The following blog post is a speech Eva Putzova, Flagstaff City Council Member and Director of Strategic Planning at NAU, gave at the NAU Delta Epsilon Iota Induction Ceremony.
I rewrote the speech I’m going to deliver to you tonight three times. In my first draft I had some generic ideas about leadership and community involvement that would have made you yawn. But then I went for a run. And I thought to myself—I’m just going to share with you exactly what I think.
What a concept, right?
I will not pretend to have an authority to advise you on anything. Rather, I will reflect on my own experiences that are authentic and tell you what I have learned. After all, whether we are 18, 30 or 60, we are just winging this journey we call life.
So here it is.
In 2012, the Flinn Foundation rejected my application for their prestigious leadership program. But what they gave me was priceless. They gave me time I would have otherwise spent traveling to Phoenix. Instead, I spent the following year planning my campaign to run for the City Council.
- Lesson number one: When one door closes another opens up. But it’s always wise to have a plan B and you will never be disappointed.
Before I launched my campaign I talked to a couple of very important people about my candidacy. They told me I was unelectable. That my progressive politics was way out there, that I had a foreign name and accent which are not American enough to win elections, that as a former president of Friends of Flagstaff’s Future I had no chance.
I asked myself “What is the worst thing that can happen?” The answer was “that I would lose.”
In November I won a seat on the Flagstaff Council with the most votes a first-time candidate has ever received in the Flagstaff municipal election history.
- Lesson number two: Take risks, follow your instincts, follow your heart. People will always have opinions but nobody truly knows your potential. Maybe not even you. Do or do not. There is no try. And always remember lesson number 1.
The election night was somewhat anti-climatic for me. While the outside world could have perceived my victory as surprising, deep inside I knew that those thousands and thousands of doors I knocked on during the campaign, that the overwhelmingly positive reaction to my campaign platform among my key constituency, and the funds I was able to raise all together should deliver a positive election result. Canvassing and talking to people about how policies like living wages could transform their lives was the most rewarding part of the campaign.
- Lesson number three: It’s the process of doing something you believe in that is personally the most satisfying—more than the actual outcome of your efforts. But it’s only in retrospect that we gain this insight. So try to live in the moment and enjoy the ride.
As a child I was quite active in school—always organizing my peers and volunteering to lead activities and projects. But my childhood and early adulthood were far cry from the resume-building lives of young people today. Unstructured play and exploring various art forms early on, socializing with friends in my teen years, and focusing exclusively on academics later on dominated my formative years.
I had a lot of free time growing up.
Shortly after I moved to Flagstaff, while still in mid-20’s, I joined the board of the Greater Flagstaff Economic Council. I wanted to be involved in the community and because of my background in economics, I thought that would be a good match. They probably let me in, thinking as a young foreigner I was politically harmless and would support whatever was put in front of me. While I learned quite a bit about local politics during this time, my heart was not in it. I was professionally well suited for the organization but traditional economic development was not my passion. In fact, I did not know where my inspiration would come from. I didn’t even know I was supposed to find it.
But then in 2008, passionate, former NAU professor Sandra Lubarsky invited me to join Friends of Flagstaff ‘s Future to replace her on the organization’s Board of Directors. And I found myself. I found my passion, my cause, my calling, my tribe. I was 31 years old. And ever since I’ve been inspired over and over to take on new challenges that all relate one way or another to the concepts of environmental sustainability and social and economic justice.
- Lesson number four: Don’t worry about building your resume. Give yourself permission to just “be”—enjoy, and allow yourself to discover what inspires you. It’s never too late to find yourself. You will be finding yourself, or versions of yourself, over your entire life.
Thank you and be kind to people you encounter on your journey discovering yourself.