Although it can be energizing, the work that a committed leader puts into a cause or community can be also draining. We may find ourselves feeling stuck! Living and leading with integrity is no simple task, but it is possible.
Often, we start intentional conversations of leadership with one simple question: Why? We focus our passion, our work, and our reasoning around that ask. I would like to share my own experience of failure, delayed reflection, and burnout. You might be asking, why tell you this story? To be simple, I will say this: mindfulness matters.
Within the first few weeks of college, I became involved with multiple clubs on campus as a committee member and soon was invested in all things campus life. From planning events and helping with Orientation, to giving tours and becoming the college mascot, it was never just one thing. Yet student involvement, which gave me the highest highs indirectly led to my lowest lows.
My third year in college was by far the most challenging. To give context, I was committed to the following:
- Served as the liaison between Student Government Association and Student Activities Board (in which executive board meetings ranged from 1 hour to 2.5 hours, each);
- Volunteered off campus six hours/week through my scholarship;
- Acted as the college mascot at campus and community events to increase overall spirit;
- Held an on-campus job as a tour guide;
- Took five 300 level courses; and
- Floated between two vastly different friend groups
People would ask me how I balanced it all and my short answer would be along the lines of no idea, but in reality, I followed my passions. All of those bullet points gave me tremendous energy and happiness at different times throughout the semester; if one was draining, I would bounce to a different point.
Because of this high level of involvement and the mismanagement of my time, I was not aware that I was spreading myself so thin; my grades suffered, the quality of work diminished and going to events or being with friends felt like a chore. Instead of adding to my college experience, all of these things were just checks in a long list of things I had to do each day.
While giving a speech to incoming freshman, I remember saying, “Throughout my time [in college], one of the best decisions I made was becoming involved in various aspects of Student Life.” I still stand by that statement 100%, but in hindsight, were there times where if I were to take a step back and reflect in the moment my stress levels would decrease? Absolutely. An advisor once told me (and I am paraphrasing here), “You cannot help others until you take care of yourself”. Those words still ring true to this day. Whenever I find myself stretched too thin or ignoring my own well-being, I think back to that moment.
Moving beyond actively thinking, I reach towards a pen and paper. For me, all I need is a space where I am alone and an instrumental movie score playing in my headphones for the writing to commence. Every entry is different, given that every experience, emotion, and thought I have prior to writing is different – there is no specific, step-by-step formula of what I write about. There are, however, themes of reflecting upon the day and looking forward to what the following day, or week, will bring.
Only through lived experience did I realize, and understand why, mindfulness matters. Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you; I hope that you learned something along the way.
If you have a story of why mindfulness matters to you, send LeaderShape an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colby Brown is a Community Engagement Intern for LeaderShape. He participated in the Institute (2015), served as an On-Site Coordinator for national sessions of the Institute (2017, 2018), and recently participated in Catalyst (2018). As a retired mascot and recent graduate, he spends his young professional life giving back and pursuing a graduate degree in Higher Education, Student Affairs.