Slow down you crazy child.
Four years ago, I cranked up my red minivan, rolled the windows down and blasted Vienna on the way to my high school graduation on a warm June night through the foothills of western North Carolina: my home, and the only one I’d ever known. Full of anticipation and excitement for what was to come muddled with bittersweet goodbyes – I felt for the first time in my life like I couldn’t see past the next day in front of me.
Billy Joel’s words were swirling in my head – you can get what you want or you can just get old. But I had no idea what I wanted. And while I have trouble slowing down, this opportunity to reflect on how I’ve landed my dream job with the angels is allowing me to do just that.
Sprinting towards magic number 7.
After my last summer working minimum wage and spending far too much time at Sonic, I headed to UNC-Chapel Hill on the edge of my seat. I sprinted around campus, and most days it felt like my heart was on fire. Some people are just wired for college, and I loved the place and the people.
I was served a slice of humble pie in ECON 101 with a C+, changed my major six times (yeah, you read that right) and called my mom with a lump in my throat often my freshman year. Because I wanted to know so badly what I was going to be when I grew up. Impatience and ambition are a funny combo, but I learned the lesson that neither are as rewarding as faith. Little did I know that I was headed towards work that the Lord prepared in advance. Hindsight’s 20/20.
The summer after my freshman year, I landed an internship at a model educational nonprofit. As a beneficiary of the McNair Educational Foundation in high school and as a college student, I had the privilege of glimpsing behind the curtain at the work they do for sweet Rutherford County. Towards the end of my summer with the foundation, I got the last minute invite to San Francisco for the GEAR UP conference. So the girl who’d never been west of Tennessee booked it home to pack with a little too much energy and got a speeding ticket (there’s the impatience again). Thankfully the bad luck didn’t follow.
San Francisco took my breath away. After several unbelievably lucky moments in California, my good fortune culminated in sitting down beside my soon-to-be professor from UNC at a networking breakfast surrounded by the McNair staff, many of whom had known me since elementary school. After nearly choking on my pancakes, Steven King asked me to join his 500-level Emerging Technologies in storytelling class in the fall (excuse me, what?). Monica, the ED for McNair, nearly had to pick my jaw up off the floor and gave me advice that still gives me chills today:
Now you get to just sit back and watch God work.
I emailed Steven (strictly first name kinda guy) immediately and applied to the J school from my hotel room across the country that night (major #7 – let’s go).
It was through the Hussman School of Journalism and Media and internships with nonprofits during the summers that my passion for nonprofit storytelling came to life and I signed up for one of my most formative classes at Carolina, Cause Communications. Thanks to my professor Marshele Carter (and for Angel Oak Creative who provided seed funding to launch the class a few years earlier), I met Hannah Jessen Conway as she gave a guest lecture. To be completely honest, I can’t remember what she taught us because I was so taken aback that an agency existed close to me that exclusively served nonprofits. So I visited her zoom office hours (classic), and we planned a time to meet for coffee.
The rest is pretty much history.
I started as an intern for Angel Oak Creative in May of 2021 and spent the mornings in Raleigh and the afternoons nannying precious twins in Durham and then splitting my time in the evenings with my sweet friends in Chapel Hill and my high school friends from Young Life in Hillsborough. Approaching my senior year of college, I was again back in the same place I was in June 2018: what’s next? Except this time, I could see in front of me, at least a little.
I knew I wanted to work with the nonprofit sector. There’s little more rewarding than seeing people roll up their sleeves to alleviate suffering or maximize potential, and the beauty of an agency is that you don’t have to pick just one mission. And obviously I liked the fast pace. The faith and culture at Angel Oak inspired me every day, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the office every time I left. Truly most days didn’t feel like work, and they didn’t treat me like an intern. So a year later I signed a contract.
A couple weeks ago I moved to Raleigh. I’m still a small town girl at heart (seriously – it’s hard to believe there are bigger cities than Raleigh). And while I’m not quite a crazy child anymore, I’m still trying to learn how to slow down. But as I sit on my front porch at night thinking about the life I get to live serving nonprofits in my home state of North Carolina, I listen to the song my dad plays every time I go back to Rutherfordton, and remember I can make a home wherever the Lord has me.
And now I know, without a doubt, that God gives good gifts to His kids. So I’m going to sit back and watch God work, and keep looking for His candles in the window. And pressing on in the work He has prepared for me to do.
– Holly Sherburne, Client Success Coordinator