My ex-employer, and now mentor, once told me something I always, always hold on to,
“Do what scares you the most.”
This piece of advice is my crystal gemstone and I hold onto it dearly. It has propelled me to places, situations, and growth that I otherwise would not have experienced. Like these past few weeks.
1. Public Speaking
Public speaking is really not my thing. I feel very uncomfortable with having all eyes on me and having people hear what I have to say?? The old me would’ve gone, “Why??” But these past few weeks, I’ve seen myself gradually change. I see value in offering someone feedback, and asking the whole class for one—because we are our best resources. I would also say that I’m a lot more confident speaking to an audience now than I ever, ever was before. Being comfortable speaking to a crowd has also, weirdly, made me more of an active audience. This really makes me wonder why I’ve been passive in the past, but that’s for another time.
When I was, kind of defaulted into the CEO role, I really struggled because it’s a position I never saw myself in. I’ve always been a mediator in plenty of situations, and being in this position just seemed odd. Can I mediate and lead at the same time? I knew what a bad leader is: a dictator, micro-managing over-the-shoulders hoverer. But I never thought that being a leader actually requires extra, extra humility. There were plenty of times when I needed to set aside my own thoughts and listen to what my teammates have to say first. Things took a radical shift in team week when we were all open about how we felt about each other. Because of my prior experiences working in jobs alone and focused on deliveries, I took a lot of initiative in doing the work for the team; but I didn’t realize that doing this would make them feel excluded. My crazy timeline and thoughts that were only in my head made them feel unheard. These past few weeks have taught me what it means and take to be a leader.
I learned so much through this short leadership experience. Not just how I can better serve my team but also how I can be kinder to myself. I can be extremely unkind to myself at times. But I quickly learned that having this kind of attitude for myself is unhealthy for me, and also for the team. I learned how to forgive myself when times are hard (all those pivots, oh my god!) and also learned to be more humble to critiques and feedback and acknowledge the fact that I am still learning.
The most gratifying experience of this class has been seeing my teammates grow—so much in this short period of time. I am so proud of how much they’ve grown and how much they’ve changed, for the better, all in this short period of time. I have also unexpectedly loved and enjoyed helping them succeed—even though I really hate to be “that bad guy” sometimes. To be that person that lays down the bad or hard things. But one of the most important lessons I’ve taken away from this is also that being kind and being nice are not the same thing, which brings me my next learning.
I’ve had great bosses in the past (and not so great ones) and when I was struggling, I reflected and thought what they would do if they were placed in my shoes. I’ve heard this a lot, but now I really get it—being kind and being nice is different. Sometimes, a lot of times maybe, I needed to be firm but kind to my teammate if I know that something isn’t right. This was a really hard lesson for me to learn because I don’t actually like conflicts in general. Earlier in the semester, I struggled so hard with trying to balance being nice and being firm at the same time. But I always felt so bad and guilty. However, the team and I soon realized that honesty is much needed in order for us to progress and be where we want to be. I had to force myself to stay in that uncomfortable zone and figured out how to trust my team members. I concluded that if they knew that I genuinely care then they wouldn’t take offense to the hard truths. This was a very important lesson for me to learn. Which brings me to my next learning.
I wish there were other words to describe the immensity of empathy because this word is so trite, so loosely used nowadays. But anyways.
Each person in our team are all so different, personality and skills wise. Which is great. But at times these differences also caused friction. I learned through team week that I’d been too impatient, and wasn’t a good team player—which resulted in my team members’ feeling of exclusion. It was hard to hear and admit, but I had to learn how to stop and listen to what they have to say. If I didn’t understand it, I’d make sure to clarify until I understood. It might seem inconvenient or a hindrance to progress on the outside, but I learned that this is way better than speedy, unintentional processes.
A lot of things were new to me and my team members (especially Financials!). Whilst learning, we had deliverables at the end of the week waiting for us. I needed to sense when my team members could be pushed and when they didn’t need the push. I feel very proud of Claire, who came into this not knowing anything about marketing and numbers and came out of it learning so much because she spiraled a lot trying to figure our growth rate and strategy. It came to the point where she could even help and advise other teams on how they can work on theirs. I am also very proud to see Leo’s immense growth in learning about these financials and presentation skills. Through helping him tweak and work on his script, I learned to step inside his shoes. Together, we would craft a script that he could be confident in. He applied what he’d learned in Creative Founder on his final presentation for his Interior Design project and he said it was the best presentation he’s ever had.
Something about those things just warms my heart.
5. Learning to Rely
I was forced to rely on other people in this class—something I’m really not used to doing. I realized very quickly that this mindset of mine needed to change if I wanted to be a great team player and contributor. Aside from that, the workload I had put on myself was also taking a toll on me. Learning to rely on other people still scares me a little. There is a lot of uncertainty and preconceived expectations that goes around it. But I learned to verbalize those expectations and discussed it with the team, so we’re all on the same page and in agreement. I realized that all these uncertainties I have of reliance also derived out of the lack of trust. Which is dumb, because they’re awesome at what they do.
There were also instances when we (as a class) shared resources with one another when we’re stuck or frustrated about something. Sharing and getting feedback from them was really helpful because they know what we’re going through—they were the best people who can help us. (*ahem* how Hatch solves problems *ahem*)
This is an aspect that I’m still continuously trying to polish and learn, and it’s difficult because this has been my shell for many years. But I’m so glad to see that I have friends who were willing to lift it off with me.
Where do I begin?
This class was fun and I definitely learned A. LOT. It was, however, also thoroughly exhausting trying to balance this alongside other studio classes. All those pivots didn’t help with the mental and physical exhaustion either. It felt like we were continuously running on a race, non-stop, even towards the end. Thinking back now, I honestly don’t know how we managed to pull it off and for that, I’m very proud of us, regardless of the results of the fundings. I think we also learned how to balance between trying our best and letting it go when we have reached that limit; and between what we needed to do, and what we realistically can achieve without stretching ourselves too thin. In this aspect, I have seen An grew sooo much—from being an observer to an active participant that voices out her thoughts and opinions in group discussions and initiatives. It’s really such a wonder to see.
As a team, we also learned how to be scrappy because we had a lot less time than the other groups. We learned not to be precious about our ideas. And instead, we placed our efforts and rigor in figuring and asking important questions: Are we solving the right problem? How are we solving this? Do people care and why?
This experience trained us to be tenacious and resourceful. Teaching us how to think of ways to be most efficient with the least amount of time and sometimes, effort.
I could go on, and on, and on. There were many, many lessons I learned through this class. Even though it was a great experience, it’s one of those that I probably just want to experience once during my time here at CCA. The profound experiences weren’t about the subject matter itself, but the things that will make me a (hopefully) better collaborator and human being.
I am very thankful for Kate, my team members, the class for the non-judgemental, extremely supportive environment throughout this journey. Other people often wonder why the hell we chose to take this class at such an ungodly hour—but I am sure that none of us regretted this experience.
Here’s to us, the 12 crazy ones—the ones who chose a 6-hour entrepreneurial studio class on Fridays as their NightCap.