Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Happy to be Happy!!

     Nothing can bring a smile to my face faster than being greeted by my favorite dog, Toby. Every time I see him, his tail is in full swing with a big smile on his face. I wish I could say I was the reason Toby was so excited, but the truth is, Toby is thrilled to see everyone and anyone! He is livin' and loven’ life every single day because he finds a reason to be happy day in and day out. There are days I have been down and out, struggling to find a reason to be happy. The unfortunate thing is, unlike Toby, I just end up shutting others out and missing out on opportunities. Looking for a reason to be happy can sometimes be hard, but it's always worth it! When will you choose to look for happiness?

     These past couple of weeks I had the opportunity to visit Africa with 70 other state officers and got to visit a township called Kayamandi. To be completely honest, my friends and I were kind of nervous to visit the township. We had seen all the commercials showing the living condition in Africa and the solemn faces everywhere. The past two weeks had been spent touring Africa and seeing how it is prospering. Then we were asked to visit a foreign community, and we were anxious to see how it would go.
I have to admit, I have never been so wrong. The second we stepped foot into Kayamandi we were given the warmest welcome I have ever seen, shattering the delusion I had in my head. Our local guides welcomed us to their community with open arms, excited to show us their town. Walking, talking and eating in the township was an eye-opening experience I will not soon forget. The anxiety I was feeling before had transformed to happiness and excitement. We got to see school kids sing, eat local food, and share stories. The people of Kayamandi chose to be happy in their township, even in an area other people may find sadness.  

Now many of us, including myself, would be hard pressed to find a reason to be happy in such a place. This was not the case here. But in Kayamandi, happiness radiated from every angle. Everywhere I looked, I saw kids playing, friends talking, and music playing, all with a aura of happiness surrounding themselves. The people there were filled with such genuine happiness it was infectious. They could be sad, but they choose to be happy. They have such a positive outlook on life that it rubbed off on those around them. Each and every day, we are faced with negativity that could keep any of us from seeking happiness and missing out on those around us. So how can you be like the people of Kayamandi? What are can you do to be like a cheerful dog. How are you going to look for the bright side of a situation? How are you going to choose happiness?

Beneath the Rising Sun,

Spencer Wolter

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Northern Comfort Zone

I don’t know about you, but I love listening to music! One of my favorite songs to jam out to is called “Southern Comfort Zone” by Brad Paisley. In case you haven’t heard this great song, I included it below -- give it a listen!

Recently, six Minnesota current and past state officers traveled to South Africa as part of the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers (ILSSO). This post is a little lengthy, but for good reason -- it shares an overview of our trip and what we learned so hear me out! The six of us left Minnesota soil on January 2 and returned yesterday afternoon! When I found out I was going on the trip, I was bursting with excitement, but I am not going to lie, I was a little nervous since the farthest away I had ever been is Florida way back when I was a toddler. Would our plane get delayed or canceled? Would I get sick? Would I lose my passport? Would I not adjust to the culture? As Brad Paisley would say, I had, over time, created my own (northern) comfort zone; I felt was way too comfortable with my surroundings and never truly had the opportunity to branch out and fully experience something outside of Minnesota.

The first couple lines of “Southern Comfort Zone” can really summarize my initial reaction to leaving the U.S. and stepping on South African soil for the first time: “When your wheelhouse is the land of cotton, the first time you leave it can be strange, it can be shocking.” The second after leaving the airport in Johannesburg, and soaking in my surroundings, we knew that we needed to adapt to the culture of South Africa. But the big deal question that plagued me and my fellow travelers was simply how. How are we going to be fully present and immersed into this new, exciting and unfamiliar culture? Essentially, how were we going to delete our comfort zones?

Thinking back on the trip, there is one key takeaway I would like to share with each of you as it relates to comfort zones. Going into South Africa, being the Type A person I am, I tried to gain some knowledge about South Africa before our departure. Let me just say, my predispositioned thoughts of South Africa and the images I had in my mind for what South Africa would look like were completely wrong and irrelevant. I am going to be blunt in saying that there are a lot of stereotypes out there about Africa, and many other developing regions for that matter. For instance, when eating lunch with friends in the cafeteria at school, many of us may hear things like “Dude, why are you throwing that burger away? Someone in Africa could be eating that.” While it might be a good idea to not waste food, saying something this is not entirely valid. Since each culture is different, it should be noted that South Africa natives have different living conditions and expectations.

