Hidden in Plan Sight – Alexis Mclaughlin

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a story-slam at the Wharton School of Business. The theme for the slam was “Hidden in Plain Sight,” and the event was a joint venture between the Storytellers club and Out4biz (LGBTorganization). Many of the speakers identified as LGBT, and the majority of their stories revolved around personal sexual/gender identity issues. In light of all our classroom discussion on how to craft a powerful story, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of focusing on my personal experiences with coming out, I decided to share my personal “hero’s journey”.

Ordinary World – My life as a student-athlete at a small college in Long Island NY, where I worked as a janitor.

Call to Adventure – I was unhappy and restless; I recently came out to my family, but my life’s circumstances were far from ideal and I was feeling desperate for change.

Refusal/Meeting with Mentor – When I contemplated dropping out of school to enlist in the army, my boss (head of the janitorial staff) encouraged me to attend West Point instead. I never heard of the school before, but he persuaded me to research it.

Crossing the Threshold– I researched West Point and immediately felt I was destined to attend. I decided to apply and was accepted.

Test, Allies. Enemies – At West Point, I faced tough course work, hazing from upperclassmen, lack of diversity and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Approach to Inmost Cave – I was very insecure about my background as compared to my peers. I was a former janitor attending school with talented, driven students. I questioned my intelligence and whether or not I deserved to be there.

Ordeal –Civil Engineering was my major, and I was in a difficult Engineering Mathematics class. We were tasked with a group project for bonus points.

Reward – After working hard on my calculations and finding the courage to share my work with the group, we were able to complete the project. I was rewarded with a sense of pride and belonging.

The Road Back –I realized I would never be valedictorian or get straight A’s, but that did not make me any less intelligent or impressive than my classmates. It also made that moment in class incredibly special.

Resurrection – As a result of my experiences at West Point, I emerged a stronger, more confident individual. I am able to be transparent about my “weaknesses,” which ironically is one of my greatest strengths.

Return with Elixir – I encouraged everyone listening to share their personal stories of struggle with each other, not just the highlights or achievements. I was able to deliver a message of authenticity and vulnerability and I truly believe it resonated.