40 Things I’ve Learned Over 40 Years: I Enjoy Being A Leader
Without sitting here and dwelling on certain parts of my life, I will start this off by saying that I wasn’t given very many chances to stand out when I was growing up. Whether it was due to the perception people had of me or it was because of my own doing, I could never quite find my groove. Especially during high school and college. I always felt a fire inside of me. A certain level of determination to be somebody that people looked up to. Somebody that people relied on for leadership in some capacity. I felt this, but unfortunately many people around me didn’t see it. This lead to me spending more time questioning myself and doubting what I had to offer than going out there and building on the skills I believed I had.
There were some small, but great moments throughout my life that did give me a subtle hint that I do have what it takes to stand out as a leader. I was never class president, captain of the team, or any other role you might give to a person who posses leadership skills. Instead, I didn’t get my first taste of leadership until I worked as the clean up crew supervisor at Reading Municipal Stadium during Reading Phillies games in the late 90’s. I earned this job because my boss never saw me take a break. This was partially due to the fact that I loved being at the ballpark, but I think it was also due to something I have inside of me. I look at that time in my life as being the era where I started to see the potential I had. However, I had to get over some major mental roadblocks in order to keep growing as a person and a leader.
Once the Reading Phillies era of my life was over, I became very lost. Although I eventually finished college, a lot of the same issues kept popping up. Either I didn’t believe in myself due to all of the stuff that had been put into my head or I was being doubted and dismissed by those I crossed paths with. I took on opportunities to lead when I could, but for the most part I spent more time trying to find myself and figure it all out rather than building myself up. One of the only reasons I believe I made it where I am today is because I never stopped believing that the life I wanted to achieve was possible. From working overnight in a woodworking factory to landing dream jobs in the television industry, I never stopped believing that I could do it. Between all of these experiences were phases of depression, feeling out of place, loneliness, and an overall lack of support.
Although I can’t say I was ever officially labeled a leader of any sort, I did continue to have moments in my life that told me “you can do it” over the course of time. With every production assignment I successfully complete, every speech that wowed my class in college, or landing that awesome internship at a big time tv network, I could see that there was more to me than I fully understood. Through all of the dark moments I had, there were several silver linings that served as reminders that I can do it. These victories kept me going when I could have easily given up and allowed the negativity around me to win the battle. Thankfully, although I can’t say that post college life has been all roses and sunshine, I did learn that the best was yet to come.
In 2006 I landed a really great job at one of the biggest tv networks in the world in the Washington D.C. area. When I look back on the dreams that used to dance around in my head during high school, the idea of moving to a major metro area and having an awesome job factored in. That was one of my goals. It took me a few extra years, but I was thrilled to make it. However, I knew deep down inside that I wanted to do more than simply phone it in now that I had made it to that point. To be honest, I still don’t think I knew exactly what I wanted. I just knew that I hadn’t quite validated myself in a way that I wanted to. After spending so many years of being dismissed I wanted to do something special. I never won any awards or stood out for any particular way while growing up. Whether it was due to me having a cleft lip and palate or whatever else the reason was, I often felt like nobody really saw the potential I had. That might not have been completely true, but when way more people dismiss and doubt you than offer support and encouragement, the negatives tend to take over and dominate your mindset.
By the time the end of the 00’s came along, something happened that really elevated my confidence to the next level. My company was looking for volunteers from each department to serve as a leader in order to help make the department they were working in a better place for the staff. Oddly enough, there wasn’t a lot of interest from group I was working in. I can’t really remember how it happened anymore, but somehow I wound up being the leader of this initiative for our group. I sat in meetings with staff and management in order to gather the information we needed to see if we could make some positive changes for the department. I actually served in this role twice over the course of a few years. The first try didn’t work out as well, but the second try wound up being very successful. Although the success was great, that wasn’t necessarily the victory for me. The true win came from the fact that I was put into this position to begin with. The staff really believed in me. Management believed in me too. It wound up being a great learning experience that taught me that I have what it takes to be “that guy”. To write SOP’s, lead meetings, and be the person everybody was looking to with confidence injected a ton of confidence back into me.
