Defining leadership

Over the last year, I’ve been working on revising my own definition of leadership, particularly for how I want to be perceived (or not) in conjunction with this word.

After reading Paul Schmitz’s Everyone Leads and currently in the midst of Angela Duckworth’s Grit, I firmly believe that leadership is rooted in action, not in a particular position or title. This approach contradicts how we are socially conditioned to view leadership/leaders. Power resides in the individuals at the “top” of various chains; but, each of us carries immense power that can be flexed, given the right conditions.

It’s funny: this week has been an opportunity for me to “flex” a variety of leadership muscles in vastly different surroundings. And, at times, I see my continued struggle in finding balance, especially when it comes to those leadership “positions” as opposed to opportunities to act like a leader.

Our YNPN Triangle NC Board of Directors participated in our first-ever strategic planning session this Saturday, facilitated by two corporate executives over the course of five hours. (What a way to spend a Saturday, right?) I left that afternoon feeling, as Sophie says, the feelings. Exhilaration. Stress. Frustration. Clarity. Exhausted. As a completely volunteer-driven 501(c)(3) organization, it can be easy for me to forget that…oh right, we’re volunteers. The majority of us have full-time responsibilities, whether in employment or academia, not to mention families and other extracurricular activities.

There were several moments during the session I found myself hesitant to speak up, fearing that I would create an unfair power dynamic within the group. I am finishing my second year as Board Chair, with one final year ahead. Even nearly 18 months in, I’m still feeling out the ropes as to when to step up and when to step back, knowing (or, at least sensing) that there is an expectation for me to have the answers to questions from the rest of our team. Most of the time, I’m working to figure out those answers alongside them. I view my role as keeping our ship pointed toward the end goal, making sure my crew has what they need in order to be fulfilled and successful, and actively seeking opportunities to keep us afloat (resources, partnerships, funding).

That’s the ideal, at least. It’s hard. It’s really hard. I came home Saturday, elected to pick a fight with Aaron, and then cry into my pillow for 15 minutes. Is that how leaders act? It seems fairly unlikely. At least, not so people can see. The pressure to keep up that front, to be bold, to be willing to take it on the chin (up to a point), and to invest in others so much that you are left drained and depleted – it’s hard. It’s really, really hard. On the flip side, it’s also a huge honor, and I am grateful for the opportunity.

Oh, double-edged sword. 

Tonight marks the third night in a row of board meetings, and as I noted above, I have navigated the previous two with varying degrees of leadership. On Monday, I engaged at our youth advisory board meeting with conviction, offering a rallying cry around personal responsibility and communications. But, I hold no actual leadership position. That was an intentional decision, as I recognize I am spread far too thin. It would be unfair to me and those around me to pretend like I could fulfill those roles. Last night was our quarterly board meeting for my job. As a staff member, I spend most of the three-hour meeting in silence, sharing when scripted in the agenda. In this space, I wonder if the board members view me as a leader, or since I tend to be more reserved, if they don’t.

Viewing myself as a leader in my work space is more nebulous for me. We operate in such silos that it feels like we’re all individual leaders. But, when it comes to some of the broader, bigger decisions, our voices may not be part of the process. Mini-leaders. Which is fine. That’s why we week out other opportunities to grow those skills and competencies desired to be more equitable, thoughtful leaders, not only in our work spaces but in our communities.

Alright. It’s time for coffee and, well, time to get down to work. I’ll leave you with this: how do you define leadership? And, based on your definition, are you a leader? Why or why not?

Can someone turn up the A/C, please?

DurhamAM

Mornings like these are hard.

I’m not sure of the exact temperature, but believe me: it’s a swamp out there. Even starting these weekend runs before the sun emerges doesn’t free me from the vice grip of humidity.

