To be transformed, in my opinion, is to have an experience that completely revolutionizes one’s way of thinking and doing; in other words, it’s an experience that alters your state of being, including every fiber of one’s existence.
I can share many stories about “leadership transformation,” but there is just one, which truly revolutionized my heart, soul and mind; It was a religion class that I took in college. First, you should know that I was an art major, with a youth Ministry Minor; throughout college, I flipped my major back in forth between Art and Youth Ministry. During January 1998, when most of my friends were taking a stained-glass/paper-making class, I decided to take a class called, “Contemporary Forms of Ministry.” I traveled to Washington D.C. with a bunch of religion majors and learned how to live my life with purpose. During this course, my professor taught us from life experiences, not just from books (FYI: That class also had one of the most difficult books I have ever read; I literally needed a dictionary, from start to finish!).
During the course (less than 30 days), we spent a week in Washington D.C. visiting not-for-profits; we were challenged to critically think about each organization’s mission, purpose and programs; in addition, we volunteered and made a difference through service. I still remember S.O.M.E. (so others might eat) and cleaning the food pantry; I remember dreaming about starting my own not-for-profit/safe-haven for youth-at-risk, utilizing the arts to help support foster youth.
The big “experience” of the week, included a homeless simulation project, which meant that my professor woke each of us ridiculously early and dropped us off in pairs around Washington D.C. I remember that is was cold and that it felt awkward following through this experience; who legitimately was going to take me serious; I was a “privileged” college student, not a homeless student. However, I wasn’t a stranger to feeling alone, I was an emancipated former foster youth. Throughout the day, I had several encounters with the homeless; at one point during the day, I had to use the restroom; I knocked on a very well-known church door; the door was completely made of glass; someone saw me, but they denied me access; several actual homeless acquaintances told me to just go to the nearby hotel; I remember being very hesitant; it was an absolutely beautiful hotel; I was scruffy, hungry and irritable. The doorman let me walk in and use the restroom; I remember crying in the bathroom stall; I wanted to know why I was rejected and accepted; regardless, I washed my hands and there was a life-defining moment when I decided that I wanted to live my life differently; I wanted to be driven to give, serve, and lead differently.
During that religion course, my professor instructed us to utilize several tools, which I still practice today. These tools definitely have shaped and continue to reinforce my leadership philosophy. The following five practices guide my work in Higher Education today;
1) Ask questions 2) Put myself in other people’s shoes 3) Meditate 4) Journal/ Reflect and 5) Live Differently.
1) My professor challenged us to go to a college and ask other college student’s questions. This experience felt awkward; some students were open; others were closed. This perhaps, was one of my first experiences learning about the needs of college students; it would be eight years later, that I would begin a graduate assistantship in higher education.
2) To put myself in other people’s shoes means that I may feel uncomfortable and out of place. The homelessness simulation always reminds me that I cannot possibly know everything and the only way I can begin to understand unique perspectives is through listening. To listen is to begin to have compassion for each person’s experience (and to feel moved to do something to create change).
3) My professor included a silent retreat during the course; I became familiar with my inner-voice and I learned to rest; a lesson that I have repeated countless times; it is vital to prevent burnout, by making time to slow-down; to really reflect and determine next steps; following that course, I knew, I wanted to do more, be more.
4) I kept a journal for the class; it was a part of my grade; it was the best practice to develop insight and perspective. I truly learned to be silent and focus on changing my core first, rather than focusing on changing others or my environment. Today, I have many other outlets, such as this blog, Facebook, and etc. Keeping a journal allows for reflective thought, which promotes constant growth; how can I take this moment, grow and improve myself?
5) Living differently meant not accepting the status quo; for me, it meant building a campfire, dwelling with others and celebrating life. I will never forget the friendships I forged during the class, but discovering my passion for service and making a difference truly resonated with me; It would take me a few years, but to live differently, means to live to make a difference; if my heart is stagnant, it means that I am no longer making an impact and that I need to reassess my dreams and forge a new path.
Again, to be transformed, in my opinion, is to have an experience that completely revolutionizes one’s way of thinking and doing; in other words, it’s an experience that alters your state of being, including every fiber of one’s existence. I’m thankful for my professor, the course, new friendships, the lessons and the hands-on-experiences that provided me with tools to reflect and revolutionize my priorities to live differently, keep a journal and think reflectively, meditate and listen to my inner-voice, earnestly practice compassion and never quit asking questions!