Every one supposedly has one of those memorable, life-changing teachers in their lives, and Marshall Butler, my high school choir teacher, was mine. He was hard on me and pushed me to do my best, and saw potential in me I hadn’t even seen yet. During a time I was shy and uncertain and told I could never have what it takes to be a leader, he put me in my first leadership position. As Soprano II Section Leader I unified a formidable force of high-note-hitting sirens and wreaked melodic terror on our enemies!!! Well, no. Not really. But I did take the first small steps towards realizing something that, while extremely cliché, is still important: Being a leader is first a matter of believing yourself to be one.
It was easier said than done, of course (isn’t that how it goes?). Sometimes to this day I’m still not sure I am a leader. But then I stop and recognize that there is a difference between being A leader and being THE leader I want to be. I am a leader, now. But I know I’m not the leader I want to be yet, and that I probably never will be. Not because I don’t believe in myself—I’m not the same shy, uncertain kid I was in high school—but because I know now that being a leader isn’t a state of being, it’s a continuous process. It’s like that uh, z… thing. Zeno’s paradox of motion (Thank you, Wikipedia)! You move half way there, and half way there, and half way there–You get closer, but never quite get to your destination—You get the idea.
So the second step (after Step 1: Believe in yourself), I suppose, is to know when you’re hitting milestones and recognize the opportunities that exist for growth at each of them. Be sure to include stumbling blocks, frustrating interpersonal conflicts and misunderstandings, little failures, and other unfortunate circumstances in your mental list of “opportunities for growth.” If you’re friends start thinking you’re overly optimistic because you see the silver lining in not getting to the next stage of a grant application or flubbing a public speaking engagement, you may be on the right track.
My wisdom of the day, that is.