return to being Auggie Mense. At least now my cut-off man wasn’t dreading my every throw. 

This experience stayed with me, becoming more significant as I transitioned off the field and into the work world. I started my current position with the City and County of San Francisco in August. It’s my first full-time position longer than an 8-week summer internship. It’s my first commute that takes longer than ten minutes. It’s my first time living outside my hometown. Things have been fast-paced and overwhelming at times. I’ve shown up to the wrong conference room or forgotten the bathroom code more times than I care to admit. I’ve realized this is how any transition feels. While you may not be able to prepare for the specifics of that transition from the field to the office, you should rest assured that you have been here before. You have done this before. 

Your coworkers and colleagues are the veteran players who answered your questions that first season. You’re not expected to know every drill your freshman year, just as I’m not expected to know every acronym that flies around the office. Ask questions. Learn from your mistakes. Most importantly, support those around you. 

Treasure Every Step

The team I joined my freshman year was gigantic. There were so many players on the team that some of us (i.e., me) didn’t get issued jersey numbers. The totality of my freshman game experience was a four-pitch walk at the end of a blowout that was actually attributed to the starter I had replaced. My sophomore year, after a coaching change, the team was significantly smaller, but I still struggled to find consistent playing time. I failed to appreciate the value of the space that I was in. 

I was extremely fortunate during my time at WashU to have some amazing captains. They all had their own style and method to bring our team closer. I’ll never forget one captain from my sophomore year who would often end practice by calling out a teammate who had a particularly good day. It was an effective way of bringing attention to teammates, especially those who might not get mentioned by the coaches or announcers. The opportunity to watch and learn from your leaders is extremely valuable. It helped me find my own voice and develop my own flavor of leadership. During my senior year, when I was one of the ones speaking in the huddle after a tough practice, I would give the breakdown to someone, recognizing the sometimes-unnoticed hard work of my teammates, and bringing new voices into the forefront. 

This habit has persisted in my work at the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency. My boss and I are a team of two, so I’ve worked closely with him these past six months. I admire his persistence and eloquence in advocating for those who aren’t at the table. As a public agency, serving our citizens is our top priority. It can be difficult to remember the many different communities in our city when making decisions. Especially when decisions are being made on the fly, the table shrinks, necessitating people like my boss to advocate for those who aren’t able to. When I’m in his place, I hope I will demonstrate similar dedication. 

There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for leadership. There isn’t even a type of leadership to address every situation. You have to find your own way. One of the best ways to do this is to learn from those around you. Watch what works and doesn’t work. If something feels useful or natural, make it your own. You only get to be a freshman once. Whether you like it or not, responsibility lies right around the corner. Every part of a journey is necessary: Try not to overlook it.

Leadership comes from every level

With 10 seniors on the team my junior year, I thought there were more than enough cooks in the kitchen. So when my coach sat me down at the beginning of that year and asked me how I was going to help lead the team, I was taken aback. I imagine he asked this question to all of the upperclassmen, but I wondered: Was my voice necessary? Did I have anything to add? 

At the time I had grown really close to the class below me, even to the point where we had an unofficial Breakfast Club that met after every early morning practice. I told my coach that perhaps the new freshman would enjoy joining us. In this moment I realized my voice was needed most in those moments in the locker room after practice, when people were milling around, not quite ready to go, but not quite sure if they should stay. Those mornings were essential in knitting our team together. It may not be readily apparent, but I believe those are the kind of interactions that turn teammates into friends, teams into communities. 

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The healthiest, most vibrant and resilient communities arise when every member is empowered to lead. During my senior year, I was one of only three upperclassmen on the team. Throughout the year we had amazing young men lead our team in different ways, be it the underclassmen that provided fire playlists for our morning lifts, or the trio of sophomores who facilitated a discussion about toxic masculinity for our team. I believe actions like these, big and small, reflect a willingness to care about the direction and future of a community, for those there and for those set to follow. It’s a statement that something matters to the community, not just to those with the titles of leadership. 

Truth be told, I’m still trying to figure out how to lead in my new space. I know that I can be a friendly face for my agency. I really enjoy illuminating the workings of agency to the people we serve. I recently led an inter-agency meeting when both of my supervisors couldn’t attend, and it was exhilarating. I’m going to find my way here because I care about the organization I get to be a part of. I fervently hope I can leave it better than I found it. 

What now?

I work in a cubicle, near the end of our office with the broken printers and chairs that won’t swivel. I’m surrounded by people several decades my senior who have lived in this city for most of their lives, and worked for our agency nearly as long. It’s been hard to find my way, however, my cubicle neighbor and I recently bonded over our mutual love of Latin Pop. Our corner of the office is a little livelier now that I’ve begun playing the sweet sounds of Marc Anthony’s “Vivir Mi Vida.” It’s my turn, again, to provide the playlist. I’m enjoying watching and learning from the leaders of our agency and city. All while reminding myself that I’ve been here before. 


Are you a WashU Alum who wants to share your story?

Connect with WashU’s Campus Ambassador, Tim Tague ‘21 (timothy.tague@wustl.edu)