Applying Lessons Learned from my First Year at Yale

And just like that, the first year of graduate school, an experience I was looking forward to for years, is over. Like many of us, I had no idea what to expect with schooling during the pandemic, but I’ve come out on the other side wiser, grateful and proud of what I have been able to juggle this year. Despite the many forces at play, I can say I showed up and showed out the best that I could while managing a full course load, leadership and management of the growing Sadie Collective, and actively engaging in the world of economic policy. The dual degree experience of a policy and business degree has been complementary to my love for systemic change and practical application. This school year supported the current way I take up space as an economist and as an entrepreneur.

A photo CrossCampus at Yale celebrating the end of the semester.
Celebrating the end of the semester on Cross Campus, outside the many library stacks I embraced this year.

As I wore several hats while at Yale this year, (I chuckled when I chose this photo after writing this piece though it wasn’t intentional) — here’s what I learned. I hope that in sharing I will either help someone feel seen today or offer a new perspective.

I learned to:

1- Prioritize what will give the most return each day and rest easy knowing what I planned for will give back highest rewards. We all wear many hats whether being a daughter, sister, student, employee or colleague, to name a few, and the balancing act means deciding every day what is most worth your time in the limited hours you have that day. Sometimes the priority is a fundraising presentation for a Sadie partner, or a group project, and other times it is showing up for loved ones in their love language. I decide what gives me the highest rewards by deciding what my value system is. While my priorities every day are negotiable, they are tied to larger goals identified in the year for every facet of my life. What I don’t modify the prioritization of every day is what I require to be my best self, my morning routine which I preserve before I pour out for everyone else, so I CAN pour out for everyone else.

2- Identifying my superpower. Appreciating for yourself how you are uniquely made, and the experiences you have can shift the trajectory of an institution. I spoke up in rooms where I know if I didn’t the status quo of the conversation and policies (explicitly and implicitly) being made would be viewed as acceptable, which can be and is often times dangerous. This knowing is especially important in elite spaces where perspectives of the historically marginalized aren’t typically represented. Owning my voice has meant assisting the embedding of Diversity Equity and Inclusion in my policy program by challenging instiutional norms to create the best learning environment for future policymakers.

3- Know what excellence means to me and strive for that, not perfection. Questions I asked myself regularly are — what’s your measure of what an excellent day and excellent life looks like? How do you create that for yourself everyday and remind yourself of that ever adapting vision? Perfection is everyone else’s measure of success and understanding that my experience as a gradaute student is unique required a different set of standards, according to me. What used to be my metrics of success when previously in school, like high grades, doesn’t acknowledge how large, lush and dense my life is. It doesn’t serve me and the work I am meant to do in or outside of the classroom.

4- Reflect, iterate and do it again. This past year I was in many types of meetings: one on ones, interviews, team meetings at the Sadie Collective, team member check ins, meeting with potential partners. Ultimately, all these meetings were about creating and maintaining strong relationships through the foundation of communication. When I realized much of graduate school would be about relationships, I made space to reflect on every single meeting. My reflections include what went well, what could have went better in how I show up for my relationships, and how I create opportunities for future bonding. This was not limited to my meetings, but also more generally in the experiences I share with others. Anyone who knows me, knows I swear by journaling, prayer and the benefits of therapy. Each are mediums for reflections on my relationship with myself and everyone around me. Reflecting regularly and iterating has been a way to give room for second chances bringing me to point 5, the important of giving oneself grace.

5- Give yourself grace. This year was wild. Between the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd, the elections, the insurrection, and for me as a Malian-American, Mali’s constant coups, and the list goes on. Allowing space to feel, heal and be in community is necessary. This can either look like rescheduling anything that feels like work and instead spending time on FaceTime catching up with family and friends or taking a spur of the moment trip to be with loved ones or new friends. Being in community in these moments can strengthen bonds and being alone can strengthen being centered.

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For me, taking these lessons to the next level means that I’ll be taking a leave of absence this upcoming year to focus solely on the Sadie Collective, a non-profit organization I co-founded focused on the advancement of Black women in economics and related fields. In the spirit of prioritizing and embracing my unique journey as a graduate student I am choosing the Sadie Collective. Perfection may have told me once before to finish graduate school in three years, but the fruits of my labor and that of my team, put me in a position to lead the organization I co-created — full time. Once recognizing this choice was available to me and sharing it with my respective support networks at both schools, the reception was overwhelmingly in favor of my decision, making the process seamless.

As the organization approaches a critical growth phase, I get to lead it with our first few employees. I am excited to continue to share my journey with you all and give insights on what I’ve learned over the years working with entrepreneurs and becoming one.

School will always be there, but this moment for advancing Black women’s future of work, and economic well being might not always. To serve in this way, is honoring a childhood vision of mine to see Black women better off, and paying it forward to the many Black women who make my successes possible.

Keep watching this space and look out for regular updates on my journey as an economist, focused on the future of work, and entrepreneur!

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Fanta Traore

Fanta Traore

economist and social entrepreneur. lover of travel, justice and a good book of poetry. Howard alumna, Yale MBA/MPP dual degree student & former Fed staffer.