For the past six months, my life has been Steel Rails. It was what I talked to my friends and family about, and you best believe it was the main topic of conversation in our office, literally every day.
For those of you who may not know, Steel Rails is the Community Edition’s annual mysterious interactive art party. You buy a ticket without knowing the location, but what you do know is that there will be art, music, food, beer, and (probably) a train. The purpose of this party is to raise funds to keep our little paper afloat, as well as raise funds to put on next year’s Steel Rails.
This year was my first year as an organizer. While it was my third year attending, this was the first year that I was actually involved in the planning process. Alongside my publisher Lakyn Barton and advertising manager Care Lucas, two legacy Steel Railsers, we booked the food, the beer, the art, the music. We made the party happen.
I remember when we first started planning, Lakyn told me in a moment of infinite wisdom, that every year, after all the anxiety and stress of planning, after the busses unload the first load of guests to the mystery location, after the trainride, after the headliner, all organizers have their “aha” moment — the moment when they realized they did it.
For me, it was standing in the crowd while our headlining band, Crown Lands, played. I was standing among the other guests, watching the band, when this guy I didn’t know tapped me on the shoulder.
He asked me if I booked the band and I said yes.
“This party was so rad,” he continued. “You should be proud of yourself. My friends and I had so much fun.”
That’s when I had my “aha” moment. Except for me, my eyes filled with tears, and this poor stranger in front of me looked really confused as my reaction — or overreaction, to be fair — to his compliment was probably unexpected.
“I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I’m just really overwhelmed.”
He put his hand on my shoulder in efforts to comfort me, and I walked away out of embarrassment. Nice guy.
I realize every day how fortunate I am to have the job that I have. Sometimes when I tell new people what I do, I shrug it off when I explain. But I think I should stop doing that. Sure, modesty is a characteristic that is usually respected, but I think we should all start seeking work that validates us, that gratifies us, and that makes us feel really damn good about ourselves.
I realize that statement makes it sound easier than it might be for some people. So, if it’s not as easy for you, other options would be to volunteer for organizations that align with your values or spend your time with people who praise you and recognize when you’ve done something great.
The night of Steel Rails was probably the most gratifying moment of my life, so far. I can’t speak for Lakyn or Care, but for me, it was this incredible mixture of being surrounded by my friends, watching an event I helped plan come together, but also the praise that we received from our guests. That’s why I teared up when I had my “aha” moment.
If you’ve managed to get to the end of this note without thinking that I’m totally annoying and full of myself, I hope you take this away: don’t do work just for the sake of making money. Do work that makes you proud, that allows you to meet new people, that offers you exciting new experiences and do that work with people who validate you and praise you. Do work that forces you to jump on the train.
See you next year, Steel Rails.
Special thanks to Lakyn and Care, obviously. Not everyone gets to work with their friends and I’m so lucky that I do. Also a huge thanks to our amazing team of volunteers and the staff at WLUSP, my roommates, Anna and Meghan (oh, and Emily), our food and beverage vendors, all our incredible artists, Kevin and Cody of Crown Lands, our token sound guy Evan, and of course, all our sponsors who made this event happen.
But above all, thank you to you, yeah you, who bought the ticket. The train can’t leave unless it has passengers.