“So Lil, do you think you’ll apply for Team Leadership?”

“Oh god no! It would be great if I could do that but there is NO way that I can do what you do! I’d be an absolutely terrible team leader!”

“I think you should do it”

“Yeah but –”

“You’re applying.”

 

In hindsight, a half an hour conversation on a Thursday afternoon in Fiji for my final individual debrief, sweating into a dangerously creaky cane chair on a veranda crammed with ferns,
was one of the most defining moments of my life.
As a trekker on an Agriculture Assessment in January 2016, I’d experienced all the things that make PE memorable and unique: the close-knit relationships, empathising and co-designing with the local community, the competence and widespread capabilities of the leadership team. However, at the preposterous suggestion from my team leader, Jimmy Bayssari, that I could return in a leadership role, all the personal development I had witnessed in myself was completely obliterated. In a flustered retort I had argued, “but you can do financial modelling, and I didn’t even know what a BMC was?! I still don’t even know!
How am I supposed to help a team if I don’t know anything!”

Less than two years later, now in Timor-Leste, I reflect on this moment with a smile. I’ve just successfully completed my weekly expenses report and budget allocations, loved facilitating workshops on customer service blueprints and empathy mapping, and I’m nearing the end of the second of my three months here as Second-in-Charge (2IC).

Me in Timor-Leste’ the other day running a workshop for the Energy team

Personal development is an ambiguous term often used as a garnish for business progression, knowledge accumulation, and facing challenges. In reality, it hides under the guise of expertise and only reveals its wise smirk after breezing through a previously unthinkable obstacle. Rarely do we expect the level of growth we gain in the experiences we undertake, and therefore underestimate our ability when given a choice.

So, what happens when you are forced to develop and take on the unknown and the uncomfortable? As Lorraine Murphy, an incredible advocate for achieving growth and kicking goals, told me, ‘if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing’, and this is a phrase that I feel is incredibly applicable to the Project Everest culture. We talk about faking it ‘til you make it, and being completely immersed in a foreign environment, facing language barriers, working and living alongside a range of people you’ve never met, conducting meetings, workshops, empathising, making sales, being four steps ahead and knowing your sh*t, all contribute to not just making it, but becoming it.

When asking trekkers and leaders here in Timor-Leste whether they feel that they have grown over the past three weeks – an incredibly short amount of time – there is a resounding ‘absolutely!’ The values of work hard, enable autonomy and build leaders are inherent to the attitude we adopt on project across every country, and as one of our trekkers, Henry Andresen described, ‘when you’re surrounded by such a gun team, you force yourself to be just as confident as everyone else’. According to motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. But if those five people and the other 25 surrounding them are all pushing their own boundaries and throwing themselves at every hard decision that they can, what does that say about you?

The hardest part in achieving personal development is having the self-confidence, or the willingness to back yourself and say, ‘yes, I can do that. Maybe not right now, but I will’. The moment you make the decision to step beyond your comfort zone is the moment that it widens, and believe it or not the decision-making becomes easier each time. Personal development enables you to be increasingly proactive towards achieving fulfilment, however, you choose to define it, and when you recognise and seek environments that increase your exposure to challenges, your growth will be unimaginable.

So now here I am. A senior leader in a developing country with a measurable 2 months and 3 weeks of in-country leadership, and an unmeasurable store of experiences that have shaped how I lead and who I am. My final advice for you, no matter where you are in your journey, is to back yourself, say yes, take on the challenges, then sit back and watch the benefits flood in; because believing that you “will” is the most important part.

 

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