Be a leader, not a follower.
Isn’t it interesting how something as large, varied and complex as leadership is routinely watered down to a single line? The problem with the above generalization is that it paints the world as a black-and-white canvas in which you can either be the best (a leader) or the worst (a follower). In reality, both leader and follower (or what I would like to rename “supporter”) roles are essential. If we were all bull-headed leaders, we would constantly pull in different directions, with no sense of unity. Supporters not only help provide strength in numbers but also have the agency to carve out the particular path they want to pursue. In a sense, we are all a little bit of both: we have leadership qualities that we embrace in big (e.g. seeking political office) or smaller, yet still important ways (like hosting a coffeehouse event in your neighbourhood to support a local charity). Each one of us also has the qualities of a supporter, whether we vote in federal elections or attend that coffeehouse and make a donation. Essentially, we all require support as much as we need to be supported.
In our new series, we will be highlighting a variety of students on campus who have both leadership and supporter qualities. We introduce them to you in hopes that these women and men will inspire you to use your own unique traits and talents to create the world you want to see.
First up is fourth-year Kinesiology and Health Science major Puneet Shoker. Puneet has worked with the Events staff at Tait McKenzie, with Residence Life as a don, and as a RED Zone Ambassador. Not to mention that she’s also on the varsity lacrosse team!
Before we delved into more serious matters, we asked Puneet some fun, rapid-fire questions to give you a feel for the person behind all the accomplishments. Take a look at her answers:
- Favourite song of the moment: Sorry — Justin Bieber.
- Last book you read: My Human Physiology textbook.
- Best thing that’s happened to you this week: I got to meet up with an old friend, out of the blue.
- If I gave you a free plane ticket, where would you go? Jamaica! My cousin just came back from her honeymoon there.
- If you could pursue any occupation, it would be: Orthopedic surgeon. I went to a health conference and we saw human cadavers — all I wanted to do was look at their bones!
Some interesting answers indeed! Now, on to the meat of our post.
We listed some of your co-curricular activities earlier, and they’re quite impressive. How do you balance it all on top of being a full-time student?
There’s school, work and extra-curriculars. Being able to work at York makes work my extracurricular — it’s my volunteering, engaging with students and getting involved on campus. I no longer feel like I have three things that I’m balancing. School is always the first priority, which is a hard thing to grasp at times, because as student leaders we get engulfed a lot. In my third year I just crashed, and I was lucky enough to have mentors to guide me. My key thing to balance is being able to let go, because you can’t just keep adding to your pile; you have to remove things in order to add.
Speaking of student leaders, leadership tends to be a buzzword commonly used but not always clearly defined. What do you think a leader is, or what do you think leadership encompasses?
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the TED talk, The Lollipop Moment — it’s by a phenomenal leader [Drew Dudley]. He started off by saying that a leader is someone to whom we give way too much credit. We describe leadership as an astounding thing that’s beyond our reach. The reality is that that’s not what a leader is. For me, it’s [going beyond] the bare minimum — it’s coming into whatever you’re doing and making a difference. You can go to work at your 9-5 job, do everything that your boss wants, but that’s not leading. Go outside of your job expectations and do something that’s going to make someone’s day. At RED Zone and Residence Life, specifically, I’ve had the chance to do that. I’ve been able to make a difference in students’ lives by talking and having conversations with them. Those are not often things that people get recognized for — it’s always about the count, how many things you’ve got on your resumé. [Leadership] is about being yourself and making an impact on people.
What do you take away from your experience at York?
There’s so much — if there’s anything I would do if I could go back is to slow down. We’re always in this phase of go, go, go, and sometimes among all that, we don’t sit and acknowledge the moment we’re in. Sometimes I wish I was able to sit down and indulge in the moment I was a part of. I think a lot of student leaders feel this. There’s so much we want to do, but we don’t take the time to take care of ourselves. The biggest thing I’ve had to learn in university is self-care, because if you don’t do it now, you’re never going to do it.
There’s a lot of people on campus who might be apprehensive about getting involved at York. What do you advise for them?
There’s going to be different types of things you’re going to get from a university experience. For example, I went to a mental health conference a few months ago and Drew Dudley captured it perfectly: “You are in high school and you work on this resumé that you want to keep to impress prospective employers. You work day and night to get involved and get jobs — then you go to university and have graduate, law and medical school applications. Once again, you’re building your resumé. At the end of all that, you realize that all of the people you’re trying to impress are people you’ve never met, or may never meet. Yet we’ve spent 8 to 10 years of our lives doing things for these people. Then there’s yourself — the person you wake up to and go to sleep with. We usually forget about that person.” When it comes to getting involved on campus, forget about [the mentality of] “I want to improve my resumé”; just think about yourself. What are you going to have fun doing? What are you going to remember the most? Get involved with something that fits your personality. There is going to be something that you fit into and if there’s not, make it.
Wise words, Puneet! How do you define leadership? Let us know in the comments or tweet me @yorkustudents!