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  • Writer's pictureJanee

A Protest Against the Strawberry Generation

The Illuminate Universe experience, so far, has been tough, but doable -- I've been pushed to assemble assignments on topics I only just learned about, work my way through wrongly-sent emails (both for me and from me), and then I hit it; the coffee chat assignment.

I've never been the networker (and yes, your network is your value). So when I thought of chatting with someone I had never heard of, known of, or met before, "casual" was definitely not an adjective to describe the situation I imagined.

And yet, it was a casual coffee chat that I had had the pleasure I to have with Emily Liu!

Emily is in her third year of university, and (as I was delighted to hear), started out as a national lead before her promotion to a part-time business lead with Illuminate! She was patient through my stumbling conversational efforts, and energetic while answering my discombobulated questions. And although I (I daresay) caught her off guard with my question about piano practising, she was happy to help. Many thanks to Emily!

My coffee chat with Emily was truly eye-opening; indeed, while I stumbled through blog-writing, I am amazed by the insights she provided and struggled as they all sought to be my three main takeaways.

1. Have Big Picture Thinking!

I asked Emily for tips on event planning; she remarked that being able to have “big picture thinking” was quite important! All throughout life (although particularly apparent in event planning), there will always be lots of “stuff” moving at once. Therefore, we should always keep in mind what our end goal is, and how we will achieve it.

A closely related topic soon surfaced; the ability to be adaptable and resilient. Quick thinkers are needed in ever-changing circumstances. Instead of feeling hopeless when meeting obstacles, we should never give up -- there will always be another way. Another part of being resilient would also be knowing when to seek guidance. We are never the first person to hit any particular problem. Instead, Emily looks up to her parents as a beacon of resilience and a pillar of support.

2. See Diversity As Strength

As team leaders, we should use the diversity in their team to their own advantage – something that Emily can relate to especially. Her parents had immigrated from China, so growing up, Emily felt alienated and isolated. With different customs, foods, and habits from those around her, it was hard for her to feel that she belonged, or feel confidence. But now she sees her cultural differences as an asset. She gives her team a fresh perspective, new aspects to ponder, and new ideas to explore.

When we lead a diverse team, one of the first things we ought to do is to get to know our team better. During in-person (and online) meetings, we should observe their nonverbal cues. Because of the effortlessness of online meetings, teams may resort to only meeting online. This may make the team feel unconnected, so having in-person meetings as well can help. If there is no way to meet in person, having a working session online or a game session online can help to breach the chasm.

However, conflicts may arise from these differences. Because of varied upbringings and cultures, we will view problems separately and disagree on the best course of action. Therefore, getting to know your team is vital for smooth teamwork. Understanding how they work and knowing their learning and teaching style is helpful in understanding their behaviour and adapting to their needs. Communicate clearly and concisely, to prevent confusion and miscommunication. Give your team updates and let them know what is happening. These can all help prevent internal conflicts.

3. See What the Other Side is Thinking

When Emily participated in her drama club at school, she would practise, practise, and practise. She would gain feedback from her coaches as well as from others in her club – but not only that. She would also gain the feedback of others outside her club – friends, family, and mentors. As the audience, they don’t share the same perspective as those inside the club have. They haven’t been working on it from the inside. Likewise, we ought always to ask for the perspectives of friends and family. What do they think of this project? Should we add this feature, or will it only be more cumbersome? How about removing this feature entirely? Their feedback is valuable, as they will not only speak as consumers, they will also see areas for improvement.


Now, as we near the end of this blog, you may be wondering -- what does my title (A Protest Against the Strawberry Generation) have to do with the coffee chat itself?

I hope you will be satisfied with my answer.

I think the ultimate takeaway (there's another!) from my coffee chat with Emily was that she decided not to be defined by her circumstances. She was an excellent student -- but could have almost have easily decided to be average. Or even, below-average. She could have said, "These Canadians are too different from me! I am different, I cannot understand them, they cannot understand me, and therefore its perfectly understandable that my studies aren't keeping up."

But she didn't. She decided, "I'm gonna work hard. Real hard. Even though I am different from them, and they from me, I'm not going to let that hinder me from becoming great in my future."

I think this is what truly made Emily shine -- the "I'm not going to let you decide who I'm gonna be" mentality. I believe it whole-heartedly. We decide who we get to be.

If you are trying to get to an end goal, there are 5 different paths to get there. If you hit a dead end on one of those paths, simply go back and try a different path.

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