Last fall, I gained some powerful insight while leading my usual Friday night Shabbat service at Hillel. The room was filled with over 40 students and as I led them in prayer, I realized the passion and enthusiasm I once had was slowly diminishing. The leadership roles I had taken on in several organizations, paired with all of my schoolwork, had become too much; however, I believed by outwardly admitting this, it would be a sign of weakness and I would let way too many people down. Yet if my mind, body, and spirit were deteriorating, could I be a great, effective leader? I felt like I was going through the motions and simply putting on a performance, something I had plenty of experience with throughout my childhood. I lost touch with the vital components of strong leadership and was in dire need of some restoration.
By taking time to repair my own mental, physical, and emotional health, I believe I exercised many more critical traits of a leader than when I held the titles of Vice President of the Hillel organization and Program Coordinator of Tikkun Olam. A leader must be courageous. They must have the perseverance to accomplish a goal regardless of the obstacles off in the distance that seem insurmountable. Never in my life had I been more courageous than when I signed the papers to take a medical leave and journey to a far away facility to restore my health. I was well aware that it was going to be a difficult experience, but I recognized that it was something I had to do in order to ensure a fulfilling future. No one had approached me about seeking treatment or forced me to step down from my positions. Rather, I looked inward, recognized that change was necessary, and conducted my own research to discover the best course of action to take. A leader takes initiative.
A leader must possess integrity. My inner values and outward actions were no longer integrated. What I was feeling did not coincide with how I behaved and as a result, I was not being honest with myself, nor those around me. By taking time to rediscover who I was at my core, when the titles and grades had been stripped away from my identity, I was able to rid myself of the deception that had been present for quite sometime and restore pride in all that I encompassed. This helped me to gain another important characteristic of a leader, assertiveness. I found my voice again and my beliefs and values were no longer immersed in a fog. Without feeling uncertain, defensive, or aggressive, I could stand up and state my thoughts while conveying maturity and intellect.
A leader finds strength in human connection, recognizing that asking for help is most definitely not a sign of weakness. For so long I had wanted to resolve my health issues and accomplish all of my goals alone. I viewed reaching out for assistance as a sign that I had failed at the given task. Yet by nature, humans are wired to need one another and I began to realize that requesting support was a positive and powerful course of action. As the saying by John Donne goes, "No man is an island entire of itself." A person, who believes that they can lead alone, will fail to make critical connections and may experience hostility from others who feel detached and dismayed. The moment I opened up to family and close mentors about the severity of my issues, the gate of doom had been lifted and a whole new landscape of resources appeared before me.
While I have acquired knowledge and experience to better my leadership skills through campus organizations and courses such as this one, I attribute the most valuable learning experience to be one completely unrelated to an academic institution. After stepping back from all I was involved in and examining my own reality, I developed a true understanding of what makes an effective leader by taking lead of my own life. When I made my well being a priority, I was able to uncover courage, initiative, integrity, assertiveness, maturity, intellect, and human connection that had been lost in a sea of distracting commitments and overwhelming pressures. For now that I am grounded and have transformed my vision of a healthier life into a reality, I can lead by example and show the way in conquering all of the challenges that I may encounter along my personal and professional journey.