*Reflections from my first year working for YMCA. Two years on and it still serves as a good reminder!*
What do you get when you mix 75 young people, 15 volunteers, 3 staff, 12 Youth Bills and 6 nights away?
Madness. And an incredible Youth Parliament program.Though it’s been incredibly fun to work on, it has not been easy. My ‘traditional’ event planning skills have all been tested – time management, organisation, planning, budgeting and attention to detail. These skills were helpful, but not overly important.
It was the less tangible aspects of event management that were really needed. The ‘soft skills’ and mushy stuff like taking people’s feelings into consideration.
Emotional intelligence and people skills are essential for successful events and programs.
YMCA South Australia Youth Parliament is an non-partisan program that empowers young people to be advocates for their community. It’s about personal development, youth leadership and connecting politicians and decision makers with youth voices and opinions.
In the past year I’ve learnt a lot about how the program runs, which hoops to jump through, what types of activities people like, which methods of communication work best, and how much sleep is required to function during a day in Parliament (probs more than I got).
But my biggest learnings weren’t the operational bits and pieces. As important as the program-specific details are, it was those soft skills that I felt most challenged by and where I learnt the most.
Here are the TOP 5 things I learnt from managing the Youth Parliament program.
1. It’s okay to be imperfect
Imperfections are everywhere and they’re wonderful. It’s totally okay to be imperfect.
If you’ve organised an event before you would know that something always goes wrong. I get panicky if everything’s going well. All the things are going to plan?! How? What? Agh!
The best laid plans fall apart and ‘oh shit’ moments are inevitable. Same goes for working with groups of people. People are complex. Group dynamics are weird. There’s always ‘stuff’. That’s just the nature of the game.
As a bit of a perfectionist with high expectations of herself, choosing to works with events and young people was totally a great life choice.
Did I screw things up? Was I disorganised? Were there things I missed? Could I have done better? Hell yeah.
It’s embarrassing to get things wrong. At times it was awful, uncomfortable and in the lead up to Parliament Week there were many mornings when I hid in bed and let the overwhelm get to me (also because cosy, snuggly bed > winter mornings).
But last week Youth Parliamentarians, Taskforce (volunteers), YMCA staff, politicians, community organisations, family, friends and members of the public came together to celebrate the ideas and opinions of young people in South Australia.
A year ago I would have crumbled at the stress. The build up, the pressure, all the unknowns. But I finished the week with a smile on my face (and on the faces of my volunteers and participants).
The biggest thing I have learned is how to be proud of my work whilst acknowledging its imperfections.
If I wait until I get 100% of things right before I feel proud, I’ll be waiting a looooong time.
Sure, emotionally intelligent people are critical thinkers who examine the role they play in situations, but they do not dwell on mistakes. They learn from them and move on.
After all, it’s in the past.
2. Resilience is uncomfortable
Resilience looks different to each person. For me, it’s acknowledging the presence of ‘icky feelings’ such as shame, embarrassment and all the negative self talk that goes along with it and saying “I’m going to keep going”.
If I let my mistakes define me, this program would have been a bit of a failure. I had two volunteers quit, I left important people off guest lists, I forgot to follow up a million things, I couldn’t resolve all the behavioural issues and personality clashes that surfaced… but it was a great program, because I didn’t let myself get bogged down in all that.
When I think about those things, I can feel a lump in my throat. I can feel my chest tighten. I feel nervous, uncomfortable. I feel undeserving of the role I’m in.
So I tell myself, it’s okay to feel all those things. But I’m going to keep going.
3. Being an adult is hard
Unsurprisingly, when you’re responsible for 75 participants and 15 volunteers, there will be problems.
Problems that made me feel like this:
I got very good at direct communication. When addressing issues you cannot skirt around the edges or be passive aggressive. (As much as you might want to.)
Adulting is hard, but possible. When you need to, you are capable of so much more than you think.
4. People are your biggest asset
Sometimes they’ll let you down. Sometimes you’ll let them down. But people, not things, are what will make your events and programs a success.
You cannot separate people and processes. When you forget to do something, make a mistake or someone has a complaint, that’s a people flaw.
When you ask if someone can send you something urgently, when you apologise profusely to the stakeholder you forgot to email or repair a relationship by going above and beyond, that’s a people fix.
Don’t try to do it alone. Use your people. They are your biggest asset.
5. It’s all about perspective
Whether it’s looking at a situation from someone else’s perspective, reframing the way you think about an issue or diffusing personality clashes, perspective is so important.
I truly believe that everyone’s truth is different. The lens through which you view the world impacts on what you see, what you believe.
Emotionally intelligent people recognise that their perspective is not universal, that other people see things differently.
This softens the clashes you feel with people, it allows you to understand where someone else is coming from, it improves the way you relate to people.
You have the power to alter your perspective. You have the ability to view situations from other people’s perspective. You can change the world, by first changing your perception of it.
So there it is. Why soft skills and mushy feelings can actually help you run awesome events.