#48 Be. Young Be. You: On Leadership

profile picture of ErinHello, hello! I can’t believe it’s time to write a blog again! It’s been a busy month full of the usual day-to-day stuff and the not so usual, too. Like getting a phone call telling me that I’ve been chosen as a finalist in the youth category of the 2012 Attitude Awards! And then as part of that, being followed around by a professional film crew who had me do crazy things including lip syncing a verse of Aretha Franklin’s “RESPECT” (I was confused, too, but apparently it’s part of a performance on award night, to be revealed later!).

Anyway, out of the spotlight and into the content of this post – some reflections on my leadership experiences within the context of the 2011 Be. Leadership programme. You’d think my most vivid memories of the course would be something inspiring that a speaker said, or something thought-provoking that took place in our discussion time, and don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of that, but actually my most vivid memory is sitting in the back of an airport shuttle on the way to the first ever session thinking, “what the hell am I doing here?”

I remember the clothes I was wearing, the people I was with, the magazine I was reading as we drove across Auckland, the date – 11 March 2011 - three weeks after the February earthquake and the day of the Japanese tsunami, and how uneasy I was feeling. It was the first time I had been out of Christchurch since February 22 and I felt as if I was in a foreign country. The ground was stable, buildings undamaged, no liquefaction, wheelbarrows or shovels in sight. People were rushing to work; parents were dropping their kids off at school. Everything was so normal, but somehow it felt anything but. I just remember sitting there anxiously, thinking, “This whole situation feels so weird, but I don’t know why. I don’t even know what being a leader means, but I sure don’t feel like one. Why am I here?”

As I look back now I realise that I asked myself that question a lot throughout the programme, and while I could always come up with a satisfactory answer, like “I want to develop my leadership skills and network with other disabled leaders across New Zealand”, it turned out to be a lot deeper than that. The reason I mention the earthquakes is because I feel that experiencing them both paralleled and shaped my leadership journey throughout Be. Leadership, and vice versa. The first couple of months post-earthquake were (literally) very shaky and uncertain, and I felt the same attending Be. All sorts of challenging questions were thrown at me – what is does being “disabled” mean? What is “leadership”? How do those two concepts fit together? Trying to answer these questions and hearing others answer them challenged my perceptions of myself, my role in my community, and my decision to stay in that community – something very personal and at times, confusing and uncomfortable. I would land back in Christchurch after going to a Be. session in Auckland and ruminate about the same old question – “Why am I here?”

Erin with Mayor Len Brown at the Be. Leadership graduationThings began to settle down over the next few months – both earthquake-wise and Be. Leadership wise. I started to feel more comfortable with having challenging ideas and questions presented to me, and more confident in my perception of myself as a “leader”. Instead of trying to come up with all the answers to questions being asked, I shifted my focus to reflecting on the past and present, and how things could be done differently in the future through this “accessibility” lens Be. presents. Suddenly, both participating in the programme and living in Christchurch seemed to present a whole lot of new opportunities, and instead of wondering “Why am I here?” I began to ask, “What can I do that would make it worth being here?”

Well, here I am advocating for a fully accessible Christchurch. Here I am involved in a wide range of different community projects, from building a community garden at a local school, to forming a global network for young disabled people, with a huge number of fantastic people all leading in their own ways. Here I am writing this blog for Be.! I guess I found my answers!

And as for leadership? Well, I think that’s really what it’s all about – working through doubts, instability and uncertainty, to find a way of contributing to the world in your own unique way. That’s the answer I’m sticking with anyway!

Keep being young and being you,