About a week before the week before I graduated college (yep I meant to write that) … I “passed the torch” in two organizations that changed my life, and made my college career a revolutionary one. She’s the First, and the Black Student Association. But I’m not going to spend this post being mushy about how wonderful those organizations are, or how much I love the people in them… because that is a whole other post in it of itself.
What I would rather do is write a letter those that I passed the torch to, and any others that might find these words helpful. Those with the torch.
Dear torch holders,
You’re not supposed to have all the answers. Take this from someone who searched for as many as she could and ended up burnt out on many occasions. You don’t have to be 100% sure of what you’re going to do. Take this from someone who doubted herself every single time someone gave her another responsibility, or a new title. Be humble, but take pride in what you’re passionate about. There is what gets you through a lot of times… your passion.
I wish I could put into words how amazing you all are, even those that I do not know who are reading this, you’re wonderful. Being a leader is a blessing and a curse, and I’m sure each of you have already overcome things to get to where you are today.
If you don’t feel 100% confident in your ability to lead then you’re doing something right.
If you feel the weight of it all, already bearing down on your back and nothing has really started yet? You’re doing something right.
If you are more preoccupied with the health and progress of whatever group or institution you’re leading than what your resume or linkedin looks like? Congratulations, you’re doing something right.
In my short time as a leader, I’ve experienced highs and lows, but no matter the point in the journey, I learned so much each and every step of the way. So as I write this I try to imagine what I would have wanted to read before taking on some of my previous leadership positions, and a few things in particular come to mind.
First – Building and cultivating that passion is a process, and you have to remember to take care of yourself in order to take care of your passion. If I could go back and change anything, the only thing I would change out of all the failures and successes, would be the level of self care I actually showed myself. It’s something all leaders struggle with, and as I write to you one week out from graduation, the consequences of not showing myself enough self care are still here with me.
Second- Don’t ever think that being passionate about something is a crime. Go for what you are passionate about, not what you think you should be passionate about. Some of my happiest moments came from doing something I wholeheartedly believed in. Showing solidarity is important. Diving into what you are passionate about truly is even more important… don’t ever support something just because everyone else is doing it. Find your stake in it, and stand on that.
Third- Ask questions. Ask deep questions, ask shallow questions, ask questions period. There is a reason why great leaders always have people to thank, it’s a symbol of the fact that they didn’t do what they accomplished alone, and some of the people in their thank you speeches were the folks that they trusted and asked questions to. Seeking knowledge is important. My mind jumps to my political science and sociology professors that answered a countless number of my questions , and i’m not only a better leader but a better human being because of it.
Fourth- Delegate, Delegate, Delegate. Some will probably laugh that this isn’t at the top of my list, but it’s because I still struggle with it at times. I’ve had the opportunity to admire and observe some pretty wonderful leaders and people over the years, and this piece of advice is something common amongst all of them. Good leaders delegate. They help build other leaders. For those that are too prideful to share something they created with others, take a step back and breathe, realize that the life of your creation, of your passion, of any project, often times depends on others… the others you share it with, the others that help you build it, the others that keep it going once your gone. As a person who struggles with delegation to this day… I don’t know the perfect key to this. All I know is that change isn’t built in a day, nor is it built in 4 years, and so the work must continue, even after you have to move on.
Fifth- Be open to learn from everybody. Learning from others around you both young and old is always a good idea. Leaders are just two letters away from learners. No one knows all the answers. There are folks who have been doing what you want to do for years, sit back listen, and learn from them. There are folks who are young, energetic, and creative, let them speak up, give them a chance, and learn form them.
Sixth – Last but not least, enjoy the ride. Chances are you will not have this position forever. Chances are you won’t get to everything you need to do. Whatever you DO get a chance to do, and for the time you DO have… enjoy it. Look at the people around you, how long have they been there? Are they new? old? Do you laugh with these people? Can you? Do you cry and lean on these people? Can you? If so… do it. Do you see a newbie ready to jump in? Embrace that, help them get connected. Do you have the chance to get to know a fellow vet (in your respective fields or year) then do that. Some of my most memorable times have happened in the last 6 months… with folks that I finally had the fate and chance to spend more time with this year.
And so to those with the torch. Don’t ever think you’re alone. You have folks who have been at it for a while supporting you, folks who just left and are starting over who support you, and you have folks who look up to you and support you.
I sincerely hope that you find your stake in whatever you’re doing and stand on it, you have the torch now, so keep on keepin’ on.