High school was a mixed bag for me. Some people say those formative years are the best in their life, some the worst. Foe me it was a mix of both. The first two years I spent my time trying to find my place among my peers and obsessing over my insecurities. Along the road I became a jock, paying on the basketball, track, and flag football team. I became a nerd; I signed myself up for all the honor societies my grade could manage to afford me. I leaned into our medical program and became the editor of our HOSA newsletter. I completely packed my schedule every year and wasn’t afraid of trying new things. By the end of my high school career I had tried too many clubs to count and collected a myriad of multi-colored cords that hung around my neck as I crossed the stage. Although high school was somewhat lackluster, there was one outstanding experience that has stayed with me and has truly marked and shaped me as an adult and a leader. It was the year I became president of the geeks, band geeks that is.
(I call us and geeks because that is the category that is most stereotypically associated with the kids in marching band.)
Yes, we had our oddities, but generally, we were fairly normal kids who had a knack for music and a competitive drive. My senior year I was appointed the president, and given a good amount of responsibility and the decision of where we wanted to take our band that following year. That year, I remember sitting with my team of leaders, as a 17 year old high school student, months before school started, talking to them about our wildest dreams for the next season. Historically, Jupiter High School wasn’t considered a top program by any stretch of the imagination. Two years prior at a local competition, we were accidentally forgotten off the participation award list. It was that bad. Over the previous two years, we had managed to climb our way to being placing 12th in the State semifinals. It wasn’t great, but neither were we at the time.
That day, in front of 20 or so of my peers, we all agreed we wanted to be great. We wanted to make it into state finals which meant we had to be within the top 5 bands in semi-finals competition. With all the spirit we could muster we vowed to work our hardest to get there. As I closed the meeting, I promised them that I would do the best I could to support them and lead us there. It wasn’t all selfless; I was infatuated with the idea of leaving a legacy and this seemed to be it. This was going to be the turning point. Point-blank, there was nothing in me that could back up the claims and promises I made that afternoon. I had no idea what it even took to get there. But in my 2 years of learning the band and gleaning all the wisdom I could from our band director, I truly believed we could. And so, we set off with an end goal in mind.
A few months later, in late July, we began our training and our official season kicked off. We kicked off band camp with an overflow of motivation and inside jokes. We all believed in the impossible and like a well oiled machine. Leading was easy. We all bought into the dream straight through the first competition. Our staff and leadership team were in sync and we all still believed. We had a band around 100 kids in total and classified for the second smallest category. That meant two things: 1. We had to produce the same sound as and quality as the bands who had 200 kids and 2. We were in the most competitive category in our area. To be frank, I was on cloud 9. I thought that this was the richness of leadership; And although my band director gently cautioned me that it would get harder, I, in my naivety, didn’t want to believe it.
But as the season progressed, it became harder and harder to remind my team and myself of the “why” behind the “what” we did. Soon all the levity and pomp & circumstance of my position turned into a heavy plow that I felt I had to push up hill. I had no idea how to motivate my team to be better. As a result, I pushed them and pushed hard. I no longer was well-liked by my peers but became the one many spoke about behind closed doors. I distinctly remember one Friday night, we slowly unraveled. Our lines were sloppy, our leaders were slacking, and the other members could feel the difference. At the end of the night our band director pull all the leadership team aside, angry and said, “If this is where you want to lead, if this is how you continue, you will be remembered as the worst group of leaders this band has seen, not because of who you are but because of all the potential you never realized.” (I paraphrase a bit; it’s been 10 years.)
Those words hit me hard and I took them personally. That night, I cried alone as the dream I had promised my bandmates, the dream I promised myself, seemed to crumble right before my eyes. I, in a rare moment of expressed emotion (as I didn’t grow feelings until summer ’09), wrote an email to our leadership team and staff. I don’t even remember what I said, all I knew to do was I had to be honest about where I was as a leader. I told them of how weary I had grown but how much I wanted to continue on. I poured my heart out in that message. I couldn’t muster or force them to believe in that dream we set months before. I needed them to believe with me again.
It was that moment of vulnerability that connected me to my team. The next day, we met in my band director’s office and laid everything on the table. Once again, we decided to continue on, but this time side by side.
We ended up placing 2nd in the state that year, only a few points behind first. But more than the accomplishment of our season, the experience of leading a crew of band geeks over the course of a year changed me forever. It has and will always be a mile marker in life that I will refer to. Why my band director, staff, leadership team, and bandmates trusted me to lead them, I will never know. Regardless, that was the moment I saw what “believing” could do. I saw dreams become reality. I experienced the grit of working towards your dream And I developed an unshakeable belief in myself.
I was a bank geek and will be forever grateful for that experience.