When your involvement is very visible and public, it is easy to consider the work that you do to be momentous. Important. To think of yourself as a leader of sorts. Which doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t and one’s work doesn’t matter. But earlier this week I was sharply reminded that leadership, goal-setting, balance, courage and optimism can be found everywhere, and leading yourself first and foremost is what leads to larger change. I thought I’d share the memory to keep it vivid, and have it hopefully serve as a reminder (to myself firstly) that social change takes many forms, some more visible than others.
I’m waiting for the bus. It’s cold and late at night, and despite walking slowly to the train station and dawdling over my choice of which after class treat to have this week, I’ve beaten the bus by a solid eighteen minutes. I sigh. The train ride was lovely, but now I just want to be home. I click my heels three times but that doesn’t work, so I switch on my iPod. Recently I’ve been listening to a wonderfully warm and funny lecture series, and though my hands are too cold to take notes right now, I’m sure it’ll make the time go by faster.
“Are you coming from university?” It takes a few tries before the girl a few feet away from me in the line-up manages to catch my attention. She has an open, friendly face, a beautiful smile, and is a bit nervous. I like her immediately. “Are you in university?” she asks again.
“Sorry? No. Well I mean I graduated last year. I mean yes. I’m taking classes soon. But not this evening…” I trail off a bit uncertainly. She isn’t staring at my hijab so this isn’t a country of origin chat, but I can’t figure out why she’s leaned over several people to start this conversation.
“You’re carrying a binder, that’s why I ask.” she explains. And indeed, in my rush to leave earlier I grabbed too small a bag, and am clutching my schoolbooks in my arms. “I see you waiting for trains and buses in the morning all the time, so I thought I’d ask finally what it is exactly that you do.
“OH! It’s just a mini course. For fun. Just as a hobby. And yeah, I do work out at UBC.” As I rub my hands together again to keep warm (and remind myself I may need a new hobby that doesn’t involve such cold temperatures), the bus pulls up, and we get on to find seats to continue our chat.
And indeed we do chat. About motherhood (she has a young son), marriage and the challenges of balancing all that with GED courses. About the dedication it takes to persist through your studies for a couple of years. About how you can’t just pursue one goal single-mindedly, you need to balance all parts of your life. And you need to make time to make your dreams come true. Even if that involves waking up at 5:30 am daily to study before the busyness of life takes over.
We chat about courage, and the experience of landing in a country without any knowledge of either official language. About how one navigates the airport. How you adjust. And how you begin to pick up the pieces and learn about a new place. How you figure out how to do what it is you used to do before you moved.
We speak about patience, and what it’s like to leave your family thousands of miles away. We move onto the the challenges of raising a toddler. How toddlers have their own routine, and no matter how tired you are, you have to keep up with them, and take care of them-every single day. There are no holidays. And we chat about the tremendous amount of learning that happens when you have to take care of yourself and learn new skills. The conversation goes on and on. (And as we chat, I find myself wishing those who say immigrants need to just integrate into Canada or go home could hear her words, but that’s a separate conversation).
We realise we are the same age, we realise we are worlds apart. The bus is noisy, and there are times when we have trouble making out what each other is saying, and need to lean in close to converse, her light blue jacket close to my striped light blue and navy hijab. At other times we stop and simply beam at one another. I am inspired, moved, and pity is far from my mind. I apologise about asking so many questions, but I can’t stop asking them. We’ve become instant friends.
As our destinations arrive and we part ways, I think: this is a leader. A global citizen. Someone who can smile and talk lightly about their challenges, be there for those who need them, and is striving to fulfill goals themselves. I think of myself, of recent inner complaints, of thoughts in turmoil, little worries, seemingly giant uncertainties and they seem small in comparison. It isn’t that they disappear in a magic poof as I arrive home, but I feel tranquil. A bit more grounded.
And more aware of the diverse nature of leadership. Outside arenas of recognition, in underpaid jobs and challenging circumstances, are countless immensely powerful, courageous and determined individuals. They may need help accessing community resources but they are agents of their own destiny. Offering anything else than solidarity in conversation, in thought, and in action misses the point entirely.