Observe:

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Post-run “glow” with AT photobomb

8 miles at 7:55/mile in the books. I have tempo runs sketched out on Saturdays, aiming for between 8 – 8:30/minute mile, and I save those big, juicy long runs for Sundays. Tomorrow is a 17-miler. Ugh. Even typing that hurts. Fortunately, two treats await me for tomorrow’s trek. First, it is supposed to be cooler. Second, AJT will be joining me on the trail, cruising alongside (and likely in front of) me on his bike.

As much as I enjoy the solo aspect of running, it can get lonely on those lengthier runs. I have tried to incorporate podcasts for entertainment and learning, but my propensity to sweat makes keeping headphones in my ears nearly impossible. I have yet to find a pair that sticks (if you have recommendations, I’m all ears — ha! No seriously, I am.)

It has been awhile since I’ve posted a recipe, and I have found a few gems as of late. Between my overextended life, many meals this summer have been born from frozen vegetables, pressed tofu, and some sort of stir-fry marinade. I’m not complaining – I could eat stir-fry nearly every day. But, cranking oven the stove and frying in the wok are not pleasant when it’s 5,000F. Really. I’m not exaggerating.

Enter this:

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Hello, darling.

Almost too pretty to eat, no? No. It’s so worth eating. Served cold, this quinoa-black bean salad can be tossed over greens, thrown in a wrap, topped with seitan or baked tofu or whatever floats your boat.

Black bean, quinoa, and red pepper salad with honey-lime vinaigrette

Serves 4 – 6 

1 cup quinoa

1 can black beans, drained, or 2 cups cooked black beans

1 red bell pepper (or 1/2 red pepper, 1/2 orange or yellow pepper), diced

1 tsp minced jalapeno (optional – and heck, I added the entire jalapeno! Seeded, of course)

1 scallion, finely chopped

2 tsp honey or agave nectar (I opted for the nectar)

1/2 lime

2 tsp rice vinegar

2 tsp canola/vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)

Pinch of salt, or as needed

Directions:

1) Rinse quinoa in a strainer. Add to saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce to simmer and cook, about 15-20 minute or until water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy. (If you have a rice cooker, take advantage of using it to cook your quinoa!)

2) Add cooked quinoa to a mixing bowl with black beans, bell pepper, jalapeno, and chopped scallion.

3) In a small jar, combine honey/agave nectar, lime juice, rice vinegar, and vegetable oil. Add a pinch of salt. Put the lid on the jar and shake to emulsify the dressing. Taste, adjust seasoning as needed (should be a bit tart). Pour dressing on quinoa mixture. Toss to distribute dressing evenly.

4) If you are not serving right away, toss salad again before serving and adjust seasoning (dressing will absorb into the quinoa and the salad might need more moisture if it sits for awhile).

My moment of zen

In hindsight, I would not do this again. BUT, on Wednesday, I drove out and back to Asheville (7 hours in the car – what what!). During my brief stay in the beautiful mountain town, I had a chance to sit in one of my favorite places, Green Sage Cafe, enjoy a cup of coffee and a vegan peanut butter cookie while I cleaned data in a spreadsheet.

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If you have to clean data in a spreadsheet, it’s nice to have a cookie to go along with it.

 

 

Keep calm and kayak.

I never envisioned myself kayaking. Granted, I did grow up in a desert. The notion of participating in any water sport felt foreign, outside of the occasional boogie boarding in the Pacific Ocean during an annual San Diego summer vacation.

In July 2015, Aaron and I broke our kayaking-seals in Traverse City, Michigan.

 

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The first taste of kayaking – oh so swet

The 3+ hour journey took us through the calm, meandering Boardman River up the gut of the city, spilling us out into Lake Michigan. Our sense of peace shattered as we battled the wake from dozens of high-speed boats and wave runners. Our tired arms somehow found the last ounces of strength to paddle us in, leaving us exhausted and exhilarated (and gosh, did that ice cream afterward taste even better!)

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Vegan ice cream ftw!

