August 1, 2012
Thank You, I-LEAD
Midway through my I-LEAD experience, I severely dislocated my finger playing volleyball and called my mother from the emergency room. It was the first time I had spoken with her since leaving home three days earlier, and she was throwing a barrage of questions at me. I really didn't feel like talking; it was a bit hectic with x-rays and doctors and normal emergency room frequencies, and my finger was throbbing and in a considerable amount of pain. Despite all of that, when she asked how my week was going, I paused, smiled, and answered her with one word: life-changing.
Based on the little information I had, I expected the I-LEAD experience to be unique. My plan was to go into the experience open minded, but truth be told, I was somewhat pessimistic. And in the end, pleasantly surprised. I-LEAD is a very good opportunity to better yourself as a leader, but for me, it was so much more than that. The institute taught me how to elevate my leadership skills, balance my life, and strengthen new and existing relationships. Most importantly however, I-LEAD gave me the confidence I needed to make decisive decisions about my future where I had previously been most insecure.
As the name indicates, I-LEAD focused mainly on leadership. Areas that I felt were my weakness can now be added to my list of strengths, and my strengths have been improved by the intense, yet very enjoyable, curriculum throughout the week. The hands-on activities were designed to continually thrust us into situations where we weren’t necessarily comfortable, but forced us to understand that leadership is a process and not a title. There were times when my small group worked extremely well together and others when we failed. I now have a much better understanding of what it is to be a leader in any situation—a lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
As much as I-LEAD helped my leadership and professional skills to improve, I think that it impacted me even more on a personal level. I learned to balance my personal strengths with community respect in group discussions and exercises held throughout the week, forcing us to take a close look as not only ourselves but everyone else. As our values, morals, fears, and dreams were exposed and challenged, every participant was pushed out of their comfort zone and given the opportunity to grow as a person and a teammate. Through the ups and downs of the week, my team quickly became my family (we argued like one, too). In the end, I gained 14 great new friends, and that alone is worth everything to me.
I-LEAD is everything it claims to be. It does improve your leadership skills, it does educate you, and it definitely challenges you. In my case, it gave my life direction. It gave me confidence in myself. It gave me a supporting cast that I can lean on when things don’t go my way. As I sit here writing this now, it's still hard for me to even wrap my head around the transformations that occurred at the University of Missouri in those five days. What I do know, however, is that it had a profound affect on me and gave me the experience I needed to be a more effective leader and a better person.
Thank you, I-LEAD.
is the Student Building Manager at University of Tennessee.
Mason is majoring in chemistry with a minor in mathematics. He recently attended I-LEAD.