How the gospel spoke to my self doubt as a volunteer leader

Summary

As a Christian volunteer leader, whether the insecurity is within oneself, within the organisation, or within the greater community,

  • recognise our unshakeable value in Christ Jesus (i.e., we are children of God!);
  • acknowledge the unknown, at the same time, trust in the wisdom and sovereignty of God;
  • and remember why we do what we do (i.e., we volunteer to make a vision as informed by our careful knowledge of the bible into a reality).

Background

Second year into my Ph.D., I thought to myself that if I want to experience a rich UNSW student life and gain leadership experience along the way, this year (2019) would have been my last chance. Next year (2020) will be my final year and I expect it to be insanely busy. Hence, I signed up to a couple of leadership roles and ended up being the president of the following student organisation. Beside is a short description of my personal goal for the said organisation.

  • IEEE UNSW student branch - (re)establish the society from inactivity, bring IEEE NSW section opportunities to UNSW students, and increase UNSW presence within the IEEE community. Personally, I just could not accept within my electronic engineer self that UNSW, the biggest Electrical and Electronics university in NSW, has no student presence within the IEEE NSW community.
  • Filipino Student Society of UNSW - promoting the Filipino culture and identity to UNSW students, specially the second generation Filipinos who grew up in Australia. Having live abroad for some time now, the question of what is the Filipino identity in the midst of globalisation has been bugging me for a good time now.
  • Filipino Student Council of NSW - similar goal with the UNSW Filipino Student Society but involving all Filipino university students in NSW to impact the whole Filipino community in NSW.

Reflection

Firstly, I am sincerely thankful for the honor, opportunity, and trust given to me by the people that placed me in this position. It is my pleasure and privilege to contribute and improve the UNSW and NSW student life.

After almost a year of leading the organisation, I actually think that I had a good run. For all three organisations I managed, membership grew, financial stability was achieved, and phenomenal growth of the organisation’s reputation driven by running good, well publicised, and meaningful events. Leading an organisation by itself is not easy, not to mention I was doing a Ph.D. alongside it. However, as the year ends and I am now passing on the baton to the next generation of leaders, I felt a certain sense of emptiness inside. After some prayer and reflection, I think I figured out (some of) the whys of my uneasiness. With the hope of sharing this lesson to people taking a similar path (e.g., Christian volunteer leaders), I am sharing the struggles below and the reasoning I used to restore my peace (and confidence). Feel free to refer to the featured figure as it helped me find my insecurity blind spots.

1. Losing power and prestige

Perhaps I got used to be seen differently by both students and adult volunteers where respect instantly just from my title of president/chairperson of organisation X. Now that I am passing on the title, I am afraid that the respect and prestige that came along with it will now finally leave me. Obviously, this thinking is wrong from multiple perspective.

  • Firstly, title and inner worth are two different things. I did not became a good leader because I was given the title. I was given the title because people saw that I am a good leader (or have the good potential to be one).
  • Secondly, biblically, even if I am the president of USA or the most successful man alive, it is still for naught if I don’t have Jesus. The greatest success of the world is still nothing compared to the eternal glory of the one true God.
  • Thirdly, but because I have Jesus, I am already worth much more than what the world can offer. I received it not because I deserve it or because of my titles (e.g., president/chairperson of organisation X) or accolades but because of the grace of God through Christ Jesus.

2. What if I am not the best

I guess every (sincere) leader will doubt themselves if they’re really qualified for the position. The doubt can come before, during, and in my case after the term, at which I am doubting whether someone else could have done a better job than me.

  • Firstly, accept that in reality, that could indeed be the case. In most cases, what’s done is done and there’s no (objective) way to know what could have been. Logically, if you really think that someone else will do better than you, the right way to do is for you to give him/her the position. Remember that the right motivation behind volunteering is not to gain glory for ourself but to make a vision we sincerely believe in into reality. If you believe someone else can lead and better make that vision into reality, you should humbly step down and support that person towards that goal. If you find yourself not willing to back off, then one must review the motivations of his/her heart.
  • Secondly, trust in the Lord and in the wisdom of the membership body. Remember that God and the wisdom of the crowd (in most but not all instances) are more reliable than our wisdom.

3. What if there was no impact

Lastly, assuming I did splendidly and was the best leader possible at the time, what if the impact done by my organisation was not good enough? Was the passion, time, and effort I poured unto these organisation all a waste?

  • Firstly, impact is very difficult to measure. One way to grapple with this struggle quantitatively is to setup some KPIs, and then give it your all to score as high as you can. Realistically, there are many other important factors to consider that may not be captured by your KPIs, specially factors that loosely affect the far future (e.g., how university student life such as the organisations I was leading affects the students in their most formative years). Ultimately, the only thing I can do is to do my best, learn from my mistakes, do better next time, and trust in the Lord for the result.
  • Secondly, remember why we are doing what we are doing. As volunteers, we should remember that we volunteer not because of guaranteed success, but because we believe that in a vision we believe is right and we want to bring that a vision into reality. Note that I am not saying one must have a novel reason before they can volunteer (e.g., “Having fun” is a valid reason to volunteer). All I am saying is to measure impact/success in light with your original objective for volunteering.
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Luke Sy
PhD Candidate

My research interests include state estimation, robotics, wearable sensors, machine learning, and biomedical engineering.

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