America

I’ve mentioned more than I probably realize that lately I’ve felt remarkably lost. The irony is I’ve gone to a number of workshops, meetings, and speeches that have all talked about direction–and yet, at the moment, I feel very much like the zero vector: I have no direction and practically no dimension either.

If you’ve taken calculus or linear algebra, you can appreciate that.

If you haven’t–or even if you have–it’s only the starting point. There is much to follow, and much to learn from–and although it begins casually on campus, it ends with the words of America.

This past Monday I attended a workshop entitled “Developing Compelling Visions for Change.” It was led by one of the directors of the Center for Student Leadership, Ethics, and Public Service at N.C. State. I’ve met him once or twice before, so I was excited for his workshop–and given my current lack of vision in my personal life, I figured it could come at no better time.

Ultimately, I don’t think he gave us much information we didn’t already have. We gave a few definitions of leadership and we looked at a couple case studies showcasing the importance of vision. We had a little discussion, introduced a few terms new to some of us and not to others, and then we dove headstrong into reflection. This is where his workshop truly left an impact–and it’s where we learned the techniques to develop our visions.

He asked us three simple questions: What beliefs and values are most important to us? What makes us the most energized and committed? And what do we really care about? (From the LeaderShape Institute.)

Through reflecting on these questions for a while, I began to shape a better picture of what I’m after–but that elusive vision remained too far to discern, and in all honesty, it still is, but at least I feel like I’m looking in the right direction now.

Our next activity consisted of framing our responses for the future, answering what we care about and where we want to see things go. It was helpful, but limited–it only reflected part of me, not all of me, and although I felt equipped to make progress when I left the lecture afterward, I wasn’t freed from my confusion.

Last night I attended another CSLEPS workshop focusing on emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a measure of how well we are aware of ourselves and how we act and react emotionally and socially–it is the intellect of the crowd, you could say, or the intuition of interpersonal relationships. I’ve heard about EI in the past, but I’ve never had it broken down very effectively for me, so I was happy to have the chance to flesh out my knowledge in a way that can and will improve myself in all areas of my life.

Our instructor made things very straightforward: She explained the five scales and fifteen subscales that measure EI and had us rate ourselves on each one. Framing this activity we broke into small groups (which we continuously had to shuffle around) to answer questions that would help us become aware of how we act in regards to emotional and social cues, and then we discussed which of our scores were lowest and gave feedback to each other to help us become more well-rounded in our emotional intelligence.

I scored lowest on my self- scores–self-regard, self-actualization, etc. This came as no surprise–as I have implied in past posts, current changes in my life have made me question even myself, to lose trust in myself, and not having any long-term vision has left me feeling very lost with no idea what I want to achieve. It’s not a pleasant place to be. In fact, it’s an outright scary place to be.

I left once more feeling like I had been given the tools, but not the instruction manual–and just waving the tools around means nothing. Achieves nothing.

Today I had a number of events that culminated in hearing America speak. First was my interview to become an orientation leader this summer. When I was asked if I would do anything differently at State, I told them I’ve only been here a couple months and I would change nothing so far, but I did tell them I probably would have benefited if I had done more career planning before transferring. Now that I’m here, one of my biggest sources of anxiety is no longer having a clear career goal–and I lost that clarity when I learned there are a phenomenal amount of possibilities I simply hadn’t known about. I feel obligated to explore these options, and since I’m back to exploring my interests, where I want to go is up in the air again.

My interviewers nodded and assured me I’ve still got time. The girls in my group last night did the same thing. And after getting home this evening, I know I have time–but I’m impatient. I want to know now.

Between this and a tutoring information session yesterday I realized something great–but why this became so clear I wouldn’t know until later: I realized that even though I love everything I’m doing now, my life feels incomplete without leading, without serving others, and my life feels incomplete without tutoring, teaching others. I told myself I needed this first semester free of these stimuli to get accustomed to campus and a new way of life, but I hadn’t realized how much they mean to me–and how empty I’d feel without having them.

All this time I’ve been telling myself that vacancy inside is from other things, other things I didn’t know. I never stopped to think my own advice was what’s been causing these vacancies to linger.

Then America came. And when I say America, I mean none other than America Ferrera herself–the star of ABC’s Ugly Betty. I’ve only seen a few episodes, and I only know America from some of her earlier Disney movies, but I figured it was an opportunity I shouldn’t miss–especially when the topic was diversity.

I did not expect, walking into it, that I’d cry through half of it.

She spent most of the time telling her own story, and it touched me most when she described her time in college, when she realized how cruel and unkind the world is and met with her professor to tell him she’d decided to give up her passion for acting because she wanted to do something significant in the world, and why should she be able to do what she loves when so many others can’t?

I’ve felt the same way at times, and lately I’ve felt the same disconnect with my passions as well–not knowing what I want to do with my life. Her professor simply told her how one of her movies had helped him to relate to his students, and not only his students, but their families as well. It’s not enough just to want success, she told us, you also have to do something meaningful. For her, she couldn’t just act–she had to do something more, to make her creative passion a source for change in the world.

She’s done that.

And it occurred to me finally what I haven’t realized until now.

I can’t just teach.

I can’t just lead.

I can’t just write.

I need to do them all to find the balance and fulfillment I seek. I need to find a way to synthesize my love of math, my love of politics, and my love of writing into a single future–or I need to figure out a way I can embrace all of them individually without sacrificing any of them to achieve the others.

America amazed me in many other ways, too–she passionately encouraged us to create new stories and share our perspectives with the world, because even if our stories are particular, our messages are universal. She told us to organize ourselves locally and to vote–because we have power and nothing will change until we show our political leaders we are here and we are watching them and we do matter and the issues we care about matter. She told us to find out what we love, to discover our passions and what will give us meaning in our lives–and she told us to pursue those dreams with everything we have to make our lives everything we want them to be.

She told us to be self-aware and to develop our vision. She put into words the synthesis of everything that’s happened the last few days in no way my mentors could have–because they were teaching parts of the whole, and she was showing us what that whole can become.

So it’s time to answer her question, but more so it’s time to ask:

What do we love?

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