A Nerd’s Reflection on the Institute

Each summer we ask participants of the Institute to write a letter to a donor sharing their experience and their thanks for providing financial support. In our most recent class of LeaderShape graduates, we received this reflection along with their letter. And we loved getting a deeper look into Jessie’s experience at the Institute. We hope that you enjoy reading this reflection as much as we did.

A Nerd’s Reflection on Vision After LeaderShape

We have all had those experiences, the hours, days, weeks, that change us forever. This past week, I spent my time in the middle of Illinois at LeaderShape, a conference focused on building leaders of integrity. When I received an email from the director of the Student Leadership Center at UW-Madison concerning a full-ride scholarship to a leadership camp, I filled out the application with little idea of what I was applying for. However, upon being awarded the scholarship, I was excited to discover what a leadership camp for leaders was really all about. Never have I been pushed so hard to realize, reflect, and dream that my brain hurt. The really amazing thing is that upon coming home, I still have not come down from my castle in the clouds. And this castle is too big for one, so it is time I share.

“Nerd. One whose unbridles passion for something, or things, defines who they are as a person, without fear of other people’s judgment.” -Zachary Levi

I am a nerd. No shame – I do enjoy writing essays and studying calculus. So what? If I do nothing with my “nerdiness,” can I still identify as nerd? We only call Albert Einstein a genius because he exercised his thoughts and used his brain power for the betterment of humanity. He could have sat at home merely pondering energy and the universe. Maybe he even would have gotten a haircut. But he didn’t. Einstein lived to his full potential, and LeaderShape has helped me realize that I not only have amazing potential, but that I also need to live into it – not on Mondays and Fridays, but every single day.

“How you handle the uphill battle determines everything.”

I am sure many have heard the saying, “Life’s a journey.” But why is it that we live as though it’s a destination? We become so caught up in arriving that we forget to enjoy the travel time. Sometimes life feels like a road trip in a Mini Cooper, and other times like a flight on the Concord. LeaderShape has helped me reflect upon all the things I have accomplished and see them not as the peak of Mount Everest, but as the foothills. I scaled, stood at each peak, and, with my fist in the air, declared, “I did it! Now, onward.” One has to climb the foothills to reach the mountain. If I am not content with my life during the process, I will never be satisfied, for there will always be another mountain. Whether the next mountain is big or small is up to me.

“Don’t bury your failures. Let them inspire you.” -Robert Kiyosaki

Failure – it hurts. One can get so caught up in the fear of failure that their dreams become smaller. As my advisor Kozhi Makai said, “The world has no more room for small dreams.” At LeaderShape, we wrote dreams down on giant post-it notes, our visions too big for three-by-threes. It is scary, seeing your vision stare you in the face, just asking you to try it. All week, we are encouraged to have a “healthy disregard for the impossible.” Striving for visions and goals that seem larger than attainable many sound crazy, but to people with vision, it looks like a challenge. I may not quite reach my goal, but through the process, I will have scaled more mountains than I even would have had Everest not been in my sights. LeaderShape has changed my outlook, now it is up to me to let it change my life.

Jessie Thomas, 2014 LeaderShape Graduate

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