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What does it mean to be a leader?

Written by Project Querencia CEO/FOUNDER, Shraavya Pydisetti

I've always from a young age needed this essence of making an impact. I wasn't really someone that could sit in the backseat and let things happen, I had to have an active role, I had to take initiative — I had to know what was going on. Because of that, I started Project Querencia, my nonprofit that changed everything for me.

When the 2020 pandemic hit, I was left feeling helpless. Staying home all the time slowly chipped at me from the inside, there was always this huge weight on my chest that never seemed to go away because I constantly felt as if I wasn't doing enough. People were dying, first responders were risking their lives to help, and what was I doing? — just sitting at home. Of course, that was an unreasonable pressure to put on myself as a sophomore in high school. That need to be in charge and escape the sense of helplessness grew and it fueled me. I decided that I had to do something, anything to feel like I was contributing to my community. I brought a couple of kids in my neighborhood together and we started volunteering with small projects here and there such as local park cleanups and neighborhood cross-guarding. And then, I fell in love. I fell in love with my team, the sense of fulfillment and accomplishment that completing a project gave me — the looks on my team's faces when we finally take another step and most of all, the looks on the faces of the people we helped.

That's how Project Querencia was started. We grew in size rapidly being one of the only student led organizations still functioning during the pandemic. Students were desperate to fill time and have a sense of purpose, so Project Querencia became home.

I loved leading and having people that were working with me toward a common goal. It came easy to me and I got to create opportunities and do things without limitations. I absolutely adored the freedom that came with doing something that was mine. Sounds exciting right? Leading filled me with adrenaline — the late-night meetings, presentations, workshops, and organizing (even though it stressed me out a lot), it was so worth it. The struggle was worth reaching the end goal, and if I'm being completely honest, the in-between stuff was always my favorite part.

I know that so far I've only talked about my story and how amazing and rewarding leadership is but just like anything else, there is another side to it. I never really like to talk about the difficult parts of anything because I dislike presenting myself in any form of vulnerability to platforms and social media but I feel like I'm at that part in my journey where I have to. Leading at the most important times can feel extremely lonely. I've always admired people who are in positions of power and I always thought to myself "I bet they have it easy, they just get to tell people what to do" but it really isn't like that and I've learned it the hard way the past few years. I always believe the best in people and I often let myself get hurt because of that, what people think of me matters to me so much, but when you're in a position of leadership, that can tear you apart.

When you make decisions, there are people who will agree with you and those who won't. There are people who will resonate with your leadership style and those that don't and that's OKAY. There are individuals I've crossed paths with in my journey who have said that I'm unfit to lead because of my age, people who have told me straight to my face that they don't respect me because of my leadership decisions, and people who have simply used me and this organization's platform for their own personal gain and left. I wish I could say that I didn't let it get to me but I did. I hurt a lot and I self-doubted a lot. I had this constant thought in my head, "What if I'm the problem?". But I'm not. And you're not. People envy your success and recognition and try to tear you down. And that's the real truth, whether it's a school club, a nonprofit organization, or a full-fledged business, no matter how hard you try to be liked by everyone or please everyone, you're not going to.

What does it mean to be a leader? It means making decisions with a pure heart, following your heart, and just doing what you think is best with the RIGHT intentions. It means that even when everyone leaves, you hold to your values and your beliefs and you simply don't let go even when the world is crumbling. I've had a lot of people leave my life in the last year, people I called my best friends, and I almost succumbed to changing myself but I didn't. I went with my gut on this one. I was left alone for quite a while and leading became difficult, being a leader at that moment didn't feel as rewarding. But I fell back on the service, I fell back on helping people, and on the core values that my leadership and Project Querencia were built on. I put faith in myself for once and I grew. I grew and I became stronger. I knew I was doing what was right for me and so I found a new team and a new set of people who were right for me. That's another thing I've learned — in leadership, if you're doing what you're supposed to, the right people will ALWAYS find you even if it takes a bit of time.

When you're a leader, you're the voice for your community or your group of people. Your job is to represent them and evolve and grow with them BUT being the voice for others isn't enough, advocating for others isn't enough. Make sure that you value your own voice just as much as those around you. You have to advocate for yourself too. You will come to learn that you will always be yourself's biggest advocate.

What I’ve learned is that leadership is not a straight-cut road, it's not easy and it's definitely not for the weak. It will tear you down, bring out your worst vulnerabilities, and test you. It will teach you resilience and force you to be honest with yourself. Celebrate your wins but also your losses, put your health first, take breaks, grow, and remember that the journey will teach you so much more than your end goal.

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