Even after only one kayaking adventure, we both casually expressed the idea of investing in our own. One year and two more rental kayak trips later, we took that step. Aaron spent several weeks researching the various options: price points, length, sit-in or sit-on, etc. He read reviews, reviews, reviews, and drew up a list of about five potential candidates.

I lack the drive to research like Aaron does. I glanced at his list, looked at a few pictures online, and made my decision based on sitting in several at the Dick’s Sporting Goods on a Saturday morning. The moment I sat into the Perception Swifty Deluxe, I knew it was the one. The price was right (reduced to around $350), and the color options were on point.

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You won’t be able to miss us out on the water in these.

Aaron took his maiden voyage while I was out in Portland, Oregon, for a conference. But, the next two Saturdays, we tossed up our ‘yaks on our folding J-hooks (purchasing the equipment to go along with owning kayaks = both expensive and important lessons to be learned, including make sure you can drive your car out of the garage with said J-hooks own).

We started close to home, venturing over to Falls Lake both times. I learned several lessons from the first trip out, namely that kayak grips are critical to stop the blistering bonanza.

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Aaron played master photog on our first Falls Lake outing

This past Saturday, two friends joined us as we explored a quieter part of the lake (no boats allowed!), sharing the morning with many birds and plenty of jumping fish.

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Serenity now

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Exploring every cove 

 

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An ideal August morning to be out on the water

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Playing around with filters

I derive so much pleasure from the act of kayaking. The transition between movement and stillness; the sound of the oar dipping into the water, gliding me forward as I try to take in all of the sounds and sights.

Our kayaks open up so many more possibilities on how we can interact with our surroundings. While I’m tired after wrapping up our time on the water, I’m also eagerly anxious for our next trip.

Oh, what adventures await for the rest of 2016 and beyond…

It’s not all about me, as much I as try to think otherwise

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As much as I’d like to believe – and make you believe – that I live for others, if I really sit back and put myself under a microscope, I spend a lot of time worrying about me. I fret over my workout plans; having a quiet space to read; accomplishing the lists of self-generated tasks. I want people and things to fit into my boxes of time and space.

Originally, I drafted a line in this post that I was selfish. Perhaps that statement was the most accurate, and erasing it was my feeble attempt of reframing my own narrative.

I think there’s another quality at play: inflexibility.

I live for structure, order, and efficiency. Some of my fellow YNPN Triangle NC board members have teased me for using such nonprofit colloquialisms as “respect the agenda’ (and rightfully so at times). There comes a point where the desire to have boundaries butts up against…well, you know..other peoples’ feelings, lives, cultures, norms, etc. It becomes an agent of paralysis. It becomes a tool of power that I wield, losing the opportunity to stretch and grow because of my own: “my way or the highway” approach.

During my mindfulness journey, I am actively reflecting on what drives this need. Both of my parents adhere to similar structures in their lives. I recognize, too, that inflexibility is a value of white supremacy tool. It’s much easier to maintain control and privilege when you get to call the shots based on your life, rather than taking into account the experiences and values of others.

This isn’t a complete cast-off of structure. Instead, it’s my hope to de-emphasize how much I allow my inflexibility to impact my decisions, my relationships, and my happiness. Because that’s a huge part of it. As I force myself to adhere to my deeply-entrenched systems, I slowly erode my ability to take risks, be adaptable, and, most importantly to me, be open for something new and awesome and wonderful to enter my life – WITHOUT ME HAVING ANY CONTROL.

Terrifying and exhilarating.

I feel like Aaron faces the brunt of my inflexibility the most, and it saddens me as I reflect on how my hardheadedness to prioritize me may have closed the door on our chance to share a special moment in our relationship. Responses like “not now” and “in a few minutes” shut doors of opportunity that I can’t get back. I’m not saying that anytime Aaron or anyone else says jump, my immediate response will be “how high?” Instead, I will continue to improve on strengthening my own internal check of asking “why?”and more importantly:

Why not?

Routines will still be a part of who I am. Yes, I like to work out in the morning because this is when I’m most awake and eager.

