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The world loomed large and tall. From my perch, the crowd below me looked small and distant. I lifted my hands and fell.
This was the final act of a two-day orientation, which kicked off this year’s Leadership Los Alamos program. The class of 25 students, including myself, clumped together around a ladder and one-by-one, each of us climbed onto the ladder, leaned back and fell into a nest of hands. This was just one of several exercises we participated in to crank our teamwork skills into gear.
We placed our feet onto strips of fabric and grabbed onto hand straps to become an odd-looking chain gang. We all shuffled one foot and then the other. We were blindfolded to form a square with a piece of rope, hopped around on a rug with gray squares to avoid the spots that released a soft beeping noise and hoisted each other up to move through a set of cables.
Sure we looked silly – we were a group of adults performing tasks that children probably learn at summer camp – but who said becoming a leader would be easy? Apparently there are lessons you can learn at any age.
One of the lessons I learned during these two days is if you want to grow as a person, you have to get your hands dirty. Reading a PowerPoint presentation is one thing, grabbing someone by the ankles to lift them through two cables is quite another.
Cradling that person’s ankles, I was also hugging a responsibility and the end result, whether it was sturdy and neatly assembled or rickety and jumbled together, would be crystal clear.
I also learned to reach that shiny, golden prize called success, you have to trust your companions and offer your own contribution.
It’s a lesson I had not truly learned in the past. As a student in school, I always frowned when the teacher assigned group projects. I associated chaos and zero productivity with group work. I wanted to do my part and prayed for unity and harmony, but a cloud of in-fighting and disinterest in collaboration seemed to rain on every group in which I was involved.
I remember in college, my freshman roommate and I shared a class and were assigned to the same group tasked with writing and performing a skit.
My roommate, refusing assistance, seized total control of the assignment. Later I heard her whining to a friend over the phone about having to do all the work.
My first experience with Leadership Los Alamos did more than provide an umbrella as a shield against those social storms; it revealed that by instituting understanding, communication, support and perhaps a few “happy salmon” handshakes, those storm clouds can be chased away.
I can testify that the program’s teachings do work. Walking into the lobby of the hotel where the orientation was held that first day, all I saw was a group of strangers wearing suit coats.
But by the end of Saturday, these same strangers were the ones who reached their hands up into the sky and caught me as I fell.