It is daunting to go out and seek connection; a risk to put yourself in front of others. For me, a student of theatre, putting myself “out there” often meant taking the stage as a character and sharing stories with a roomful of strangers, certainly not everyone’s definition of the phrase.
Theatre has been my best friend, my confidant, and my touchstone since I was in the third grade. Beginning in college, the theatre also served as a laboratory for my leadership journey. It was the atmosphere where I first discovered the leadership traits and styles that I most admired and wanted to embody.
One moment in particular stands out. It was my first named role in college, and I was eager to prove myself. The show opened, and just as the warm feeling of congratulations engulfed the curtain call, the student newspaper published a review. Said nicely, the analysis tossed the last six weeks of our work into a woodchipper. I was simultaneously angry and crushed. I felt that the run of the show was over before it truly even began.
That was until one of my professors called the cast together before our second performance. He said to us, “unless they have taken the steps from off-stage to on-stage, then they cannot know what it takes to make the show happen.” This professor was not the director, and he did not have to speak with us that day, but he chose to because he knew we felt defeated. His advice continued as he told us to respond to the condemnation with a smile and a nod. He urged us to not punch back and let negativity win, as that was no way to make art.
I took myriad lessons from that moment. First, a leader is not just a leader by means of their title. They are the people who unselfishly go out of their way to provide aid in times of need. Second, someone can always belittle your work, so respond politely with your chin up and then move forward. There is no success in digging up old graves or laying new ones. With that, I am reminded to put myself out there with a responsibility to lend a hand and an understanding to own my work with honesty and humility. That is the recipe for astounding art and marvelous leadership.