What is a leader?
There is no one correct way to describe one. Leaders are charismatic: directing their people with a shared vision and empower them to do things they never thought possible. Leaders are pacesetters: they lead by setting the example for their followers by being the best in whatever their field might be in, inspiring others to set their standard equally high. Leaders are courageous: in the face of adversity or problems, they will be the first to take charge and face it head on and encourage others to do so as well. Most importantly, leaders are servants: whatever they do, they do it for their people.
Being part of the executive committee for the organising of a service learning camp required me to attend a leadership camp in a joint arrangement by the school and the social enterprise that organises them, Positive Intentions. It was a camp to help student leaders such as myself to understand what leadership constitutes, to find our strengths and better understand our weaknesses, and finally reinforce our purpose and the subsequent responsibilities that lie ahead when we chose to undertake such a large scale project.
It was the first time that Positive Intentions had held a 5D4N camp, we were the pioneer batch to experience it.
Camp Group 1!
The first two days revolved around classroom-based learning, where instructors taught us about what leadership meant and exposed us to the challenges that we might face as student leaders and the attitude that we should take when overcoming them. The concept of ‘self’ was highly emphasised, whereby being a leader, before anything else, is about knowing your own strengths, weaknesses and thought processes first in order to better manage our ownself before leading other people. Subsequently, the next three days were followed with a lot of physical activity, where we were thrown into a completely different environment and forced to think of ways to survive on our own while constantly looking out for the rest of the teammates.
The camp was not easy to go through; it required both physical and mental endurance to go through. A number of people broke down in the camp, even guys, because the camp was intentionally framed to play with emotion, and draw parallels with real-life situations that we could face when planning for the camp. I am a person who usually keeps my cool extremely well, even in the most pressing of circumstances, but even I was not strong enough when being forced to confront the problems that my family was facing. It felt like time was too short to not cherish our loved ones and we should keep showing our appreciation for them before it is too late.
My personal thoughts on the camp itself are that it is a very meaningful 5D4N for us to go through, because despite the age differences in participants, the camp managed to impact every single one in a positive way. I suspect that such a camp would be effective even on working adults in the early stages of their career. There was only one instance that I felt that the camp could be improved on, and that was when all our personal belongings was taken out of our bags and messed up with others’ belongings; I felt that our privacy was not being respected and the message that they were trying to convey (in this case, how to react when we were presented with external circumstances that we cannot control) could be sent in so many better ways than invading our privacy. However, the rest of the activities were effective in teaching us lessons in communication, risk-taking, teamwork and critical thinking. a recurring theme throughout the camp was about taking responsibility for our own problems and asking the right questions, not just taking instructions at face value and assuming that we know what to do even when we do not. It was a refreshing perspective, because I have tend to take instructions and do first, and if I hit any roadblocks along the way, then I will ask for help based on what I have already experienced.
What I enjoyed the most about the camp was the time given for self-reflection. As an introvert, I have a thousand thoughts in my head at a single moments, and require time to be away from people to sort those thoughts properly and think about how they translate into lessons and takeaways that I could use in my life. It comes as a big surprise that I actually learnt more things about myself, because I am constantly reflecting on my actions and my own life. This just goes to show how important an outside perspective is for personal growth, because personal thoughts could be biased and shut off to what is actually happening with you.
These are some of the things that I have learnt about myself in the short amount of time spent-
I am a selfish person by nature; whenever we were required to do something, my first instinct is to do my own things right so that I would not get scolded, so much so that I do not bother looking out for others who need help and do not offer to help either. Although I still stand by my own philosophy that in order to help others, you must first help yourself so that you do not become a burden, I realised that I still do have the capacity to lend a helping hand to others once I got my own shit together, but I do not do so.
Secondly, I have a huge ego, much bigger than I realise. I tend not to speak up when there are too many dominant voices in the group in fear that my own opinions are not good enough or would be criticised by others. It is so much easier to save face by just following others’ instructions and pretending to be clueless than to have that ego bruised. During the camp, there were so many extroverts who were throwing out their opinions here and there that I felt like my voice was being drowned out, so I just gave up and let others do the talking instead. However, due to my silence, I did not contribute to the group as much as I could have and was voted to be the weakest link in the group. My huge ego means that my craving for respect and recognition is extremely high, and when I realised that my fear of being criticised was holding me back and even backfired on me, I took the final two days to come out of my shell and voiced out my best ideas. It was hard for me to gain back respect from my teammates after not proving myself in the first three days, but I pushed on, to speak firmly and get my opinions heard, and eventually, my camp mates started treating me differently as well. It was a painful but important lesson for me to realise that not communicating because I wanted to look good is very selfish of me and nothing good comes out from it.
Thirdly, I am very good at getting things done, quickly and well, but very poor and communicating so. When others are discussing who should get what done, I usually just get up to do it and finish it. However, what I definitely could have done better was to show others what I have done, because without asking for their opinion nor communicating to them what I have contributed, they would never know about it and would not change their opinion of me either. Previously, I felt that communicating my contributions to the team is a lot like tooting my own horn, and was afraid that I will be judged for it, so I usually work quietly in the background, but the camp experience changed my perspective completely. My team leader at work had tried to teach me this previously, but I never really understood what she was trying to say until I experienced it for myself.
At the end of the camp, there was a huge emphasis on how our individual purpose should be for the C4SR (Centre of Social Responsibility at SMU) and the organising committees that we will be working with over the next 8 months. I am unsure if I am that noble to say that I am committed to the C4SR itself, a cause that I have yet to know and understand. However, what I do know that I am definitely committed to are my own words and actions, to make sure that I deliver whatever I said I would, to prove to myself that I am responsible and committed to whatever I choose to do. I will also be committed to the people during the camp who proved to be selfless and provided me with endless support when I did not feel like I was worthy, to make sure that they get back the support that they require of me by a 150%. These may be, in the eyes of others, selfish reasons, but they are the most important as to what would make me keep on pushing through the next 8 months of planning.
I put in effort,
not for something that others tell me to do,
but for the things that I hold close to my heart.
P.S Special thanks to Mr Ethen Ong and the facis who organised the camp and made it a success, as well as to the C4SR Emily and Geck Cheng who fought hard for us to have a camp in the first place!