My Experience (Uncomfortably) Leaning Into Leadership


On the morning I would turn in my final assignment of my first year in grad school, I woke up vividly remembering what I dreamt during the night. Like many people, I rarely recall what I dream, far less remember the details so vividly. Yet this one wouldn't leave me for the rest of the day. I was sitting in the MBA Association (MBAA) office on campus, surrounded by the 12 other student leaders on my team just as I do every Thursday morning. I am attempting to get us through the final items in our meeting agenda when several individuals, many of whom are very close friends, begin to pack up and walk out. The issue at stake wasn't clear in the dream, but the level of frustration they felt in that moment was obvious. I sat there stunned, feeling disrespected. Thoughts were racing in my head and my anxiety level left my heart pounding.

Yet there I was, frozen still in my seat, wondering if I had made a mistake by running for President last Fall. I was wondering if I would lose my friends.

Being the adored "baby girl" of parents who are beloved by so many in their community, I've spent most of my life worrying about being liked. For me it seemed directly correlated with how much you were loved, and losing the love of those around me was just about the worst thing that could happen to me.

Back in January, during our MBAA retreat I asked everyone on the team to write down what their biggest fear is in taking on the leadership position they were elected to. We each shared one by one, and I shared that my fear was having how people felt about me as a student leader change the way they viewed me as a friend.

Fear of disappointing people has had an unhealthy impact on my life for so long, and taking this position was the ultimate form of "leaning in" for me. Deep down I knew that I would be doing things and making decisions that would never please everyone - at least not if they were going to be meaningful. It would require the very form of resilience I'd yet to develop in my career.

Waking up and realizing that I was simply dreaming was such a relief. At the same time, I was reminded of the growth I've experienced over the last 5 months as I faced one of my biggest fears head-on. When I think about the responsibilities of leaders in the context of the "real world," I realize that this growth is only a baby step. It's one baby step more, however, than I've ever been willing to take.