I never accepted the title of being a leader, because to me, the idea of true leadership was rose-colored. I thought that being a leader meant you know everything that has to be done and that you have the heart to do it. It also meant the acceptance of position, social relations and the spotlight, and I knew I just wasn’t cut out for that kind of stuff.
Leading, to me, came in form of forced volunteerism, when no one in my group stepped up for a graded project and fingers pointed at me. It materialized during activities where the teacher or adviser would appoint me for a certain role and I had to do this and that to get the task done. Every time, I rarely had a say in the matter, which, by the end of each experience, would make me question the genuineness of my efforts. I wasn’t sure if I was passionate about leading because I was just thrust into this lifestyle.
Rather than dwelling on what my position was, I’d try to concentrate on the work. Required or not, I knew that I always did my best in everything. Every output, project or event that I produced takes away a part of me and despite my motivations, or lack thereof, I’d willingly give it anyway.
But it bothered me, this resistance to the leadership title, every time I was sent to a conference, nominated for a leadership-related award or grouped with other school leaders for an activity, because I felt undeserving. I felt like a sham; I was doing good things, I knew that, but I wasn’t the type that’s getting elected and that’s actively campaigning for change. (I’d like to believe that I’m more of a background person, sowing seeds one at a time.)
Nearing the end of my college life, I managed to convince myself that I was a leader, or I was learning to accept it, at least. I have come far from a hesitant freshman and I have been a catalyst for good things to happen in organizations that I’ve dedicated myself to.
But you know, people graduate and they somehow think that the after life is a blank slate where you just have to prove yourself all over again. And so I reverted back to my sluggish insecure way of looking at myself.
By the time I was chosen for TOSP – Region IV-A, I was in the process of going to job interviews, and I felt like I was over that whole issue (basically because I thought I didn’t have to think of it anymore). Of course, I was wrong; I had to force that worry at the back of my head so that I won’t shrink myself when interacting with my fellow finalists.
When I stepped in the San Sebastian Retreat House, I changed my mindset. I decided that I won’t make it a big deal, me feeling like I didn’t deserve to be among the finalists and me thinking that I wasn’t born a nation builder in the first place. I’d be casual, enjoying the formation, showing my true self despite whatever judgement I might elicit. I was going to let go a little and live a bit more.
For four days, I ‘envibed’ that within me and what a good decision that was. I was able to not only be more open about myself in a short span of time but also meet really amazing, driven and talented people whom I came to love and respect. (Kaway-kaway, Sinagtala!)
My first impression of my batch-mates was that they looked like adults, like real grown-up decision-making people. Sitting in a wooden lounge, we all looked pretty mature and that sort of allowed the thought of actually graduating to sink in.
At first, you’d notice the awkward distances between us. One of the facilitators even teased us for being too quiet and behaved (but of course, we were just warming up). Renzy was mostly the one to initiate conversations and introductions. Heaven knows, I was so thankful that he was there because he was my default person there and he helped me keep talking and laughing when I was tempted to fold.
Eventually people chipped in with the conversation, and even if it all started with the conventional small talk, we slowly came out of our own thought bubbles and into the group we were forming.
Once we got through the activities together, everyone loosened up. And, I don’t know, there was something about our individual circumstances and personalities and the way we all came together that made our bonding really special. Everyone was just so honest and so willing to make friends. I guess, we just gave our hearts to the whole process and that’s why we meshed so well together.
I’ll never forget the jeepney rides where, instead of falling asleep, I was wrecking my head for answers to simple brain teasers, the instant harana by the boys bursting into song, the scrumptious meals served in between sessions, the trying-not-to-move move every time I have to go to sleep because I didn’t want to wake my roomie and just my roomie really, the songs and lyrics that made us pour out our hears, the cutesy envelopes, especially mine that broke open even before I got it, the spoken word poem that became our batch response, the Mongolian Beef night inclusive of the screaming and shouting and just having fun, the singing for people we wanted to be happy, the blind fold and the everything about the amazing race and the open forum during the last night where I not only thanked my batch-mates, but also I discovered how much they valued me.
(Sobrang dami pa talaga. Lahat naman talaga ay ‘di ko makakalimutan. Nakakakilig alalahanin, actually. Ugh. I miss them.)
Among all the things we did as Sinagtala, I would never ever ever forget the person they helped me become. They made me fearless, making me realize that I shouldn’t be as afraid as I was about how people will think of me and how I can mess up. They helped me explore my extroverted feeling self and taught me how to just be myself even without any assurance that others won’t understand my level of weirdness. Kasi naman. Kahit hindi nila ako sobrang kilala, pinapahalagahan nila ang mga iniisip ko at pinakikinggan nila ang mga sinasabi ko. Pinaramdam nila na mahalaga ako. Eeeee.
And all throughout the whole experience, we were guided by the alumni and that made the difference. They have experienced the formation in the past and have been finalists like us. Perhaps, that’s why they were more personal as facilitators and why they also bonded with us easily. That’s also the reason why it was easy to love the community that we were becoming a part of; seeing them work so hard, willingly sacrifice and volunteer was a reminder why people advocate a cause in the first place – because they love what they’re doing.
Because we also became close to the alumni we met during the formation, we got a view of the behind-the-scenes from time to time and it was reminiscent of some, if not most, of myself when I organize activities or do work for the organization I was a part of in college. Seeing them and helping out now and then was, to me, a great reminder that leadership isn’t really glamorous. Instead, it’s humbling.
I mean, sure, being a leader can have its perks like being the one to represent the school all the time but at the root of it all, it’s just about giving yourself even if sometimes, there is only so little to give. Kudos to all the alumni!
After the TOSP formation, after just four not long enough days of reflecting, bonding and transformation, there’s already so much that has changed about me. (For one, I learned that I can be mistaken for an extrovert when I open myself up to other people. And that people can actually recognize my thought-processes and they appreciate it.)
Because of the experience, I can now own the type of leadership that I practice and inspire. I am a leader because I have things I just can’t not fight for. I am a leader because I can be compassionate. I am a leader because people can help me become one. (I wrote this without cringing. Yey!) And since I am a leader, that means I am a catalyst for actual changes I want to see. This sort of acceptance that I have now, gives me relief and freedom to dream bigger and aspire more for people that I wish to help.
I know that I am barely a perfect example for anything, but action, change, doesn’t work when it’s romanticized and I understand that now. It only works when it’s real, when you not only believe in it but also embody it and put it into action. That also applies for patriotism, nationalism and heroism and all the other ideals; if all those loves are not translated into a love that you can concrete-ize in a level you understand, they will not materialize within you. (I’ll elaborate this in a separate post, maybe.)
Most importantly, after everything, this girl who felt like she was only fooling the world into recognizing her got the affirmation that told her, “Yes Pollen. You have done good because you really wanted to.”
(A/N: So much more I wish I could say. Thank you, CALABARZONOS and SINAGTALA!)