Youth leaders go through various cycles of progression in their lives as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. This progression is not homogeneous but there are questions and lessons that are built through the mutual lived experiences.
In the past 5 years I have gone through changes in my professional life moving from the edges to the front lines of policy advocacy for action, health systems strengthening and last mile in service delivery for reproductive health and youth development programs.
I wanted to share some of the lessons I have learnt, still re-learning everyday with youth leaders and hope you find this useful with your journey (all the best):
It is okay to focus on one thing
This was very hard for me to do in the beginning as I was used to juggling and trying to drive multiple interventions at the same time. At the end of each year the outcomes were never as great as I had anticipated, I hadn’t stimulated change and sustainable linkages for youth development at the level I desired. When I started focusing on one thing, I was able to facilitate key stakeholder collaborations and be part of the team to design and implement the Youth Friendly Health Services Program Evaluation. Being about one thing especially when my former colleagues were still doing the multiple juggle made me feel like I was not doing enough. However if I had not been able to focus on one thing I wouldn’t have been able to do the important things first.
Learn to say no
Just because you can doesn’t mean you must. Social causes are great and volunteering in your free time to pass on skills is something we should all do but we must not take on more than we can deliver. This in the end affects the quality of what you are able to deliver and reliability. Learning how to say no has been liberating and has allowed me to do things on my own terms.
Be selfish, self-development should never be compromised
For young people who are advocates thinking of oneself instead of people you can support through your zeal for change almost seems wrong and used to make me feel guilty, it still does at times. With each year I grow in the belief that the only way I can best serve others is when I can better facilitate change this will only happen if I invest in my personal development. No one will invest in your self-development but yourself, guard it jealously. The only way to progress is to continuous move forward on the self-development spectrum.
Allies can be found in the most unlikely places
Don’t be blinded by past experiences and what others say, at times the people who you need to collaborate with are often in places you are not familiar with but need to be sought out. This is especially true in public policy advocacy and youth agenda implementation the stakeholders that wield the most power might not be the most vocal in the room and past efforts might have secluded them contributing to a cycle of seeming in-progress. Always be open, practice being non-judgmental and find common ground through mutual respect and understanding of each partner’s roles.
Be knowledgeable, a little knowledge does more harm than good
A little knowledge might provide you a step in the door however to be able to influence others, processes and structures you need to know all the players and the context you are operating in. Never assume people know what you know and that you understand what they do without fully comprehending the parameter’s that govern their life and how other factors come to play.
Understand existing evidence, generate evidence, explore perceptions of people and communities you work with, this prevents wasting limited resources while facilitating successful intervention that are adaptable.
Jump with both feet, what do you have to lose you are young and the world around you is rapidly changing. Taking risks challenges our perceptions and just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The risks I have taken in the last 4 years have enabled me to advance my professional life and networks. Was it uncomfortable and at times draining? yes, but I always had to remind myself why I took the risks in the first place. If I never took any risks I would still be where I was 4 years ago and that would have made me bitter, highly unmotivated and unproductive
Make time for you
Make time to appreciate the little things in life and things that make you happy outside of your causes and work. Burnout sneaks in when you need to be efficient and present. Blocking time for self-care and work responsibilities is important for morale and efficiency. It is important to take care of yourself. Self-care provides time for self-reflection and self-development enabling us to ask ourselves the difficult questions and also to enjoy the moment as it is.
Networking is the golden pin
You never know who is in the room with you and they might be the person you need to recommend you a job or collaborate with. Know where you want to end up but be flexible to change this will assist you to use every networking opportunity productivity. Learn how to stay visible in your area of practice. Learn and relearn how to market your skills, how to give an elevator speech and always be open to new opportunities when they are presented.
Stay passionate it helps when all seems bleak
You are going to want to quit, feel disillusioned, feel like all your investments and input have not contributed to any tangible impact. At times like that being passionate about what you do will enable you to persevere and push forward. Passion will fuel your creativity to explore realistic attainable alternatives to resolve a short or long-term inherent bottleneck.
Always respect others and practice humility, practice active listening you don’t know everything and you will always need to work with other people.