Photo Credit: Austin Schmid, Unsplash.com

Written by Rachel Carey
January 17, 2020

“How can I be a leader?” The voice in my head says loudly, trying to pull me back to safety–but the secret to success was always in my blood.  

In this moment of reflection, I stood in front of a group of juniors at a local high school preparing to speak to them about leadership. They’d been studying leadership out of a textbook and understood it conceptually, but the books didn’t teach them the energy.

My job was to inspire these students to find their own essence of leadership. My notes were laid out in front of me. This was to be a conversation, not a lecture. I wanted to engage them in a conversation on leadership, why it was important, identify those key skills and attributes, and convince them there are no limitations.

I wanted them to connect to their vision, values, and be inspired to lead from that space; using the lessons as the tools and their hearts as their guide. As I stood there, I thought of all the reasons I wasn’t the person that should be in this role based on my past. 

Building Blocks of Leadership

I had a lot of blocks thrown in my path to success–raised in an abusive household, suffered from depression, anxiety, PTSD, became a teen mom–I had so many reasons why (statistically) I wasn’t aligned for success. The reality was, I was a leader because of these blocks. They inspired me. My most powerful life lesson in rising into leadership was also the best and worst moment of my life.  

I was in a major car accident at age 15. The car slammed into a tree at 70 mph.  The driver leaped out of the car to find help. I was alone in the car, in shock, bleeding internally, confused, and disoriented. I’d been suicidal the day before, but today, I fought with all I had to survive. I was in and out of consciousness, but remember being loaded into the helicopter.

I came to as the hospital lights flew overhead. I was in slow motion while everyone raced around me. As the doctors performed scans, I woke again and began to scream; directing them what to do. There was no time for scans. I wanted to live. I had a purpose that wasn’t yet fulfilled.

The doctor’s said I had a 50/50 shot at survival after the surgery to stop the internal bleeding. My spleen had ruptured, my liver was lacerated. My right eye left with permanent vision damage. My legs cut deeply, in some places it was down to the bone. I lost a lot of blood, so much so that my transfusion had, for a short period changed my blood type from type B+ to O-.  If I survived this, I would be immunodeficient.  

I listened as adults sat around me entering fears into my head. What would people think about my mutilated body? How badly would I be scared? How could I stay employed now that I was immune deficient and would frequently get sick? 

The Conscious Choice

I had a choice. I could give in to the fears. I could allow the blocks to stop me in my tracks and accept my fate as the fears outlined it to be. Or I could see the opportunity, and from it, I could rise.

I’m not sure it was a conscious decision. I think there was a lot of unconscious work at play. I’d fought to live, and it wasn’t to sit and cry at my losses but to be grateful for the gains. I decided then and there to let my blood teach me a lesson. 

The amazing thing about blood is that it regenerates. There may be a loss that requires help, and then it renews and regenerates. The blood heals and nourishes. The blood gives life. And just like my blood type, I knew the secret was to be positive (B+).

I’d get sick often. So I learned to work so hard that nobody minded when I got sick. I built a set of skills and allowed my career to branch out in a way that supported my health needs.  

I didn’t allow the statistics to define me. I understood how they shaped me. They were obstacles that strengthened me and allowed me a deeper understanding of other’s pain.  

This leadership story came to me as I was about to help this high school class connect with their energetic leader. I realized that these stories of challenges were also part of their energetic makeup. I knew that just like me, each one of the students had their own obstacles. And likely, they were also facing the choice to allow their obstacles to define them or simply to shape them.  

That is where we began the discussion, with me saying “here’s my story.” Know that you aren’t broken or flawed. You’re perfectly you and perfectly ready to lead with the following key guides:

Release your limitations and seek out the opportunities.

Limitations aren’t really limitations. They’re opportunities for you to get creative and build strategies. I found my perceived limitations as a motivator that fueled me to find success. I tackled them like an engineer, focused on the solution or the workaround. 

Always be curious. 

By being curious and releasing judgment you open yourself up to so much more possibility. I love starting the sentence with “what if” and see if I can explore my way to an exciting new possibility. “What if” allows me to think out of the box. It allows me to shoot for the stars.

Know your values, see your vision, and convey it with passion and enthusiasm.

Have you ever noticed how someone with confidence can just sell you on anything because they believe in it and are excited? This is because we would all rather be influenced by the infectious nature of confidence and enthusiasm. We want to support that! Confidence is rooted in knowing your values. What are you passionate about? How can you inspire others?  

Use your tools to lay the tracks, but remember it’s your energy that drives the machine.

Remember the knowledge, strategies, and labor are your tools to success; but if you don’t balance in time to nurture your energy, too, you may become so burned out–no tool can be used until you’re recharged.

It’s critical to make space for things that fill us up with joy and gratitude or take time to service the machine with rest, exercise, and nutrition. Giving yourself a boost in energy can be as simple as taking a moment to appreciate the night sky, or keeping a list of what brought you joy in the day.

Be like my blood—be positiveand regenerate as needed.  

When you wake up in a bad mood, the day usually will follow along with you. But when approaching each moment of the day with a positive attitude, the day tends to go pretty smoothly. And when there are bumps, a positive attitude has you sail over them quickly.

But where does that resilience come from? It comes from a full tank. What routine would help you be more resilient in times of stress? It can be as simple as maybe a regular walk outside, or a 30-second dance break.

On my hardest days, I soaked in the joy of the moonlit sky or the setting sun. Taking just an extra minute or two before I headed into the house from a long day to appreciate the beauty of the sky sometimes was all it took to regenerate that energy as I moved into the next event or duty.

Photo Credit: Austin Schmid, Unsplash.com