Leading In My Own Life By Liz Cruz

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Some say leaders are born, others say that leadership is a learned behavior. What if someone told you it was both? What if I told you right now that you could be a leader? Yes, that's right You! Right now you can be a leader in your own life. You might read this and think no that's not me I am not leadership material, and let me tell you I was in your shoes only a few years ago. I was a young woman just out of school thinking that the best thing for me to do was get a job and live a simple life, but then I met someone who believed in me. Someone who saw past the facade and found in me a small flame and poured gasoline on it. Through his encouragement I joined a gap year program called Heroic Leadership Institute that changed my life. The program is designed to equip young adults with life practices that will allow them to live the life of a leader. In whatever capacity that means, for some its in ministry within the Church, for others it was in the career-world at a company, or wherever they feel called. What this program taught me was that everyone can lead to some degree in their life; whether that's personally, in a small group, or in a larger corporate setting. Nonetheless, we all have the ability and fire within us to be leaders.

Heroic Leadership Institute (HLI) taught me life practices adopted from the Jesuit Order and it's leader Saint Ignatius of Loyola. they have equipped me with valuable tools that I have used since then to live my life to the fullest. These practices have helped me in my personal, business, and church life to become the best version of myself I can be. In this short article I will be sharing with you some of the practices I've learned and how they have helped me during and after my time in HLI to be able to be a leader in my own life.

One of the practices that I learned in HLI was being self-aware and how knowing who I am and how I work is important in discovering how I can lead myself and be the best me I can be. Self-awareness focuses on who we are, where we came from, and how we function so that we know what we are capable of and where we need to grow. For me self-awareness looked like discovering how my past of growing up in a family that struggled with addiction and abuse had formed me. During HLI I was given opportunities to practice looking back over my life and where I came from and defining things from those times that I saw had formed me into the person I am today. I discovered through this process that because of the fact that I grew up in a family that struggled with addiction and abuse that I at young age identified myself as a peacekeeper. I took it upon myself to fix any problems in order to create a sense of peace for myself because my life at home was chaotic. I believed that if I worked to keep everyone happy that my family would stay together and I wouldn't lose them. I discovered that I had placed a high value on family and making others feel important. I also discovered that I had my own deep desire to feel loved and wanted by those around me. Through these discoveries I am now able lead myself in ways that allow me to be a healthy peacekeeper while also expressing my need for love and support.

A second way of practicing self-awareness that has helped me be a leader is through emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is the awareness of how I personally react emotionally to a situation or event. Being able to identify my emotions allows me to properly navigate situations or events in the best way possible. For instance, within the last year I was in a situation where I was having a tough and emotional conversation with a close friend during a youth training camp where we were both in a leadership role. The conversation took place during a big group activity where both of us were supposed to be available to assist any youth who needed to talk with someone or receive prayer. During the conversation I became aware through emotional intelligence that the type of conversation we were having was not good for the setting we were in because I had to be emotionally calm in order to be available to help any youth that needed me. So I communicated with my friend that the conversation was important to me but we had to move on because of the situation we were in. Through that communication we were both able to move forward into the roles we needed to be in, without either of us feeling unheard. I was also able to take my emotions and work through them in order to get to a place of being ready to do what I was there to do.

Other practices I gained through HLI that have helped me during and after my time in the program are spending time focusing on God each and everyday and listening to Him even when it's something difficult. They way I was taught to focus on God was through a spiritual practice called the Examen. The Examen is simply sitting in the presence of God and clearing your mind to be open to what He has for you. It can be done through asking questions about what God has for you, focusing on a specific scripture of the Bible and asking God to show you what He is offering you through it, or even just taking time at the the end of your day to look back over the events of that with God and having a conversation with Him about what happened to you and where He was. This practice has allowed me to begin each day with the right mindset. I take time every day to focus on God and ask Him what He is doing and how I can join in. This gives me the confidence that I need to complete the tasks I have to do for that day with the knowledge that I am doing them with God and joining Him in what He is doing. It gives me faith and hope with the things during my day that seem hard or frightening that they will run smoothly and without issue. Each day I end with a time of looking back over what happened and feel accomplished in what I got done because it was what God had for me that day.

Listening to God is a great way to lead yourself and those around you. When you focus and ask God what He has for you or a person you know, whatever He tells you will be good because He is good and His plans are good. God has our best interest at heart and His plans are always for our benefit. So even when what you feel Him saying is something you don't want to do, do it anyway. I promise you it will be worth it. I chose to listen to God and move to a state that I had never visited, to a city I didn't know, to work with people I didn't know. It wasn't in my plans to make such a move. I wanted to stay near my family for as long as possible because they were important to me. But God said go, so I went. I moved to this town and discovered that I didn't really like it. The people were different, the culture was different and I barely knew anybody. I was having a really tough time. I prayed to God and asked Him why He sent me here. What purpose did He have in making me so uncomfortable. He answered my prayer with time. As time went on and I stayed where God had called me I began to see changes within myself and challenges that I was struggling through in my heart. I saw that God was pruning me. He was forming me into a new creation, a new me. He forced me to face up to things I had hidden away from for too long. He challenged me to do things that I would have never thought possible before. It has been hard but I have kept going because I am trusting in the Lord to bring me through. There is growth happening, I am becoming more of my own person. I am taking authority over what I own, and do. I am becoming someone new. It's exciting! Even in the hard truths and the fights I have to fight within myself, I am excited. I am excited to see where this will take me. What path this will lead me on. I am excited to see what God has in store for me at the end of my desert walk.

All these practices are helping me to this day in leading and becoming who I am meant to be. More importantly though, these practices have helped to grow my relationship with God. They have helped me to rely more heavily on Him in my day to day, and have opened up my heart to receive more of what He has for me. If you don't take anything else from this article, please just remember that through God your life can become wonderful and He can change even the worst circumstances into the most amazing adventure of your life.


Mary McKellick