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Love and Leadership

With March upon us and Valentine’s Day, when we celebrate love of others, behind us, perhaps it makes sense to take note of a similarly powerful kind of love: leadership.

When you love to lead, great accomplishment probably lies ahead. If nothing else, as the saying goes, “If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life.”

As a psychologist with a strong affinity for working with youth, I can say that very thing.

Unfortunately, it seems that many in the rising generation of professionals may be lacking that special spark. A recent article in The New York Times, “Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” makes the point. Author Erin Griffith points to a “hustle culture … obsessed with striving, relentlessly positive, devoid of humor, and – once you notice it – impossible to escape.” She says, “Never once at the start of my workweek – not in my morning coffee shop line; not in my crowded subway commute; not as I begin my bottomless inbox slog – have I paused, looked to the heavens and whispered: #ThankGodIt’sMonday.”


Griffith quotes David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of a software company and co-author of a book about creating healthy company cultures, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, as saying this culture is “grim and exploitive.” Griffith goes on to say, “It’s not difficult to view hustle culture as a swindle. After all, convincing a generation of workers to beaver away is convenient for those at the top.” In that vein, and referencing the notoriously demanding technology sector, she states, “Mr. Heinemeier Hansson said that despite data showing long hours improve neither productivity nor creativity, myths about overwork persist because they justify the extreme wealth created for a small group of elite techies.”

Cynical? Maybe not.

Cultural critic Anne Helen Peterson Griffith, in her BuzzFeed article about millennials, says they “are just desperately striving to meet their own high expectations. An entire generation was raised to expect that good grades and extracurricular overachievement would reward them with fulfilling jobs that feed their passions. Instead, they wound up with precarious, meaningless work and a mountain of student loan debt. And so posing as a rise-and-grinder, lusty for Monday mornings, starts to make sense as a defense mechanism.”

Similarly, New York Times columnist David Gelles, in his piece as guest editor of LinkedIn Daily Rundown about “loving your work, hating your work, and working with those you love,” says,“Most of us spend much of our time working, believing that it will make us money and that money will make us happy in the long run. But we’ve got it all wrong, argues Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillins. Research consistently shows that the happiest people use their money to buy time. ‘People who are willing to give up money to gain more free time – by, say, working fewer hours or paying to outsource disliked tasks – experience more fulfilling social relationships, more satisfying careers, and more joy, and overall, live happier lives …’” 

But maybe the key to happiness is not just time, but rather the sentiment reflected in the tale end of Gelles’ post – working with those you love.

In that vein, and possibly reflecting a much welcome shift for Generation Z, sixteen-year-old Eli Waldman shared his story as a young man finding passion in helping others and learning to love and lead:

As a high school student approaching the college application process, I am struck by the barrage of requirements to show leadership experience. Colleges want to see – in addition to top grades, rigorous classes and stellar ACT scores – that applicants demonstrate leadership ability. This perpetual and often annoying message got me thinking – what exactly is leadership? Is it being the captain of the lacrosse team or debate team, president of the student government association? Is being the chosen head of a particular club or activity the only way to demonstrate leadership?

So many questions, so few answers.

What I do know is that high school is hard enough if you’re born here. Now imagine the challenge of navigating it without any language or cultural context. For two years I observed the High Intensity Language Training (HILT) students (newly arrived immigrants) at my school maneuver the hallways and lunchroom alone – virtually a community unto their own. How can they be expected to integrate and feel welcome and included when there are few opportunities for them to mingle with mainstream students?

What started as a ninth grade English class group final project became the first club at Yorktown High School that brings HILT and native English speaking students together for afterschool and weekend activities. Our assignment was to address a global issue that is reflected within our own community and offer a viable solution. We observed that the polarization of civil discourse in this country and our community has made it increasingly difficult for people to connect with those who live outside their own cultural frame of reference. Many tend to retreat inward to our own socioeconomic and cultural communities rather than reaching out to those who are different. Sadly, our school’s lunchroom offered an example of this schism. While the assignment only tasked us to draft a project, we decided to take it one step further and actually implement it. Many steps and years later, we officially launched the Arlington Student Amalgamation Program (ASAP) in the fall of 2018.

You cannot force friendship, but you can forge friendships by creating opportunities for students to interact in a comfortable environment in which both parties are at ease.  

Depending on the season, we play soccer or board games together after school. And the best part of this club is that no one is the leader. Or perhaps we are all the leaders. I now have friends in school from South America, France and the Middle East. And while I might not have classes with them, I see them in the hallways and sit with them at lunch. My friends and I are helping them with their English and they are teaching us about their native countries and cultures. I am not trying to play the role of mentor or role model and I’m not looking to teach, instruct or guide. We are just friends. 

So I guess I do have an answer. Being a leader is being your authentic self: it’s loving who you are, where you come from and owning your story without feeling threatened by differences in others. Being a leader is not about exerting influence, power or even a loud voice. It’s about making room at the table so everyone has a chance to shine. It’s having the courage to be yourself and do what feels right to you, whether that’s standing up for something you believe in, helping a friend in need or admitting that you don’t have all the answers.

An answer, indeed.

Love and leadership as a recipe for fulfillment and success.

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