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If You Want to Go Far, Go with Others

“What in the world have I gotten myself into?” This was my thought as I stepped out of the elevator on the first morning of GPA's 2015 Annual Conference in St. Louis. There I was, a newbie with less than one year of experience under her belt, surrounded by veterans in the field from across the country. 

by Kristyn Conner
2015 Jerry Dillehay (Founding Chapter) Conference Scholar
Here is our third and final blog from a GPF Scholar in celebration of International Grant Professionals Day and Week. We share these to help us all remember what it was like to be new in this field. And in this blog in particular, we share just how amazing GPA membership is – generous, insightful, kind, and welcoming. Thank you for making our profession great!
“What in the world have I gotten myself into?”
This was my thought as I stepped out of the elevator on the first morning of GPA's 2015 Annual Conference in St. Louis. There I was, a newbie with less than one year of experience under her belt, surrounded by veterans in the field from across the country. As I congregated at tables with other grant professionals throughout the day, I initially felt intimidated and dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of their expertise.
“I've been writing grants for twenty-two—no, wait, twenty-three years now…” shared one conference attendee.
“I wrote federal grants for over fifteen years before I finally launched my own consulting business,” another proudly remarked.
Feeling out of my comfort zone, my initial reaction was a desire to keep to myself: texting on my phone between workshops, silently browsing the exhibitors' tables, doing anything I could to avoid having to engage in an awkward conversation about my lack of grant writing knowledge. I thought that if I concentrated solely on attending my pre-selected workshops without any outside distractions, I would return to work the following Monday having gotten the most that I could possibly get out of the entire conference experience.
And then I met Alan.
Between workshops on Day 2 of the conference, I grabbed a vacant table for myself and proceeded to reply to work emails while waiting for the next session to begin. After several solitary moments, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an older gentleman sit down in the empty seat next to me.
“How's your morning going?” he asked cheerfully.
“Oh, well, you know—it's going okay,” I replied briefly. “I'm learning a lot.”
“So am I,” Alan agreed. “I'm really glad to see some different topics offered this year. Is this your first time attending this conference?”
As I continued to engage in conversation with Alan, I couldn't help but wonder, “Out of all the interesting and outgoing people here, why did he decide to talk to ME? As soon as he finds out I'm a new grant writer and have nothing substantial to offer in this conversation, he'll find a way to politely excuse himself.” But then almost instantly, I realized something. Despite all of my feelings of weakness and inadequacy, Alan choosing to talk to me suddenly made me feel lighter, happier, and recognized. Within five minutes, we unexpectedly connected over our shared interest in getting more involved with our local GPA chapters and exchanged business cards to continue our discussion at a later date.
For the remainder of the conference, I took advantage of this newfound confidence and networked with as many fellow grant professionals as I possibly could: newbies like myself, individuals with experience writing federal grants, consultants, and many more. Each time we swapped contact information, I felt excited at the prospect of returning to Tucson and having a new friend whom I could call on for advice and support. Not only did I discover that there were plenty of other grant writers out there who felt the same self-doubt as I did, but I also learned that experienced grant writers were not “untouchable grant gods”: they, too, were more than willing to share their sage pieces of advice with us lesser-experienced colleagues.
It's difficult not to recognize the irony here. What initially started out as my biggest insecurity surprisingly turned into my greatest takeaway from the entire conference: as the old proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go with others.”


By: Janet L Boyd
On: 03/08/2016 10:38:43
Kristyn, it sounds like you overcame the "grant writer personality." I think we are typically an introverted bunch. Congratulations! :-)
By: Shelby Kindell
On: 03/08/2016 15:42:56
This was such a concise yet helpful article! As an introvert, and a young professional in the development field, I often find myself experiencing "little fish in a big pond" syndrome. While that gives me the opportunity to increase my impact, I'm often double- and triple-checking myself when I share my knowledge because I don't feel like I (of all people) have anything to contribute. Thanks for this!

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