Recently, I had the extreme pleasure to be invited as one of six leadership facilitators for the UCLA LeaderShape Retreat in March. It is a week long retreat that works with sixty undergraduate students and helps develop their identity, philosophy, and experience around notions of leadership. Given my undergraduate experiences, I have always been fond and interested in student development, particularly notions regarding identity, privilege, empowerment, and engagement. I was thrilled and grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of such a transformative process, especially because I know how powerful (mini) retreats can be.
As I celebrated my own excitement, I also started to “retreat” inwards and come towards a reflective spot within my elated news. What is leadership? Or is it Leadership? Why did staff from the University of California, Los Angeles, believe I was capable of leading such an emotional process? What have I done that showed that I was capable of understanding, demonstrating, and educating individuals on leadership and the dynamics and power structures that come to play? I only have a bachelor’s degree, is that good enough? What could I possibly tell these students given that I’m only 23 that would motivate them to be a “leader” in their own community?
It is this mentality that I strive to work away from. If others have seen my potential, then surely I must have it. And if I see the same kind of potential in these sixty students, then surely they can do it as well. Why do we cast doubt on our own abilities? Why is there a need to question our limits? What in society has caused us to dismiss the trust in our own identities and experiences? Maybe it’s because I’m brown. Maybe it’s because I’m queer. Maybe it’s because I’m a queer, Pilipino-American that has faced scorn and ridicule from society, parents, and adult figures that make me weary of trusting “the system”. Because it is always this system that we are trying to impress, but it is this same system that will never fully understand us for who we are and what we are able to offer.
I think I am one of the lucky ones. I believe I’m lucky because I have goals and because I am motivated to achieve those goals. my family upbringing and my social/political context has forced me to crave and shape my independence into success and (self) exploration. I want to get somewhere. I want to be something. And not because it will bring me fame, glory, money, or attention. But because it’s the best way I know how to make a difference, provide some practical support to ailing students of color, and to give back to a community that has motivated me to be this administrative figure. I think goals are important. But I think having the motivation to carry through with these goals is equally as important.
Always ask the question why and who are you doing this for. Sometimes it’s okay to do things for yourself. But it’s also okay to do things to help others