Many of you will not understand the title of this blog. For the 67 that do, I salute you and miss you all terribly. And for everyone else, if you are a KU student, I hope that you clench this opportunity that I will be describing like I did, and have the life-changing experience that I had. And for those who aren’t as lucky, I hope that these few brief words will at least enlighten you a little bit about what I was blessed enough to experience this past week, which taught me lessons that I want to carry on from Day 7 and the rest of my life:
On the surface, it is simply a six day leadership conference that feels like a retreat. Hosted in the beautiful woods at Tall Oaks, where the food is divine and the people amazing, this program is so much more that what is claims to be on the surface. I went in alone, without knowing a single soul that would be joining me, and I went in expecting to learn (or relearn, rather; this wasn’t going to be my first leadership retreat) information centered around what it means to become a leader, hoping to make a friend or two along the way. That’s it.
I have never been so wrong in my life.
And I am so glad that I was. (Also, if you caught The Hobbit reference in that one-liner, you’re brilliant). Sure, I relearned some information and I learned some new ideas about leadership and what it means — and what it takes — to be a great, integrity-driven, leader. And that was great, truly. But I learned something else, as well, something I definitely didn’t expect: I gained a better, deeper understanding of myself. There, I was asked to be vulnerable. Let complete strangers pick and prod into my brain, my heart, the very core of my being, beliefs and values. And I surprised myself by letting that happen. I was vulnerable with people and let my guard drop, shared my opinions truly and learned about what I truly stand for. One of the greatest parts is that they did the same for me. And the environment we created was magical.
I honestly have no other words to describe it (which says a lot, coming from a person who claims that her talent is making words dance into something beautiful). It was magical. It was otherworldly. It was an environment where everyone was open, where stereotypes were broken, where honesty reigned, where we would argue intensely one moment only to laugh the next, tears were shed freely and friendship was raised to feel like family. And that world was beautiful. And the visions each and every person had for our world are beautiful.
So why can’t the world that we returned to this past Sunday feel more like that?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be home. I was welcomed back by my RA family with a crazy amount of love and friendship that I didn’t expect and absolutely cherish. But I have caught myself more than once wishing I could go back to that world that we created in the forest, where I wasn’t afraid to be myself, because I didn’t feel like I would have been judged there. In six days, through making a conscious effort and letting some walls break and some honesty flow, we created a world unlike one I have ever experienced. Imagine what the human race could do if we all made a conscious effort to love one another, to get to know another person deeply, looking past the color of their skin, their intellect level, where they came from or where they plan to go. That’s a world I wanna live in.
For me, I learned a really important lesson there, one among many: the importance of self-love and self-value. Those who have been with me through it all, they know that trying to genuinely love myself has been something I have struggled with for as long as I can remember, mostly because of my physical appearance. And some of those people who I was blessed to meet at LeaderShape got a glance of that, also. But on our last night, we had a love bombardment session where we just told people why we cherished them, what was so great about them. And all the people I talked to, they said things about me that were so sweet, so compassionate, so amazing, I felt like crying. And they were all genuine. Honesty was a big theme that week and I could tell that everything people said to me, they believed to be true. And that really opened my eyes.
At that retreat, people who I had only known six days valued me and my character so greatly, yet I had only six days to make an impression. They valued me as much as my friends and family have for years. The valued me more than I ever have myself. And that blew my mind. One amazing person I met there, she had a vision of the world: for everyone to be valued and considered beautiful, without any physical attachments ever in the equation of that value. And her world was beautiful. And it seems impossible. But I encouraged her, told her to chase that dream with ever fiber of her being, because I want to live in the world that she believed in. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized something profound: I am the one that is holding her world back. I am one of the people who consider themselves “not good enough”, and those people don’t exist in her world. Her world is right before my eyes, I just need to chose to live in it, so that I can help others who are stuck see the true value and beauty they already possess. Just like she did for me.
So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. That is what I am going to work on: loving myself the way those I love so much have cherished me for years and strangers, who have become family, have the past six days. Self worth is important. And after this conference, I feel like I have a really great appreciation of who I am and what I stand for. Now, I need to love that girl, because she’s pretty great, too, despite what I’ve always thought. And I hope that I can help anyone else who has been blinded by the past see their own awesomeness, too. If everyone took a step back and learned about themselves and learned to love themselves for who they are, imagine the kind of world we could live in.
Maybe it’d be like the world we created back at Tall Oaks. I can sure hope so.