Thursday, September 5, 2013

Over the Top

Last night I gave a speech for a local program that I participated in two years ago, Leadership Lehigh Valley. Here's a brief description of the program from their website:

Leadership Lehigh Valley (LLV) is a regional leadership development program designed to prepare and enable future community leaders. LLV's mission is to build a continuum of civic leaders committed to our community's excellence by serving as a catalyst for civic engagement.

I've always been civically engaged. This was unconsciously encouraged by my mother, simply by watching her read from the altar at church, shopping at the local farmer's market, singing at hootenannies, reading books from the public library, voting, and listening to the adult conversations she had with her friends. Later in school, I remember feeling challenged and frustrated at the contradictions of statements vs. behaviors of grown ups. In college, as I began to realize a highly complicated and troubled world, I became overwhelmed. What in the heck was I supposed to do to change the world as a bassoonist? I was developing serious delusions of grandeur with all of my lists, goals and aspirations.

A few career twists, some other momentous milestones happened, and I find myself in this moment of numerous blessings:
1. a great marriage (If you haven't met my husband yet, consider your life incomplete until you do),
2. two wonderful kids (I know every mom is supposed to say that, but my kids really are awesome),
3. an incredible employment situation with challenging work, supportive colleagues and enough of a brain trust around me to meet daily issues,
4. generous friends both near and far, and as many ways to stay connected with all of them as there are memories to cherish,
5. a lovely neighborhood and community in which I live.

So back to last night's speech. I was asked by the program director to offer some "reflection and motivation" for the new class. I started searching for a few "leadership" quotes to find inspiration, looked over notes from some educational leadership courses I've taken at Lehigh, and then came to the conclusion for my speech.

Leadership isn't a noun; it's a verb. It's something one does when they see something that needs to be done. I often call leaders around me, "superheroes." It's not that they have super powers. It's that they have a conscience and act on it. They participate, they follow the rules, they make mistakes and find ways to make up for them. Their deeds don't always get noticed or celebrated, yet superheroes do them anyway. The best superheroes in my book don't seek praise. In fact, if it's heaped upon them, they blush and are sometimes very uncomfortable. They just do their thing.

From all of models of leadership in my life, both good and bad, I have learned to take actions that aren't intended to qualify for a leadership label on my LinkedIn account. I just want to contribute something to this world that will make a difference; something that will help others, bring a little joy, or ease a burden.

I woke up this morning in the middle of a dream about my Aunt Bernice. She's been in my dreams a lot lately. I've written about Auntie Bernice before. She and my mom were also pretty good friends. Beyond her cooking, she was also a feminist and sang SUPER loudly (albeit beautifully) in church. She said the congregational prayers loudly, too. Maybe it was her way to drown out the BS that may have been swirling in the parish (I remember that pastor being particularly dick-ish). Her generosity, humility, and integrity was huge. Mostly, I remember her living life "over the top." She was a leader to me - and a superhero.

My mom lives her life "over the top" by volunteering at the Kenosha Public Museum and at the Anderson Arts Center across the street from her house. She still reads, and has a book club, she still drives, and is doing some AMAZING things in genealogy. She and my sister still do multiple trips to Spring Green, WI to watch theatre, and she still shops at the local farmer's market and sings at hootenannies. She's starting to share secrets with me. Like, as I get older, my body will take longer to recover from a fall. When I acknowledge the undeniable fact that I'm getting older, I panic. I feel like I'm running out of time to meet my aspirations.

But..... I'm already living my aspirations when I live "over the top" just like Auntie Bernice and my mom. They didn't analyze their actions worrying about if others call them a "leader" or not. They just embraced life, found joy, and did what needed to be done.

And how do I live life "over the top?" I'm going to leave that up to my kids to figure out when they reach my age. If they want to.

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