I’m not sure I could pinpoint one particular leader who stand out above the rest, but I have known many leaders in my life and they all have qualities I find important and crucial to success of a group. I think the very basics of being a good leader include showing up, acceptance of and support for those around you, ability to give guidance based on group input, availability when asked for assistance, and lastly leading by example and providing direct answers when your example is questioned. I’ve gathered this simple list by taking note of the few excellent professors I’ve had, people with whom I volunteer, and especially the leaders I’ve met here in CUNY Peer Leaders. The patience, love and understanding offered to myself and those in my various communities has helped me identify the kind of leader I hope and intend to be. I find an excellent characteristic of leadership, that I appreciate in particular, is the ability to share one’s own experience honestly. Being able to say, “I hear you. I’ve been there or somewhere similar. This is what happened to me and how I got through to the other side. Does that help? Is there anything I can do to help you get through this now?” is a skill, and I find when people meet me with this response, I am grateful to not feel alone in my feelings, experiences, or journey through life.
This is a great question. It depends on which community we are referring to. As an educator, I hope I encourage some amount of change in my students by enacting lesson plans which do more for their mental and moral growth than teaching them to pass standardized tests might. Although I do want them to succeed academically and part of what their age group needs is practice in standardized writing and effective reading in order to move on to the next grade, I believe not infusing more emotional and personal ways of growing and thinking into their classwork, will only harm them in the long run, even if they understand standardized test formats and formulas perfectly. I am not in the business of short term learning. I have done it. It’s not been beneficial to myself or those around me who have been willing to be honest about their educational experiences. I believe I learned much more about being a person, a human among humans, in school, than I did at home. I learned about who I wanted to be, who I wanted to surround myself with and what beliefs suited me. I also believe I was born with some of those things and k-12 only formed the next level of my foundation for those eternally growing thought processes as they existed in society, rather than just within myself. But that’s what I think is the most important part of school; Interpersonal interactions, learning who one is and who one might want to become, and engaging in verbal or written expression that will help one form communication tools for many dynamics throughout one’s life, those are the things I think effect change in students’ lives. Sometimes that can be done by approaching literature in a specific way, sometimes by having challenging and controversial discussions, and sometimes just by exercising certain tools that they can hold on to for the future. In a similar vain, but completely different setting…
As a sober adult, working with younger kids who want to get sober is where I believe I change my community the most. Yes, we also help them learn tools for life that will help them survive on a day to day basis for as long as they want to be alive, but thats the difference; It’s more of a life or death scenario. It’s contingent upon whether or not they want to live, not whether or not they want to succeed academically. It has allowed me to move through life with a healthy amount of detachment and acceptance, because all I can do is offer what was so freely given to me. It’s an individual’s choice to use or ignore the suggestions and tools for living that I and others can offer them. The willingness to live and change one’s own life has nothing to do with me, but being present for others who allow themselves to be enveloped by that willingness is the greatest gift in the world. I will always be a part of this program because when I am unconditionally available and loving for those struggling through life, I know at some point someone will benefit and that will create a domino effect where they become able to do the same for someone else. I know this because I’ve seen it in action. It’s the most fulfilling thing in my life. And I pray every day that someone somewhere is getting the help they need from someone who like myself and many others around me, have their hand out to those who wake up one day and decide life is in fact worth living and they are ready to put in the work to live it.
I feel like that sound like I think I do a lot, and to be clear, I think there is so much more that I could do. The parts of society I am a part of changing are big, but my actual effectiveness is minor. There is only one of me and I can only do what I can do. But what I can do has to be enough. I am not God. I cannot change the world. But some days I make one person’s day better. Some days I teach one student something that changes their academic experience. Some days I make one person smile which has the potential to change the trajectory of their day. And thats enough for me today.
Here’s the thing.
I’m not an expert in anything. Don’t get me wrong, there are things I’m decent at. I’m great at sleeping, being alone for long periods of time, drinking coffee and online shopping, amongst other useless things. But simultaneously, I work every single day to practice behaviors that negate my self-perceived uselessness. If I’m an expert at anything, it’s just showing up and doing my best for that day. It’s trying while having no expectations for what success looks like in that moment. It’s picking up the phone when a friend calls despite my phone anxiety. It’s showing up to a friend’s event even though I fear the inevitable conversations with strangers, all because I love that friend. It’s submitting an assignment on time. It’s being a listener when advice is not asked for, and honest when it is. It’s moving through the world with good intentions. And sometimes doing my best is doing nothing at all. I learned a long time ago that doing nothing is an action. When emotional, mental, physical and/or spiritual depletion takes hold, I have to show up for myself first because if my cup is empty, then I have nothing to offer those around me. To be an expert is a hard ask for me, but what I can be is accountable. Honest. Present. So I’m here and I’m showing up and I’m doing my best. Just for today.