Leadership feels like a type of currency these days. And the supply isn’t anywhere near the ridiculous demand. You know what I’m talking about. Any job posting has “Strong Leadership Skills” as a requirement. Even class participation has a Leadership criteria. This is why there are countless programs and organizations that boost “Develop Leadership Skills!” as one of their benefits.
But let’s take a second to acknowledge the obvious here. Not everyone can be a leader, it’s empirically impossible. If everyone is a leader, who are they going to lead? It seems like this would end to more fighting than actual teamwork. Now, I know what you’re going to say. “But Laura, obviously they mean that you don’t have to be a leader everywhere, but at least somewhere.” Sure. Of course. I’m aware that that’s what they mean. But that’s not the way things work out in life. The people who are leaders in one aspect of their lives suddenly feel compelled to be a leader in all aspects of their lives. Leaders tend to be the same people everywhere, whether by themselves or people not wanting to give the untested a chance. Some people just aren’t comfortable in positions of Leadership, for a variety of reasons. And you know what? That’s OK! Society has made it seem like not having Leadership makes you a mindless sheep that is somehow culpable for all of society’s problems. I can’t stress how over-simplistic and untrue this is. Your Leadership ability is not directly proportional to your value as a human being.
I can’t tell you the number of jobs, part-time jobs for students with no experience required, I refused to apply for because one of the requirements were strong Leadership skills. Being a leader is one of the things that gives me most anxiety in my life. I never thought myself much of one. I couldn’t even get my younger siblings to respect me when our parents starting letting us stay home alone. So how in the world could I lead a group of my peers? Impossible. My severe social anxiety coupled with my shy and introverted personality wouldn’t make anyone consider me for a Leadership position of some sort. I always firmly believed that and tried to convince myself that I wasn’t less of a person for it.
Then ninth grade came along. I was part of the National Junior Honor Society. Why? Who know. But a new year came and all the ninth graders became tenth graders and went on to join the big leagues, leaving just me and my friends as the only upperclassmen that consistently attended meetings. Ninth graders were given priority for the five Leadership positions, and there were five of us. So naturally my friends and our advisor encouraged me to run for one of them. Suddenly I was secretary and had a portfolio full of our members 2×2 pictures.
Personally, I thought I did a horrid job, not answering my president’s calls making us fall behind on some deadlines. I’d like to blame the awful cell reception at my house but my perpetual fear of answering the phone was more likely. Despite this, during our initiation I was awarded a Leadership award. Everyone was shocked, I couldn’t blame them. I almost tripped on balloons trying to get on stage to receive the medal. I thought it was a mistake, it had to be. The next meeting I asked my advisor, why me? She said she sees something in me, something that I might not see yet. Part of me is tempted to message her on Facebook to ask her again. Another part of me is convinced it was a pity award. Either way, I cling to that award. Because being a leader seems to be so damn important to everyone these days. Because I need the assurance, the validation.
Recently I became treasurer of a student org here on campus (I’d tell you which one, but that’s a different post sometime in the future). I never thought I’d ever do something like this again. It has me feeling overwhelmed. I’m paranoid that I’m going to fail my fellow officers and that I won’t have anything of value to offer. I’m anxious about dealing with university officials because of my deep seeded mistrust in authority figures of any sort. I’m scared that my failings will damage my relationship with my friends. I’m afraid that my fears will hinder my ability to succeed at my job. But I’m also really excited about it, to finally be an integral part of something that I care about. To have a purpose within a community. To have something to put on my resume to appease those Leadership hungry employers.
This excitement has me worried. I try to not call myself a Leader, on principle. Because of the turmoil it gave me, still gives me, that I’m sure others feel. Because I don’t suddenly want to be considered as more than my peers because of a title. Because my failures and shortcomings will become more scrutinized than before. Because I don’t feel like a Leader at all, and probably never will. And I want to be okay with that. I need to be okay with that.