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By Walker Harrison (LFNC Fellow – Spindale)

February 12, 2020

To a future LFNC applicant,

Let me take you back to New Year’s Eve 2018.  It’s 10:30 pm and my LFNC application is due at midnight.  My apartment is pulsing with music and laughter as I, in the midst of our New Year’s Eve party, try to submit my application for the Lead for North Carolina program.  It was an absurd scene.  Don’t procrastinate, friends!

From that application, I was selected as a finalist for the fellowship.  I interviewed in March 2019, but was not selected for the fellowship’s final cut.  After receiving my rejection email, I went on a blaming spree.  I found excuses everywhere I could.  Perhaps I offered uninspiring interview answers, maybe I was in a senior year slump, or maybe my all-consuming obsession with attending every UNC men’s home basketball game had finally caught up with me.

But upon reflection, I began to recognize the wonderful fact that I was a finalist for a competitive fellowship that will be transformative for the whole state for decades.  The intense competition for fellowship spots showed that LFNC’s vision had resonated with so many amazing finalists who, like me, were looking for the right avenue to realize their calling to public service.  The rejection pushed me to find another opportunity that would satisfy my commitment to others, my desire for meaningful work, and my professional interests in safe, sustainable, and effective city systems.

By May 2019, this new-found dedication to finding similar opportunities to LFNC had not yielded results I was content with. My graduation present to myself was flying with two friends to Iceland, where I intended to take a long-awaited break from the job search.

My friends and I drove across the whole country during the trip, stopping in small towns and villages like Hofn and Husavik (pronounced Hup and Hoo-sa-vikh, respectively).  In each place, I kept noticing a deep pride in community, place, and civic engagement.  I felt it in the safe, pedestrian-friendly public spaces found in town centers, a busy (indoor!) municipal pool, and a lengthy conversation I had with a sheep farmer.  This pride was lovely to see.  I realized that an LFNC fellowship would have allowed me similar experiences in a North Carolina small town.

But while we were in the Icelandic village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (please don’t ask for pronunciation), I received an email from LFNC.  Due to increased funding, they were offering me a second chance to interview for the fellowship. But I found myself hesitating.

This hesitation surprised me.  My belief in the program hadn’t changed; indeed, my Icelandic adventure had enforced my thoughts.  Yet I was trapped by the negative view of a second chance.  I was viewing a second chance as an opportunity only offered to me because I had failed once before.  I had to remember that not everyone gets second chances in life.  I took the chance, reapplied, and after a fantastic interview with the town manager in Spindale, I happily became an LFNC fellow.

Stay open to the opportunities that you believe in and take those second chances when you see them. You never know what might work out.


Walker Harrison