After I served on this committee, I transferred to another office within the company. I thought I wanted to become a video editor. That’s why I left. My company had an office in the D.C. area where they did a lot of production and creative work. This is exactly where I wanted to be. However, the universe has a way of steering us in the direction we were truly meant to go in. After 17 months of working at this office, I managed to get promoted to a managerial position. This didn’t just happen because I did a good job. It happened because I continued to take on a leadership role. Although my actions helped me a lot, I believe I truly sold my bosses on me being in management when I pretty much told them everything I would want to do if I were put in that position. To this day, the fact that they were sold on me and believed in me is pretty mind-blowing. Although I was elated that I was viewed as a leader by my own leaders, it wasn’t just the title and promotion that injected confidence in me.
You can make a difference in this world without having a leadership title or role. I think that gets overlooked by many. It even gets overlooked by me sometimes. However, this saying is true. It took until I got promoted before I learned this. There was no greater satisfaction for me than being somebody who made a difference in the lives of my staff. Above everything else, my goal was to make a difference and not just be a boss. I wanted to bring a nice balance to the position and hoped to be an inspiration more so than just direct my staff. Not only was my staff’s production always very high, but the relationships I built were so fulfilling. Through all of the big picture and day to day projects, I learned what it truly meant to be a leader. I never felt more at home in a work related role than I did as a manager.
By 2016 it was time for my tenure at this company to end. The bigger picture of the company was changing and I was offered an opportunity to leave with several months of pay so I could figure out what was next in my life. Although I hated leaving such a great position, I knew it was time to do something else. Sadly, all of the changes came at me so fast that I didn’t really have time to prepare. Although I’ve spent a lot of time freelancing, working contract jobs, and soul searching, there is one thing that has remained the same: I still enjoy being a leader. Regardless of whether I go into a freelance job as a technician or gain employment in a longterm contract job, my first instinct is to lead. The skills I learned as a manager at my previous job has been so engrained into my work style and work personality that it is virtually impossible for me to not be that anymore. The clash of being in a staff role and having these traits has lead to some difficult times for me over the past few years. Thankfully, I managed to figure out a way to use my leadership skills in my own life.
When I first left my management job, I downloaded the WordPress app without knowing what I wanted to do with it. Many years ago I blogged for fun, but this was way before I knew what I could truly do as a blogger. All I knew is that I enjoyed writing and felt like this might be a good hobby to get back into. Little did I know that some of these thoughts would lead to some of the most fulfilling work I’ve done yet. Although it took me about a year to actually do something with the app, by last summer I had started working with some ideas I had floating around in my head. By this point, I had become tired of not being able to utilize all of the skills I knew I had. Between freelance work and a very unfulfilling full time contract job, I knew I had to do something. Over the second half of the year I paid close attention to what being a real blogger entailed. As my confidence began to grow, so did the ideas I had for my future. I proceeded to build my own site, started to build up a nice social media following, landed a few writing jobs, and have met some great people along the way. Not only am I taking my own life by the horns and making all of my own success happen, I am also meeting some amazingly supportive people along the way as well. I firmly believe that I wouldn’t be doing all of the cool stuff I am doing today if it wasn’t for all of the great milestones I had along the way.
As I look back on what I just wrote, I think you could say that I learned a lot of lessons here. However, I think when you wrap up all of the personality traits I showed into one piece of clay you will see that this comes down to leadership. I am not the kind of person who has to lead every single thing they do. I don’t have to be that kind of leader. I know how to relax and let other people have the spotlight. In a way, knowing things like that is also a part of being a good leader. Knowing when to step up or take a step back is just as important as those moments when the fire inside of you is saying that the moment is right to step up and be accountable for a situation. Sure, I won’t lie. Some of those moments of doubt still creep in. The negativity you endure earlier in life never completely leaves you, but at this point I would say the good far outweighs the bad. The great thing about the road I’ve traveled is that not only did I learn what kind of leadership skills I truly have, I also managed to take a lot of negativity and turn my life into something very positive. Even if I had never become a manager, I believe that I showed a lot of leadership and love to myself by remaining so motivated. That in itself might be the best lesson I’ve learned.