A Fellow's Reflection: 2019 Fellowship Dinner with Eugene Sepulveda, Steven Tomlinson, & Josh Jones Dilworth

The first dinner for the Notley fellowship was hosted by Steven Tomlinson and Eugene Sepulveda at A. B. Porter. We sat down to dinner in their spacious backyard with candlesticks that were continuously extinguished by the wind. We sat down to tables with name cards using the signature Notley font. Each of the three table’s discussions were led by Steven, Eugene, Josh, Lisa, or Dan.  We (mostly) enforced the Labybird rule,only holding one conversation at a time. Since this was our first official dinner as a cohort, we took time to get to know each other as well as our gracious hosts.

Take Away 1: Types of listening

At my table, the first thing that struck me was the quality of conversation. We focused on listening to each other. We talked about three types of listening.

  1. Listening to respond

  2. Listening to ask questions

  3. Listening to understand

In the course of a normal day we tend to hover between types 1 and 2 (if we’re paying attention at all), and pretty rarely get to level 3. I felt an uncommon but certainly appreciated closeness to my tablemates because we were listening to each other to understand rather than to suggest some kind of solution. This genuine curiosity is the part of the fellowship I’m most excited about developing.

I learned a lot about the personal and professional challenges and aspirations of my table mates. For many of us “personal” and “professional” are closely related if not the same. We often overlook these connections when talking to people who aren’t in our most inner circle.

Take Away 2: Vulnerability

As the dinner proceeded we also explored the concept of vulnerability and why it makes projects successful. One person defined vulnerability as a loss of control. It’s a moment where you can no longer pretend that you can control the outcome. We may not have had that power to begin with. Another take is that you’re vulnerable when you’re giving the other person the tools to hurt you. It’s about sharing something that in the wrong hands, without trust, could take you down instead of build you up.

We talked about how rare and important these moments of openness are. When used correctly they unite people and push us to do our best. This reminds me of a discussion I participated in recently with my engineering team about what makes a good, efficient team. We settled on something very close to Google’s psychological safety. A team runs well when members of the team feel comfortable voicing concerns, expressing doubt, and suggesting improvements. That sounds a lot like vulnerability to me :)

Take Away 3: Principles for the fellowship

To close out the evening Steven shared with us three principles to keep in mind throughout the fellowship.

  1. Don’t try to impress each other.

  2. Share the good you want to create in the world. That’s the best way to make friends.

  3. Feel free to throw around early stage ideas. This group is a safe space to brainstorm and encourage each other.

While Steven admits that this advice was not preplanned, I’d say it’s pretty on the money. As we move through the next two years together (and beyond) I hope we focus on building trusting relationships and encouraging each other’s aspirations.

As I drove home from dinner, I thought about the last time that I had connected with strangers like this. For me, these kinds of conversations comes up most often when I travel. I love to meet people when I’m in a new place. It’s a great opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on my own life. What I don’t do as good of a job of is paying the same attention to the world and people around me when I’m home. This dinner reminded me that I can have those same experiences in the city where I live by choosing to interact with the world on a deeper level.

Sasha Parsons

2019 Notley Fellow

Sasha grew up in Sugar Land, Texas where she danced classical ballet for 12 years. Her passion for global policy education led her to run high school Model United Nations conferences for the past 10 years.

She moved to Austin in 2013 to study Plan II and Marketing at the University of Texas with concentrations in Spanish and Portuguese. Today, Sasha works at Indeed in the inaugural class of the Associate Product Manager Rotational Program. Her favorite part of her job is combining insights from data and conversations with job seekers to improve the way people get jobs.