My first listen felt like a scene straight out of “Rocky.” After three hours of listening to my “sh*tty first draft” with my mentor and then my editor, I could have sworn I heard Tony from “Rocky 3” shout from the corner, “Throw in the towel. Throw in the damn towel.”

It was my first time experiencing a first listen. As an independent podcaster, the only person who listens first, second and third is me. But like the movie, sitting beside experienced professionals is an exercise to make me better for my true opponent, myself.  Wednesday, by far, was the toughest day. I was required to cut my tape and then cut it again. By eight o’clock that night, I had fully embraced the phrase, “kill your darlings” and by the next morning, what began as 85 minutes of tape was a lean 2:58.

This entire process is designed to learn, grow and ask questions in a safe space. Expect your critical thinking skills to be sharpened and to develop a discerning ear. It was intense, but also fun. Really fun. The opportunity to engage and to observe a room full of talented people is priceless. It’s a special kind of magic I wish I could bottle up for everyone to experience.

I am incredibly grateful to Next Generation Radio and everyone committed to the program for seeing my potential and talent. Thank you to the mentors (Ruby de Luna, you’re the best!), the support team, the five talented Fellows I worked beside and KUOW for hosting us throughout the week.

I’m returning to New York City, transformed and enthusiastic, and as part of the journalism family.