The LeaderShape Institute – A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

Posted by Megan on November 18, 2014

Journey to the Centre of York

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A few weeks ago I learned I was about to receive the opportunity of a lifetime. I had heard a little about an amazing leadership retreat called LeaderShape and I was pretty sure I wanted to go. I started an application online and got about 3/4 of the way through before I panicked.

For so long I have had this preconception of a cookie-cutter leader (you know, outgoing, confident, the like) and when I started to think about myself, I wasn’t sure I was such a good fit. I left the application and went on with my day…

The very next morning (no joke) my boss Meghan pulled me aside to let me know that the Director, Donna Cope (Director of Print and E Media Communications here at York), wanted to sponsor me and all I had to do to go was finish the application.

As I reflect back on this moment, I can’t help but laugh because this was just one of many signs in the weeks before LeaderShape, and even there, that let me know this was truly meant to be. The weeks leading up the Institute were stressful. I suffer from depression and anxiety and the amount of self-doubt I had was astounding. I tried to hold on to the feeling of pride I felt when I realized my co-workers saw my potential, but the idea of facing my fears (being in a large group with accomplished people I don’t know) was terrifying.

The morning I was supposed to leave was emotional to say the least. I had a huge breakdown and considered calling it off. When I finally calmed down and finished packing my bags (with about 10 minutes to spare) I had resolved to go. I wanted to make my boss and Director proud. I knew my partner believed in me. I told him that this was my Mt. Everest. It was going to be the hardest thing I had ever tried, but if I could get through it, I could accomplish anything. In my head it was a tipping point for the next chapter on my journey of self-development. It could make me. Or break me.

And you know what? I did it. I climbed my Mt. Everest! LeaderShape was no retreat (they told us the first day it’s called an Institute for a reason) – it was a beautifully overwhelming week filled with knowledge and emotion, fear and courage, strength and weakness and it made me.

A picture of all the students who went to the LeaderShape Institute.
The LeaderShape Learning Community. Can you see me? #YULS2014

The week was hard by any standards – we were up around 7 each morning with sessions starting at 8:30 am sharp. Sessions usually went until 9 or 10 pm with a couple nights that went even later. I also faced other personal challenges that week. Mid-week, I caught the flu. Seconds after getting sick I received a call from my partner, letting me know his grandmother had just passed away. I was heartbroken. One of my family cluster-members found me in a vulnerable moment and offered her support until the moment had passed. However, this was a few days in and the process of change had already started working on the very fibers of my being. It wasn’t long after lunch that I worked up the strength to rejoin the group, I just couldn’t miss any more sessions.

Thankfully the next day my flu was gone. I laughed, really and truly laughed, when I realized I was still sick, now with an upper respiratory infection. I almost didn’t even notice. The sessions offered were so informative, enlightening and life-changing. I don’t want to spoil the surprises but all I can say is the week was SO worth it. There was so much support, love and camaraderie that despite the personal troubles I was facing, I was more than ready to jump back into the experience.

One of the things I’m most thankful for, aside from the whole opportunity which led to my amazing jump in self-development, is my family cluster. Sessions were normally run in one of two ways. There was a ‘learning community’ with all 60 students. There were also ‘family clusters’ which had around 12 students each with a mentor who currently works at York.

My family cluster is one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my whole life. We had an amazing mentor, Mandi Hickman, who currently works with Community and Alumni Relations. I can’t say enough good things about her. She is so strong and conscientious and she helped us to see ourselves not as we thought we were but as we truly are. Our cluster bonded so tightly over amazing programming, vulnerable moments, and just awesomeness in general. We called ourselves the Wolfpack and our familial feelings are surely going to last a lifetime. You can’t go through an experience like that without bonding on a whole other level.

A story of two wolves.
This story was something our Wolfpack lived by – we even made a presentation based on it to the entire Learning Community!

All in all, the LeaderShape Institute is once-in-a-lifetime experience. I still have so much to learn and grow (I’m a lifelong learner) but this experience provided me the opportunity to take a massive leap (many leaps, really) forward. I have come out the other side with:

  • A better idea of who I really am
  • The personal insight to know my core values and strengths
  • The realization that I AM a leader and I’m going to make great changes in this world
  • The pride that I am much stronger and far more resilient than I ever let myself believe
  • The unconditional love of my Wolfpack
  • Connections and opportunities with other driven student leaders
  • A vision for my future with stretch and manageable goals
  • Renewed optimism and sense of wonder

All I can really say now is a huge, huge huge thank you to my boss and Director for believing in me. Because of you, my life has changed monumentally for the better. Only 60 students are selected to go to each LeaderShape Institute and I know that I was very privileged in being one of those.

Me, the day after I got back, my life changed forever.

To my peers, both prospective and current leaders on campus, I can’t say enough about this Institute. I strongly urge you to keep an eye on the SCLD LeaderShape page and when the next opportunity comes up to apply, just do it! I was probably the leader that went in with the most self-doubt and I would argue that I was one of the leaders who walked out with the most progress… so no matter your personal situation, don’t be afraid to apply! In the past the LeaderShape Institute has been offered in February and/or November so I recommend looking for the application at least a month before then.

If you have any questions about my experience feel free to post below!


Megan is a third-year Psychology student. Follow her on her journey of self-development as she explores and ventures through campus.

See other posts by Megan

  • Megan

    Thank you so much everyone for your kind comments 🙂

  • Megan

    Thank you Ataşehir 🙂

  • Avatar

    Wow. What a beautiful account of your experience, Megan. Thank you for sharing and for being so authentically you. -wolfpack forever!

  • Megan

    Thank you so much Mandi – Wolf What?!