The CN tower was not built in one day and was not the result of one person’s labour. Indeed, the spark that Canadian National Railway lit in 1968, that initial first step of thinking of such a tower, was the necessary fuel for so many project team members to see to it’s realization. With the foundation already laid, the team needed more than communication to continue adding pieces to the puzzle.
I had previously left off the last segment of this two part series, for my “BC 3010 – Advanced Peer Leadership” class, with a commentary about how I came to hone my communication and interpersonal skills through a variety of peer leadership experiences. These skills better allowed me to continue to develop another two areas of competency even further – an ability to work in a team, and the initiative needed to keep the team growing in a positive direction. This essay will continue with the goal of describing the development of my skills, in this case the aforementioned ones, through a description of peer leadership experiences I have not only had at York University but also in summer camp. As always, by describing my own process of growth through writing I will learn more about what can help me become all that I can be, and act on that information. I hope that is also makes you realize how you can leverage your strengths to mould the future you desire for yourself.
Ability to Work in a Team
Evidence of Mr. Porter’s ability to work in a team, in the picture above - that frames the essence of this essay, was surely an essential part of seeing the tower that dominates today’s Toronto skyline to it’s completion. The ability to work in a team is no less important in the following examples I had the pleasure to work on, albeit they are little smaller in size. Nonetheless, the same principle prevails – many working together in a coordinated fashion can quickly outpace a few, or a larger number that are not able to get along.
My ability to work with a team became quickly sharpened when I jumped into helping many organizations grow in innovative directions in my first year at York. One of those organizations was the Canadian Immunology Research Association (CIRA):
As a media coverage coordinator for CIRA in the second half of the 2013-2014 academic year I had the responsibility of:
1. Coordinating the coverage of CIRA related events and activities.
2. Aiding in external communication to create creative opportunities for CIRA's events.
By jumping at this opportunity I strengthened the communication and time management skills I needed to have to work in a team in order to put a project together properly and on time. One such project was a fashion show geared toward bringing together an audience to raise awareness of the growing importance of immunology research and subsequently raise money for it.
Another opportunity to better my ability at working with a group was at York with a part of the Student Ombuds Services team. As shown by the snippet below we were making a video designed to educate York students about some of the many services SOS provides.
I really enjoyed this project because I have always been interested in photography, videography, and the editing involved to create a finished product but most of all the process was made enjoyable by the people I was able to work with. By being able to clearly define a shared vision and coordinate tasks with each other it became a smooth process. Since the project was a creative one it was important to be able to negotiate compromises but also believe in your ideas and stand up for them when you thought the project would benefit from them (and not your ego). Understanding this balance and being able to wield it definitely has transcended to other activities I have engaged in with groups of people, making me a better leader.
I have been able to apply these past ideas, strengthening the skills needed to properly work within a team and lead one, and wielding a balance, outside of York University. What better example to give than where one lives with his fellow team members for extensive periods of time – summer camp!
I first came to Ruskoka Camp at the age of 10, excited and nervous to engage in an experience I had not yet been able to try out. I had been at a couple other summer camps before, but this one was different. Before I knew it I had invested 10 summers into it - growing up as a camper over some of them, becoming a team leader, and eventually a counsellor. As a camper I learned to work with a team of 6-8 boys, in some years lead a similar amount through various camp activities as a team leader, and finally look after 80+ children with a team of other counsellors. As counsellors we learned to lean on each other’s strengths, and look out after one another to make sure that we were all able to give the children the best camp experience they could have. The stakes were higher, we were now not just looking after ourselves, but after those that were most cherished by the parents that entrusted them to us – our ability to work in a team consequently adjusted to be able to carry out such a challenge.
Leaning on each other as counsellors made us learn to take initiative when others passed the torch, and we did so boldly. Sometimes as a counsellor you don’t have time to think, to analyze each and every situation, you must simply have faith to take a leap into the unknown - leading those around you to new truths.
Part of this initiative on my part was taking an active role in a leadership workshop before camp started in 2015, in the form of a presentation. The presentation was about mental health, and more specifically on stress, anxiety, and depression – aspects that may have definitely been encountered with campers, especially new ones that were more prone to becoming homesick. I wanted to be able to communicate how to manage the emotions behind these mental aspects and firstly how to notice them in a person. Of course these aspects of mental health are fairly well known amongst our society in North America, but not necessarily how to act when one is experiencing them or seeing others experience stress, anxiety, or depression. During camp I also took the initiative to mentor some team leaders about how they may better manage their teams, where having my experience with psychology definitely helped.
Another organization that I did work for at York during my first academic year was the Canadian Association for Regenerative Medicine (CARRM) where I was a media relations committee member. As shown by the following video (click on the picture);
I was instrumental in the creative marketing process where I produced photos/videos for various events for the organization. I also contributed to their social media presence by creating a LinkedIn page, which has subsequently grown and accrued group members from across the globe seeking/already working in the regenerative field. This experience taught me the potential power that is available to creators by the combination of traditional media forms with social media.
Lastly, my experience with SOS as a Class Representative has given me a wealth of opportunity for demonstrating initiative. I helped the organization, as I did with CARRM, to initiate the growth of their LinkedIn page and consequently broaden their reach. In addition to this, as shown by the starting slide below, I had created a presentation for future CR’s, in the summer of 2014, on how to best create and run a study session for their students.
This simple act of creating an idea from scratch greatly increased my ability to create presentations, and present them in front of an audience as well. It gave me more passion for public speaking, and definitely built the groundwork for the presentation I did at camp even though the topics were completely unrelated.
What holds people back from initiating their own projects, or working on what they love, and instead settling for something ‘easier’? Fear. But holding back because of fear, because of the fear of failure and the pain associated with it isn’t going to make life easier. In fact it’s only going to achieve in making your existence harder – because regret cuts deeper, and is only felt much later. Nihil Timendum Est.
In essence, my ability to work with a team, and the initiative I take with various organizations has helped me succeed in helping grow these same organizations. I am grateful for the fact that I was able to practice these skills with them, in organizations that are forgiving and understanding of a student’s journey and learning process. As stated by John. N Gardner in Students Helping Students, “students must first know themselves before they can fulfill their potential to help others… comparably, [Erich] Fromm argued influentially that before any person can ‘love’ another, she or he must first have attained sufficient self-esteem to have developed the capacity for self-love and respect.” I believe this also applies to a student’s ability to work in a team and take initiative. Before they can work in a team effectively they should know how to complete tasks effectively on their own. On the same note initiative starts with discipline - if the student can have control over their own actions and steer themselves in the right direction, then they are a step away from taking initiative for the group, the community, the country, and the world around them.
Newton, F. B., & Ender, S. C. (2010). Students helping students: A guide for peer educators on college campuses 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.