My favorite part of college has been learning what makes me unique, by recognizing what skills come to me naturally that may be for someone else would take hours to even start to think about. Everyone has these, whatever they may be.
For me, it’s very communicative and very visual; I able to effectively express how I think and how I see the world to other people. Recognizing my gifts and learning to maximize the gifts of others has been the most significant and pivotal point of my education, career path, and of my future.
But self awareness isn’t the final prize; once we know it, we have to own it. For many, myself included, this is the hardest part. There will always be difficult situations we don’t know how to deal with; we don’t usually learn in school or at a work orientation how to console friends going through loss, excel in relationships, or engage the shy person in a group. These situations can only be conquered with what comes to us naturally, what doesn’t feel like work.
It was through deciding to minor in Leadership that I began to truly understand what elements of my life were not work, or as we say, were life-giving.
While the words “group project” tend to bring up emotions often associated with going to the dentist, I was fortunate enough to had a group that made this project continuously inspiring. This semester-long project started with extensive research on the topic, and comparing the US to countries chosen for their diverse approaches to this issues.
Rwanda acted as our bright spot—ranking #1 in the world—with a quota system that ensures women will hold government seats. We did take this with a grain of salt, seeing as Rwanda is a dictatorship and their leader has been charged with various human rights charges…(always good to scratch past the surface, apparently). Norway—ranked at #13—served as inspiration for their successful integration of a quota system that reserves 40% of corporate board membership for women. Finally, Japan—#115—as a comparison for a nation focusing on grassroots organization to begin focusing more on this issue. Important point of reference, the US comes in at #72.
Once we started working on strategies for addressing this issue in the US, I was going to be tackling how to integrate a quota system in an adaptive way, except tackling implies me having a lot more energy than I did. As dedicated as I was to finding a way to ensure women would receiving the same amount of responsibility and respect not just filling a small role to meet numbers, there was something missing to really engage me.
While sitting peacefully on a early plane ride to St. Louis and thinking far from peacefully about our approaching deadline, I started to think about how I would change this assignment if I could. I decided instead of writing a paper about our strategies, we would need to implement them on a smaller scale in our community [low key, still think that’s a great idea]. Travelling down that rabbit hole, I pictured us interviewing people on campus and talking about female leaders that inspire them, and working with local boards and governments to see how this panned out in our community.
While it was a bit late in the game to ask everyone to change directions, this gave me the idea for work that wouldn’t feel like work. Developing Save Her Seat, I planned a strategic communications plan that would communicate to the American public the changes that were being made with the new quota system.
Landing in St. Louis (most productive flight of my life) I ran the plans for Save Her Seat by a few group members, hoping for their blessing to ditch the paper portion. After many long texts, a few prayer emojis, and consulting the rest of the group, it was a go. I am so grateful that I was able to work with such brilliant women that were kind enough to take a chance on my left-field ideas and all the things I “have done in my mind” on deadline days.
The complement to trusting your ideas and recognizing your gifts, is surrounding yourself with people who will do the same.
This isn’t the last time I’ll be given a project or task that won’t exactly thrill me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have other options. So join me, recognize what you bring to the table, why you were asked/should be considered to do [____] project, and why that will be unique as a result. We won’t always like what we’re given, but we can change how we give our time, energy, and most importantly, gifts to others.