Raw Reflections on Leadership

A post on learning resilience and compassion through self-doubt and fear.
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The Laidlaw project started for me as a surreal opportunity which wasn’t meant for people like me, at the time not realising what I meant by that. Possibly the self-doubt and fear of not being good enough to start, particularly surfacing around the time of starting university, going down the typical path of ‘finding myself’ and ‘who am I’.

After applying to a project I found interesting, I was proudly accepted onto the scholarship. This was soon followed by the first summer research project and other opportunities the scholarship had to offer.

I was raring and ready to take on the research project, excited to start and hold myself accountable to a long-term project with the support of two incredible supervisors who continue to advise me now. I was excited and ready to do whatever it took to make the most out of the project in whatever way I could. I soon realised how this thought pattern had manifested its way into my work habits which placed too many expectations on myself, allowing me to procrastinate over the course of all 3 university years.

At the time, I did not believe anybody had this problem as the Scholars Network was covered in essays and reports from their projects. This of course enabled more procrastination because unfortunately, that’s just how procrastination works. I tried to make up for it by taking on more work to delay the project's finishing, turning it into a fully-fledged paper in a field in which I had no experience prior to the project. In my head, I was too drained by the expectations I had placed on myself to start, each time I did I saw more openings and distractions to take me away from the end goal which I was so in fear of reaching. Phrases of ‘what if they see I’m a fraud’, ‘what if I’m rejected’ and ‘what if I’m ridiculed’ pounded me. The outcomes of these fears reflected so much on my sense of self-worth that it took me away from seeing the reality of the situation.

Remembering that I started this period during the Coronavirus pandemic, doing the project at home without social support may have affected me more than I knew. Looking back, I know I could have done more at the start if I had been more compassionate about the newfound pressures, I had found myself under from the pandemic and the start of university. However, the Laidlaw Foundation must have believed I was up to the task otherwise they may not have accepted me. Acknowledging this kept me going under crippling self-doubt, pushing me to learn what was necessary to complete the project. I learnt to do the small necessary tasks firsts, then allow the time to open to all the possible outcomes and avenues a research project can take.

Fast forward to the present day, I am now the main author of a paper representing the Beger research lab at the University of Leeds in collaboration with the University of the Ryukyus in Japan which is in process of becoming published. Ultimately what kept me going was not completing the project for myself, but for the research lab I was working for, my supervisors and the Laidlaw Foundation. The sense of obligation and responsibility have held me accountable, in addition to practising to keep in mind the outcome for others, not for myself.

This project has pushed me deep down to pursue a goal which I couldn’t believe would be possible for an undergraduate student when starting. Becoming friends with your own self-critic has shown me to see clearly through the self-doubt and fears your mind can feed you. The uncomfortable lessons I learnt whilst navigating these feelings have taught me a lot about myself, making it easier for me to show up to my commitments both personal and academic. Importantly, it has also shown me my own type of self-leadership, as the way you manage yourself commonly reflects the way you lead and turn up for your community.

Be compassionate and honest with yourself about how you really feel and why. Learning to open and give yourself space is just as important as the work itself. My personal tutor taught me to give myself intentional procrastination time in advance, not the common ‘I’ll wait 10 minutes’ or ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. It is not unprofessional to be vulnerable with academics (something I still tell myself). Concentrating on your own sense of self-worth and poking back at your fears with ‘so what’ can be really empowering to get out of your own head and see how much you have already done.

N.B. This was partly written as procrastination for another article I am to write for the Network.

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