By: Hannah Connors
Upon entering high school, I was scared and unsure. I had to be coerced into attending my first student government meeting, I didn’t dream of speaking up in front of groups, and I feared situations and environments where I wasn’t totally at ease. To me, there was no such as thing as diving in headfirst--I’d be lucky if I waded in before the whole thing dried up.
The first year of high school was one of immense growth for me, capped off by an extraordinary experience at Level 1 of MASC/MAHS camp. The following year, I slowly but surely found my rhythm; I felt more confident sharing my opinions and leading a group, and as my realm of the unknown diminished, so did my fear. By senior year, it was difficult to imagine myself as the timid and nervous girl I’d been only a short time ago. I felt like a leader in all my activities, whether I had a position or not, and had nearly forgotten what it felt like to be an outsider of any kind.
Alongside my growth within my school, I was also developing as a leader on MASC/MAHS’ Board of Delegates (BOD). After my first year learning the ropes, I was elected Vice President and went into my second year with confidence. I had my best friend by my side as President, a handful of other close friends serving on the board, a year of experience under my belt, a director I liked and knew how to work with, and an organization that, quite literally, gave me the warm and fuzzies. I felt knowledgeable about what I was doing and self-assured about my ability to lead the rest of the group. I was content. I was comfortable.
Following graduation, I knew lots of things would change. I knew I’d be a freshman again, and would be starting over in more ways than one. The reality of this didn’t hit me until I began serving on the College Volunteer Facilitator Corps (CVFC).
At our first CVFC retreat, that uneasy feeling I’d all but forgotten slowly came creeping back. It had been so long since I’d been the new kid, since I’d felt clueless in comparison to everyone around me. I became more acutely aware of this phenomenon at camp where I served as a Level 1 Junior Counselor. In our staff meetings I found myself refraining from speaking up as much as I normally would have and retreating back to my apprehensive attitude I thought I’d grown out of at 15. It was incredibly disconcerting to feel this way after having been comfortable in all my roles for so long.
After camp, I reflected on this experience with one of my mentors. She explained it was valuable I was able to take note of this feeling in such a safe space, because going off to college and joining new organizations will only present me with more discomfort and unfamiliarity. By recognizing this uneasiness in myself, I’m able to consciously make the choice to sit back and actively listen, or eliminate any boundaries I set for myself and share my thoughts--which both can be equally productive depending on the situation.
I also began to realize there is merit in being the least experienced in the room. The idea that everyone I’m surrounded by can challenge me, teach me, and show me something new is appealing to me. As intimidating as it can be, it’s also exciting, and should be treated as an opportunity. I’d spent so long letting myself be comfortable with where I was that I’d grown stagnant; I needed an experience like this one to remind me I wouldn’t be who I am today without those fear-filled situations my freshman year of high school. Everything that scared, pushed, or unnerved me played a part in building my confidence and shaping my leadership style into one that felt authentic to me, and for that I’m grateful.
Discomfort is a blessing, not a curse. It’s the only place where true growth occurs and is necessary to develop yourself into the type of leader and person you want to be. Sometimes we’re thrust into new situations where discomfort is inevitable, while other times we have to seek it out, and we should. If you aim to constantly challenge yourself, to acknowledge your ignorance, to never let your experiences or attitudes become routine or static, you will never stop learning, growing, and improving. Embrace your discomfort, and let it work its magic.