I’ll be honest, after attending the 2015 One Small Thing leadership conference, I was a little disappointed. It was a combination of factors: I wasn’t a fan of the keynote presentation and I felt like the workshops had been misrepresented — feedback I gave when I attended the post-conference focus group. When I saw the conference advertised this year, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. But in the spirit of all true adventurers, I figured that even if it was awful, it would give me something to complain about for a while.
This year’s conference topic was ‘Change Making’, one of those benign terms that sounds great when you can use it without scare quotes and keep a straight face, so I was concerned. But this conference was actually about making change — how to work out what you want to do, how to find people to help you do it, and how to get it started.
In the interest of keeping things neat and fresh in my mind, I wanted to write about the ideas I took away from the conference.
It’s easy to be jaded when you’re listening to a professional motivational speaker or someone who seems to have a vested interest in presenting to you. I’m leery of anyone I feel is trying to sell me something. But if you cut away the motivational speaking parts, and the fact that these people have their own reasons for being there, it’s hard to dismiss their passion. These people have forged a path through all opposition and created something; if nothing else, a situation that means they can talk to others about the passions that drive them. Can you imagine standing up in front of hundreds of people, explaining what you’re passionate about and how you chase those passions, to applause? To a room full of people thinking about how they can apply those feelings to their own causes? It’s a heady thought, and even a nasty cynic like me couldn’t help but feel inspired.
Devotion to Your Cause
I felt a little left out in places during the conference because I was surrounded by people who wanted to make some grand changes to the world. The other attendees were involved in mental health awareness, they wanted to end homelessness or help the homeless, they wanted to save the environment (there are more people in your community passionate about the environment than you think!). My vision felt tiny and selfish — I wanted to build a small, supportive community where people could share their creative work and get honest feedback. I felt like I was abusing an opportunity that wasn’t meant for me by being there.
As discussed at the conference, this is a sort of ‘Imposter Syndrome’, where no one ever feels like they deserve the good things that come to them, and we’re all just waiting for a hand on our shoulder asking us to leave. In one of the workshops, Johanna Parker of Heart Sparks told us all that if something was important to us, it’s worthwhile.
This might sound like a silly thing to get excited about, but it means that if you’ve seen something missing in your community that no one else has, you’re not insane and you’re not wrong. What’s wrong is leaving it open and moving on without trying to address that problem.
I think the real difference with this year’s conference was that its focus was pinning down an individual’s cause, knowing what they wanted to change, and working on a strategy to bring about that change. Now, not every cause is going to take off, and that’s okay. But the willingness and capacity to take that first step, the willingness to fail, caring enough about something to change it… it’s a huge thing to do. And if nothing else, the conference was an excellent way to crank up the heat on the cause bubbling inside of me and helping me think of ways that I can implement it.
The most important thing to me about the conference was seeing people who had made their passions their vocation. This is no small thing. A lot of us look for ways to incorporate all of our passions in the workplace, but at the end of the day you have to pay the bills, and values can fall by the wayside. What I learned was that, with time and persistence, you can place yourself in a position to do the things that you love, every day, and support yourself doing so. Can you imagine a world where everyone doing their job is doing it because they love it? Because that’s what they want to do? So much of university is about idealism — if I study X then I’ll be able to get a job as Y. But the truth is it doesn’t always work out that way — workplaces change, job markets change, lifestyles change, priorities change.
In short, I was incredibly inspired by the leadership conference this year. It made me realise that passions are worth pursuing, and there’s a strange reciprocal process between knowing what you want to build and knowing why you want to build it. I knew what I wanted to do when I walked into the conference, but evaluating why I think it’s important (which apparently I hadn’t given as much thought) has only galvanised me and made me want it more. I now know why I think it’s important, and what I think I can offer to make it happen.
Follow your passions. Care about things. Sometimes you might be the only one to care about them, and that’s okay. Sometimes other people will care about them, but not enough to help you, but that’s okay too. What’s important is that you try and give people a chance to change — that you think of ways that people who want to help you can help you.
If you can’t find people who are passionate about your cause, you aren’t wrong for caring about it… you’re just talking to the wrong people.
Words by Rebecca Fletcher