Archive | July, 2011

no one cares you can lead

26 Jul

College was all about indulgences. You liked flip flops in high school? Guess what, you were going to wear them everyday, even in 40 degree weather, in college. You played a bit of soccer in your youth? Well now you were going to lift every rock and rec room in college to find an opportunity kick the ball around–indoor, outdoor, intramural, co-ed, whatever. College let you indulge, and indulge I did.


I was that guy with a table in the quad. I chased you around campus with a clipboard on Cambodian human rights. I wrote very self-important columns in the school newspaper on the plight of undocumented workers (please don’t Google it). I challenged the College Republicans to debates every other week. And, of course, I decided to start the first political club on-campus. Politics was my flip-flops.


It was frustratingly difficult to get the school to care about my club. The school was no hotbed of political debate, so most students probably saw me as a younger version of the batshit-crazy Sociology professor who believed Republicans were going to ban NPR (it was a much crazier-sounding notion back then). But I never half-did anything, and I am pretty proud of that. The volume and sound quality of my pursuit was, in my mind, never in question. I believed that if I stumped on my soapbox with gusto and persuasion I could lead like-minded folk to do great things. That’s what MLK and JFK and all those Important-Initials People had taught me. You lead by convincing people that you are the best person to help get them where they want. You become their cheerleader/enabler/sergeant.




Thinking this way I spent hours talking to students, writing and sending emails, setting up events, all to bring them into what I had created for all of us. I knew there was a demand for it; I had heard of it in casual conversations: people wanted to be more politically involved, do community service, learn about ballot measures, and bring social activists to speak at the school. They wanted all of that. So why was no one responding to my emails?


One day, after having had my third bowl of cereal for the day, and mulling over my failed efforts to lead a-people, I decided to give up. Forget it. I’m done. I didn’t talk to anyone about the club that entire week. It was over. I retired my soapbox. I would do my own thing, carve and follow my own path. I had organized a trip to help beautify the park of a Naval base-turned housing project community that Saturday, and I planned to honor that commitment as a person, not a representative or leader of anything.


I went to the dining hall to get my breakfast on before I did the work that day. A couple of friends joined me and we started talking about our weekend plans. I told them about my community service stint, and offered them a non-committal invitation to join. “Totally.” What? “Sure, we’ll go.” I was shocked, but obviously elated. I didn’t stump at all, but here they were, signing up to be a part of something I had tried so hard to create. That’s not how this it’s supposed to work!


After that revelation I changed my modus operandi. Instead of bombarding classmates with persuasive tactics, I just did. I was the first one to volunteer; I booked the speaker first, recruited the audience second; I walked over the coals in front of everyone and then assured them it would be OK. From the beginning I was doing it all wrong. I was trying to sell everyone a vision, when I could’ve been much more convincing by actually trying to bring that vision to life. It seems like today’s leaders skip this step. The notion that a title or a post entitles a leader to lead is silly. Does that sort of rationale work for painters or swimmers or any other skilled folk?


Instead of talking about leadership, a leader must be the vanguard, the one who is the example she expects everyone else to follow. With all this talk of management, and guidelines, and best practices, we’ve lost what actually matters: that leaders lead. They earn the respect of others by being bold and risk-takers. If you want people to take you seriously, be the first one to jump. If they wont follow you, they will at least respect you. And that’s where it starts.



beaten, bloody, & alive

12 Jul

It really makes no sense. No matter which way I look at it, I know I shouldn’t feel tired: I didn’t do shit today. My day began per usual, I got out at 5 (maybe a minute or two after, of course), and my workload could’ve been taken care of by a can of tuna. To be quite frank, I probably spent more time on Facebook, NY Times, and Digg than responding to my work email. That’s because there was NO real work to be done. I was  just warming the seat cushion.


Yet I feel exhausted. My eyes are itchy, my head throbs, and I am a carbo-load away from snoozing on top of my keyboard. The commute home is worse, because I’m not only just “tired,” but anxious. I am playing back my day and feel depressed at how little I did. !?!?!


This has happened to me a little or a lot, depending on what job I had at the time. It was an almost daily occurrence at one particular job, where reading journals online was not enough to fill my days–I ended up writing a short story over the course of one particularly void month. It wasn’t that my genius–ha!–was not being used; it was that I, as a person, was not being used. I was a filler, and I knew it!


Awhile back I took on an extra responsibility. I became a core member of a local political campaign. This was unpaid and in addition to my paid full time job. Some days I would work at my 8-5, then go to a baptist church to staff a campaign booth for 2 hours, then listen to the candidate’s debate performance, and then spend another 2 hours giving him feedback and developing strategy over some beers and fries. I would be working an additional 20 hours a week just on this, for nothing more than a belief in the person I was supporting. I would go home, around midnight, bleary-eyed and truly tired. Before passing out I’d often think, “This feels great.”


The work we all do, day in and day out, is a part of our genetic makeup. It turns us into lethargic nowhere men, or catapult us to an invigorated life. The quality of work that we do is so important to our well-being that that the negative impact of working 20 hours at a soul-killing job would be greater than working 60 hours at an engaging one. We take this for granted, and think that this is as good as it gets. But we’ve all had  a time when we get home, tired and drained, and before succumbing to Morpheus we get a little giddy. Then there’s time where we don’t: we feel restless, frustrated, but drained in the worst way…and we remember tomorrow will be just the same. There’s no way that does not break your body and spirit.

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