I will still strive to respect the agenda and ensure that there is adequate space given to foster collaboration and curiosity.

I need quiet spaces to get lost in a book and I won’t use this as an excuse to justify not spending time sharing stories with my partner.

I will remain excited about the countless options to fill my weekends and I will allow the weekend to approach before filling my calendar to the brim.

I like to be a part of meetings that have a clear, defined purpose and I will laugh along with my colleagues even if it means a slight derailment.

I’m naming this challenge that is woven into me. I’m calling it out on the Internet (and, as you all know, everything is true on the Internet).

After spending the past few days in Portland for our national Young Nonprofit Professionals Network conference, I have been off-schedule with my mindfulness practice. But, I know that’s ok. It can start anew tomorrow, without guilt.

At 5:05am of course (I’m kidding…I hope).

Cheers.

Breaking through the binary

In our world of limitless possibilities, why do we default to the “either/or” mentality? I recall hearing a TED talk that addressed our need to put what we know about life into specific buckets. You are a cat person or you are a dog person. You are an introvert or you are an extrovert.

I’m not going to get into the science of whether our brains are hardwired to process all inputs in this manner(because 1) I’m not a scientist; and 2) that’s not the path I want to take today. What I want to ask each of us to do is to challenge the notion of “or” and “but” as we go about our daily lives.

Inside ourselves, we carry multiple truths and identities about who we are and how we interact with our surroundings. Yet, we can be pigeonholed – whether implicitly or explicitly – to feel that we bring only one view with us to the table. The perspective of the person of color. The communications expert. The parent. And when this happens to us, we experience a sense of loss because all of the intricate pieces that make up who we are become overshadowed by the one earmarked identity.

The whirlwind around House Bill 2 here in North Carolina inspired part of this internal dissection of my own desire to categorize people, places, things, etc. Gender identity serves as a primary example of how mired our society remains in the choice of two: boy or girl. Male or female. Man or woman. There is no room for argument or counterpoint. But, in a recent letter in Indy Week, Peter Klopfer, professor emeritus of biology at Duke, and Dr. Gerard Honor flag that our reliance on physical indicates to determine sex are imperfect at best, detrimental at worst:

“We now recognize that the physical differences are not dichotomous—a small penis may be indistinguishable from a large clitoris; a not-fully-fused scrotum can resemble partially fused labia. Even the chromosomes of an individual may not be solely XX or XY, but part of a mosaic, with some cells XX and others XY. More importantly, all of these markers that appear to define one’s sex are not concordant: one can rank as a male according to some, or as female according to others. For example, an individual with organs that appeared at birth to be male (penis and scrotum) might later be found to possess ovaries and breasts. Birth certificates, which are based on genital structure alone, are inevitably flawed.”

For folks who have never had first-hand experience with questioning their gender identity or known someone who has, this can be scary. Because it contradicts our world view that no – you must be either this or this because of x, y, and z. We need such aspects of our life to make sense. Right? This is law and order! We need structure! (I’m both flagging this as a real reaction for many people and also my own attempt at sarcasm at 8am on a Monday.)

Until we actively practice allowing our minds to wrap around the “and” rather than the “but” and “or” language, I truly believe that we will feel more complete as people. This type of thinking enables us to be recognized for who we are – entirely – rather than what conforms to a checkbox. And when people are able to live fully and whole, this translates into a broader, deeper understanding of each other on levels we have yet to see.

I recognize this post may feel as if I’m rambling or not painting an entirely clear picture. As someone who is actively working each day to think beyond the binary, I am a work in progress. I’m not speaking specifically around gender identity either. I want to ensure that my mind remains flexible when interacting with people and situations – that I don’t insert assumptions or erase details because my mind marks them as “unnecessary” for understanding.

Today, challenge yourself. There may be an opportunity for you to say “and” instead of returning to the “or/but” reflex. See what can emerge as we add, not subtract. The infinite potential awaits us.