One afternoon, we got to spend some time in a local town. First, we got to meet some kindergarten students, who sang us songs. When we visited them after they sang for us, their smiles were radiating with happiness -- it made me feel good knowing that these students are the future of South Africa. Later on, we ate lunch at “mama’s” house. The sheer pride, joy and happiness she shared with us, coupled with the incredibly tasty food, made me realize that life in South Africa, while different, is not bad. Yes, there are still improvements that can be done there. Yes, there are some people who are hungry or are economically disadvantaged. But you know what? Life in America isn’t always perfect for everyone either. You don’t need to travel to another country to make a difference. As our theme for the year suggests, our legacy starts NOW. Your impact and legacy doesn’t have to be made halfway across the globe -- it can be crafted right here and right now.

So, what’s next? How are you going to delete your northern comfort zone? While our trip to South Africa was unforgettable and had a major impact on all of our lives, I realize one thing now that I am back on Minnesota soil. So often, we get caught up in the fact that our service (and deletion of our comfort zones) must be done on a global level in order to make a “lasting impact” or “true difference.” Let me fill you in on a little secret -- this is nowhere near true because little did I know, the vast majority of the things I did to delete my northern comfort zone in South Africa could have also been done back home. If you can go to another country and be immersed in their culture, that’s great. But, I want to challenge you to first delete your northern comfort zone here in our land of 10,000 lakes. The service and personal actions we do here in this arctic tundra and home that we call Minnesota can make an impact that surpasses the impact we can have while serving abroad. Here are a few ideas to help get you started as you prepare to delete your comfort zone and leave a legacy:
  • Gather some friends and go volunteer for an afternoon to package meals for those in need in our local area!
  • Next time you’re cooking food or are at a restaurant, try something a little adventurous! You’ll never know if calamari could be one of your favorite foods if you don’t even try it!
  • Send a note or care package to troops overseas.
  • Sit with someone new at lunch and have a genuine conversation with them to find out who they truly are. One conversation can make a huge impact on someone’s day.
I hope we realize that you do not need a passport to make a difference, friends. Delete your northern comfort zone and get ready to make an impact!

Stationed by the Door,

Joe Ramstad

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

It's 2017 - It's Time to beYOUtiful!

New Year’s Resolutions: they come, and they go. By now, your resolutions (if you made any) are facing their first set of challenges. You said you would change, improve, or start over. As soon as you return to your normal schedule, however, this isn’t so easy. For three years, I tried to read through the entire Bible in one year. After three weeks (where I reached the middle of Exodus), I became more than defeated. My new year’s resolution turned me into one stressed out and mentally tired young girl. I quickly transitioned from being inspired by a growing faith to defeated by a lack of interest.  It was no doubt my resolutions had an alternate route from what I planned, and in a remarkably similar way, true leaders experience the effects of resolutions just like this all year long.

As young leaders in our schools, homes, and communities, we face challenges of defining who we are, and whether or not we are actually leaders. From my own experience, I have not mastered the endless ways to show outstanding leadership. I have, however, focused on one large piece of it, which I want to share with you!

“Examined Existence” claims it takes 66 days to form a habit. This would explain why many people fall short of reaching their New Year’s Resolutions each winter. It’s natural for humans to think they are no longer capable or simply lose interest in committing to their goals. To prove this common theme wrong is a great achievement. In my opinion, proving this theme wrong is exactly what leaders are called to do. As leaders in different places, roles, and capacities, we are called to improve upon who we were yesterday and learn from mistakes by taking a different action next time. Unlike our culture expects of us, leaders make these effective changes all year long. Becoming better than we were yesterday is not simply a New Year’s Resolution for you and me, this is how each one of us continues to be the best we can be.

Well folks, that’s a pretty big mouthful to swallow, but let’s dig a little deeper! Making a better you from day to day helps each one of us be the leader we were meant to be. As you become more confident in who you are and the leader you are becoming, it’s important to go all in with those qualities. It’s time to beYOUtiful.

In high school, I had a good friend named Josie. As a talented musician, Josie knew she could make some cool things happen with her instruments. To her, the natural talent she possessed wasn’t enough, though. Each day, she became aware of one more place she could improve. From freshman year to the day of graduation, Josie made significant improvements in her musical abilities. From a musician to the first chair trumpet player in the Minnesota All-State Symphonic Band, Josie grew by becoming herself and transforming into someone that made the most of each opportunity. Josie proved to beYOUtiful.

Remember that “large piece” of outstanding leadership I was supposed to share with you? Here it is: Becoming who you are enables you to improve each day and beYOUtiful. It extends normal leadership to outstanding leadership by choosing to go all in on what we are capable of in order to make it happen.

As you pursue your New Year’s Resolutions, remember to seek improvement in yourself every day. Leadership (something we are all capable of) allows us to be ourselves, take action, and beYOUtiful.

Be YOU. Be willing to improve. BeYOUtiful.

Stationed by the Flag,

Rebekka Paskewitz
Minnesota State Reporter