The Machinery of Night
Giving Goals

Since coming to AU, my personal and professional development has centered around giving. I’ve tried to learn through giving my time and ideas to various groups on campus and throughout the city as well as surrounding myself with professional givers. I like the idea that I can be successful through helping others and I focus on learning through watching and improving through doing.

The groups that I have given the most to while at AU are my scholarship program, FDDS; a local voting rights nonprofit, DC Vote; and my student group, DC Students Speak. In the past, I’ve focussed my efforts on projects that fit my own beliefs on social justice and helped me prepare for a career in law and pubic policy. Moving forward through graduation, I plan to develop and improve upon everything I’ve done.

My volunteerism began inauspiciously. I came to AU enrolled in the FDDS program and caring about public service. I knew I was interested in learning about the law but I didn’t know which experiences would best help me or help the causes I care about. I began working with my fellow scholars on projects like book drives. Because we had a wide range of goals and interests, we united under the common umbrella of wanting to help students be successful in preparing for college. Because of factors in our own lives, we saw had a shared passion for mentoring students. Around the same time, I began volunteering with DC Vote doing administrative work. A I learned more and began interacting with people who could teach me about DC’s disenfranchisement, my passion for civil rights developed to focus on voting rights. Within a year, I had started on campus group, learned to organize events, and began advising other student groups on how to grow and reach out to a broad base.

Now that I’ve begun the second half of my time at AU, I want to ensure the projects I’ve helped to build continue after I leave. This largely means that I need to plan exit strategies by finding people willing to take on a leadership role and ensuring that projects have a solid infrastructure. This learning to let go is difficult and requires a different skill set from the one I’ve developed.

The biggest thing I can give in my remaining time at AU is experience. I’ve had some successes here but I want to share my failures and mistakes with those around me. If I can train five or six people how to set goals, organize a project, and lead a group to execute those set goals, the world will have many more people in a position to give and advocate for issues that I feel are important. I’m not saying I know it all, but I can share the intangible details that can keep a project running more smoothly.

Sometimes the concepts are broad. I’ve shared strategies of how to seek out the most knowledgable people on a topic and form collaborative partnerships with other groups. The skills can be administrative. I’ve helped organizations set up list-servs and databases using one’s I’ve created as a blueprint. Little tricks can also be less transferable. For example, aside from the standard training on how to help people fill out voter registration forms, I’ve learned some “sales” strategies to help make strangers more willing to engage you on the street. It seems silly, but wearing sunglasses allows you to cut down on awkward eye contact which allows someone registering voters to more easily approach strangers without being ignored. I’m not saying it’ll change the world, but being able to navigate the little details helps everything operate more smoothly.

Long term, I want to enter a career in legal advocacy. I want to be able to advise others and empower them to be successful. In other words, I’ve struggled and failed at trying to learn how to be a successful advocate. I have to give all the credit for any success I’ve ever had to great mentorship and working with great teams. So I want to be a mentor and team builder so I can give others the knowledge I wish I had at certain points in my life.

The only impediment to my success in this process is myself. It’s my responsibility to seek out ways to give back. It’s my job to establish credibility. It’s my job to be successful and build on the momentum of being successful. AU shouldn’t provide me any direct resources in doing any of this, it’s my job and I’ll never learn if someone does it for me. The only thing I see AU doing is forcing me to engage or waste time on projects that do not build on the portfolio of experience I hope to cultivate. Callous as it may sound, the best thing I can do is maintain my autonomy and keep moving forward.

As for FDDS, the mentorship provide to me by the director of the program and his staff is invaluable. I like working with people with whom I have mutual trust and respect. Although sometimes exhausting or not abundantly clear, I’ve learned to trust and follow their advice blindly. My relationship to FDDS is one of the most cherished and I hope that I can have relationships with other groups and individuals on this high level. But until then, I have to keep working.


-Matt Lien

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