Leader of One

The following was written by Damon Leary and read to the CIT2s (counselors in training) at Manitou Experience on the last day of camp. It was inspired by all of the leaders he witnessed at Experience Camps for boys in Maine who made him think, feel, and lead in a different way.

Sometimes a word, after too much repetition, loses its meaning. The word ‘leader’ is often times such a word. We use it a lot here at camp with regard to you guys in particular, the CIT’s. I urge you to fight against this natural desire to tune out the meaning. I urge you to keep yourself in the leadership conversation despite the fact that maybe you don’t consider yourself a leader at this exact moment in time, or maybe don’t think you want to be one in the future.

Maybe you just want to write a novel and live in the woods. Maybe you want to start a small company and not deal with a bunch of people. Whatever it is you think you want to do, or don’t want to do, right now or in the future, never take yourself out of the leadership conversation. Why? Because whether you become a leader of a team, town, city, company, family, or no one at all, you need to always try to be a great leader of one person, yourself, or you risk being a bad leader for all. Even more importantly you risk not enjoying life as much as I know you all are capable of. You risk not enjoying life as much as you all deserve to enjoy life and that is truly what is at stake.

The five principles to guide your life

Soon you guys are going out into the world. Soon you guys will be given the keys to you. And for the first time you will be in the driver seat. It can be a scary time, yes. But it’s an exciting time too. You have all demonstrated great leadership skills with the ones around you. I urge you to demonstrate those same skills with regard to leading yourself. Employing the five principles that the CITs before you so ingeniously came up with, you can be a great leader of one and great leader of many if you so choose.

  1. Wisdom

Wisdom occurs when intelligence meets experience. You can’t have wisdom without experience. There are super computers out there much smarter than all of you combined, but they lack your experience and they are therefore not as wise. The name of this camp is Manitou Experience because everyone here has an experience to share. We have all experienced “loss” and are in the process of turning that loss into wisdom to move forward. While none of us would have wished for these experiences to have occurred, we can all use them to gain wisdom. It’s an opportunity.

We have all experienced setbacks, and on the road ahead we will experience more setbacks. Some of which are completely out of our control. Others will occur by our own hand and these types of setbacks are called “mistakes”. We all make mistakes. In fact I don’t think you are living life correctly unless you are making mistakes. Why? Because that means you are trying new things and pushing yourself to new limits.

It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you are making different mistakes. Let’s say a full life requires 100 big mistakes, don’t get stuck on number five and go back to one and repeat. That’s like taking this new car you’ve been given and driving around in a circle your whole lives. While it might be easier in the short term it will be less rewarding down the road. Learn from each setback and mistake to gain wisdom and move forward.

2. Responsibility

This week we set the bar high for you guys. We gave you a lot of responsibilities and you met all of them. Do the same for yourself.

If there is something in life you want to do: get a Hockey scholarship, learn guitar, learn to speak French, get better grades, be a computer programmer, write a novel, whatever it is, then take responsibility for that dream, make it a goal, and stick to it. Know that most goals will not happen overnight but they can happen in time. Say it takes 150 hours to learn guitar on a basic level, realize that you will not achieve this goal overnight. Chisel away at it bit by bit, two hours here two hours there. Take it from us older guys, 150 hours is nothing in the big picture.

Put that goal ahead of other things if and when your schedule allows. Say you have one free night to practice guitar or do your paper, and your friends are watching the Sox, or you just got a new video game, or your friends are staying out late, skip it for one night. It’s hard but it’s worth it. If someone offered me to trade all the hours I watched the Yankees, Giants, Knicks and Rangers, all the time I spent playing video games, or just hanging out, if I could trade all those hours to be fluent in Italian or good at guitar or to have written a novel, I would do it in a heartbeat. The games and parties and video games will always be there willing to take your money and time. The money you can make back, the time you can’t.

3. Brotherhood

You guys have been phenomenal at supporting your buddies, and fellow campers and counselors. Make sure you support yourself too. You guys love the guys around you. Take time to love yourself too. This might sound obvious but I, for example years ago found it easier to love other people before loving myself. It was easier for me to say “I love you” to another person than it was for me to look in the mirror and say it to myself. You all are worthy of your own love for yourself. Literally look into a mirror and say “I love you.” Literally give yourself a high five.

You make a mistake, cut yourself some slack. Don’t beat yourself up. Also, if you are having a great day, soak it in. It’s ok to have a great day, you deserve it. We all do. Don’t cut it short and then wallow in guilt. Guilt can be a trap. Guilt is like a pothole which can be as big as a baseball or it can swallow your car if you let it. Any loved one of yours, living or dead, would want all your days to be good ones. Each and every one of you deserves great things from life. Have high standards for yourselves.

If you find yourself in a situation that is beneath you, then get out as best as you can. If you get a “C” on a Paper and you think you deserve a “B,” then speak up, the teacher will respect you more either way. You deserve to be treated with the same respect you display to others. You deserve a raise and don’t get it? Speak up. If your peers are disrespecting you, screw them. Their loss. They are not true peers. They can live with their own negativity and you will benefit from your own positivity.

If you are not able to speak up then make sure it rolls off your back. One of the great things about getting older is that more and more things will roll off your back if you let them. Love yourself and let them roll right off. It’s not easy but it will get easier in time if you work at it which you all are doing right now. Be a good brother to yourself. I’ve seen you guys carry other guys up hills, make sure you carry yourselves too.

4. Versatility

This might be the most important one of the batch. Be flexible in life and be flexible with yourselves. Trying new things and listening to feedback are both keys to being versatile. Don’t talk yourself out of trying new things and going to new places. Don’t talk yourself out of having a good life. You don’t need to travel far and wide to try new things. Don’t just say, “Well I don’t have the money or time to travel so what’s the point?”

Most of my best memories have occurred in my own back yard so to speak. Go climb a hill near your house to watch the sunrise simply because you’ve never done that before. Take a break from your normal TV show to watch a documentary on something you know nothing about. Watch a classic movie just to see what it’s like. Take a class that’s out of your comfort zone but might turn into your life’s passion. These are all forms of travel but don’t require a lot of time or money. A better future might be around the next corner but you will never get there if you don’t go around the corner.

Good leaders can be vocal. The best leaders are good listeners. They listen to feedback and adapt and learn. Listen to your own feedback and respond. This is versatility. Don’t stick to a plan that your gut is telling you isn’t working any longer. The battlefield of life is littered with the remains of inflexible plans clung to by bad leaders who refused to adapt. Don’t be one of these leaders. Our legs were made to take us in all directions not just one. Try new things and LISTEN to yourself and respond.

5. Balance

Balance is putting all of this together. You might say “how can I have high standards and be flexible and wise and versatile?” How can I cut myself some slack and be responsible for my goals? How can I listen to one guy and let another guy’s words roll off my back all at the same time? The answer is: you can’t. Not at the same time.

The good news is you don’t have to. Life is always changing. Day to day, week to week. Each situation requires a new interpretation and response. Sometimes you will put yourself to bed early. Other times you will be staying up late into the night having a great conversation with a friend you just met. Sometimes you should be hard on yourself to meet your goals. Other times you need to cut yourself some slack. All times you need to love yourself and lead yourself. This is the balance of life.

You will be in that driver seat soon, as I said. You can let the car drive you around a circular track or you can lead yourself and drive down the ever changing and more rewarding road that is life. It’s not going to be easy at first. There will be some boring straightaways, sudden hairpin turns, long up-hills, yes. But there will be many more long downhills with beautiful views if you simply try your best to drive forward and be a good leader of one, yourself.