Today we had an amazing meeting at work. Great breakfast, but a really inspirational exercise and talk by our new ED, Ashley. He led us through a core values exercise, asking us to narrow down our core values. Mine were “Integrity” and “People”. It also made me think about what other values were important to me, like peace, happiness, friendship, authenticity, family, love, strength, and adventurousness. It made me think a lot about those other values, for example “peace” and it made me realize that if I didn’t have integrity, I would have no peace. It took me back to my mantra, “Who do I want to BE?”. Because when I am faced with a decision, I want to always think about that. Long term, who do I want to be? I want to be the person who makes other people’s lives better, who treats others with respect, who learns every day, who strives for excellence and continuous improvement. When I start yelling at other people, it’s the thought of who I want to be that pulls me back and reigns me in. It was a great exercise.
Then Ashley spent the next period of time talking about where he had come from. He was born on a family farm in South Africa, then as a child moved to Cape Town. He talked about living there, in an area where the “coloreds” – which he said meant mixed race – could live, in public housing. There was a large area the whites could live, and only 3 shantytown ghettos where blacks could live. This was in the seventies, during apartheid. He talked about how he was bitter about apartheid, but said it without a trace of bitterness in his voice. He talked about taking the bus an hour each way to the “English” high school, where he started out doing poorly since his native language was Afrikaans. He talked about the bus driving past the shantytowns and watching as the government bulldozed people’s homes in the coldest part of the year. He talked about a priest who stood in front of the bulldozer. He had a goal of making it to University of Capetown, which is the best college in Africa. He succeeded. He also had a goal of being a Rhodes scholar, but did not achieve that one. He ended up coming to the United States instead to study at Northwestern University in Chicago and receiving a masters in linguistics. Then he moved to Seattle – (he didn’t talk about it, but I know he received another graduate degree, I think a masters in public administration from the University of Washington). He said that the only reason he came to the US was because he had a vague goal of studying abroad, at Oxford, and happened to see a four line advertisement in a newspaper about studying abroad. He talked about how he may not have achieved his exact goals, but because he had them and was goal-directed, he ended up being able to take advantage of opportunities that related and moved him along his path. He talked about how he is an optimist, and how we should all have self-confidence. He said “You are all more capable that you or others think you are.” That resonated a lot with me. I know I do not achieve to the level I am capable of and it made me want to work harder. He talked about having commitment (which to me means focus as well) and how he values change. He said that we set standards for ourselves.
I loved this whole conversation, from the honest and conversational tone, to the faith in us that he exhibited. It made me think about how truly everything I have been through, every step I have made, every battle I have fought, every tragedy I have suffered has led me to this point, to this point where I have been so lucky to meet and work with both this man and Jill. How they are both such incredible leaders and that it feels like fate. I feel a tremendous responsibility to learn as much as I can from them and allow them both influence change within me. I feel blessed.
At the end, someone asked him what his two most important core values were. He thought for a moment, then said “justice” and “family”.