Leadership: Blog 6

Leadership. That word encompasses so many different aspects, and to define “what makes a leader” is a lot more than a one word answer. However, “what makes a leader” is not the question I was asked to answer, but rather, “what type of leader is your supervisor.”

So, to answer that, I feel that I must first answer the latter part of the question which asks if my supervisor has been effective in guiding and assisting me in my internship so far. To that, I must answer yes. Maria has been very understanding, caring, and accommodating throughout the whole internship. When I wanted to take off two days because I wanted to spend two days with my grandma before she left, she let me. When I had further questions on the assignment, she calmly answered all of them and encouragingly smiled as if welcoming more questions. And whenever we had a worry about our plans for the rest of the summer, she always listened to what we had to say and took our ideas seriously. However, one problem is that Maria (who just finished graduate school) is the supervisor for the interns, but she herself was an intern for Culture Project. She had only started working here in April and we started in June, therefore, there were still many things she was learning about here at Culture Project and at times she didn’t have an answer for us and had to go to a higher source. Now, that really wasn’t a problem because either way the answer was always received, however, it was just a shock to me because I had believed that the supervisor was always the head of the company/organization and so we’d be in direct contact with the person who had all this knowledge about running an organization. What is great is that Allan (the founder of Culture Project) is always around the office and if we want to know something we can get that information, but it would have been nice to get that information directly without having to go through someone else first.

However, I believe I am moving away from the question and I think to get back to it I will answer the part of the question that asks if this style of leadership motivates and resonates with me. I think that if I were the supervisor of a group of interns, I would want to meet with them every week to speak with them and see if they are having the summers they envisioned. If they are, then great, but if not, I’d love to hear their ideas and help them make a plan for each week in order to get to where they want to be for the rest of the summer. I think that I would be more hands-on rather than just waiting for my interns to come to me with questions. I do not want to infringe on anyone’s style of leadership, but I personally love to do things hands-on, I guess I also love to be a bit controlling and I think I would organize plans for the interns and meetings where they can get the most out of their summer. However, I do realize that Maria’s hands are tied at times because she doesn’t have much power here at Culture Project, but I still think I would go about this differently.

Overall, I am really glad I am having this experience because it is SUCH a great learning experience. Learning what NOT to do is as great a lesson as learning the “right” from example. And even saying that is a bit of a false statement because there is no “right” way to do things, and I know throughout life that each supervisor and leader I will have, will do things differently, and by absorbing what I like and what I don’t like from each experience, I will be able to create MY version of the “perfect” leader/leadership style.

Not A Jigsaw Puzzle

“Life is not a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces don’t need to fit together perfectly and you don’t need to use up every piece. In life there are pieces left over.” –Allan

Allan, the founder of Culture Project, walks around the office each day emailing and speaking on the phone with people. I always look at him as a figure I respect and value, however, I never had the opportunity to expand my opinion of him, for before this time, we had only interacted about three times the whole summer. When I have spoken with him, he always comes across very knowledgeable, cHowever, yesterday I asked him if we could discuss our project for the rest of the summer, and he said, “sure, let’s have a meeting tomorrow morning.”

In order to avoid giving you every minute detail, I will summarize the meeting and tell you how well it went. When Allan rolled over from his desk to the table where we were sitting, he asked, “ok, why are we having this meeting?” So I took charge and described our wishes to leave this internship with something solid that can show our work here at Culture Project. I discussed that we had done much of the researching and human rights work but we were missing the creative link, the bridge to the “theatre” that we so eagerly desired, and so we believed a documentary would be a great way to link our research to art. Allan took in all that I said and then told us he had a different idea, He suggested that instead of focussing on just the “stigma against those in poverty” blueprint, we not waste our work on the other two blueprints (immigration and education inequality) and that we create a short film about ourselves and the experience we had here at Culture Project, and what we’ve learned. He suggested that because it will be hard to interview many people on one subject (poverty stigma) due to summer hours, we interview ONE person in each field and ask them three questions each, which if answered, would prove to be beneficial for those who follow in their footsteps. He even suggested different well-known people in each of the fields we are researching and said he would contact them and ask them if they had 30 minutes for his interns next week. So great! I loved the idea of interspersing our thoughts with those in each of the fields and I was really glad we spoke with Allan. However, when we were done talking about our project, I wanted to keep talking. So, I opened my mouth (once again) and asked Allan how he was able to bridge human rights and theatre.

That’s when he says, “Well first of all, abandon the notion that I ever had a plan.” I loved that. The rest of what he said was really very inspirational and at the end of his explanation, he perfectly tied everything together with that jigsaw puzzle analogy and said, “well at least that’s my philosophy.” I found that by listening to Allan, I realized that life really cannot be perfectly mapped out, and with an idea, even one person can make a difference. Allan said, “you can get people to do amazing things if you believe in what you’re doing.” He was inspired by an idea that someone had to go around and collect testimonies from people on death row who claimed to have been wrongfully convicted. Allan believed in this project and told these people he would fund their trip to gather these testimonies if they could produce him with a script by october. They did, and that was Culture Project’s first hit: “The Exonerated.” I am so glad I got to learn more about Culture Project, but more importantly, I am so grateful for the inspiration such a short talk has given me. I have always believed I am going to make a difference in the world, and Allan is walking, breathing, living proof of that.

Until next week,

-Anoush

Work Environment

Improvement. Day by day I see this work place improving through my judgmental eyes.

Whenever I thought of an office in New York City, I thought of many people in an office that takes up the whole floor of a building where people are sitting at their computers and typing away furiously. Never did I expect that I’d be working in an office space that was meant to be an apartment. However, just because I did not expect this outcome, does not mean that it is far from reality, in all actuality, it is pretty common. Cities are expensive, let alone New York City, and to have an office space that takes up a whole floor would cost a fortune, and I should have put two and two together and realized that a small non profit organization would most definitely not mirror the grandiose picture I had been painting in my head.

Here’s another expectation that I had painted with the wrong colors–I came to work on the first day wearing a nice polo dress and beautiful white wedges. I knew that an office in the village might mean that people dress in a chic/artsy sort of way, but I thought I better be safe than sorry–better over-dressed than under-dressed, and guess what? I was over-dressed. WAY over-dressed. The founder of the organization was wearing a t-shirt and gym shorts, and everyone else was dressed pretty casually. But you know what, that’s not really a big deal. I like to dress up nicely and if that’s what I like to do, no one was going to stop me.

So apart from the work space and dress code, the work environment and behavior did not meet my expectations either. I thought that everyone would be working with one another and talking with one another, and I was so shocked…everyone just sat at their computers and did their own work! If someone had to speak to one another they got up, whispered real softly to the person and then went back to his/her own desk. Oh my…this was the worst one for me. Thinking that I was not going to be able to talk KILLED me. haha are you kidding me? This place is as silent as a cemetery! I’m not going to lie…the first week was the hardest week with all these shocks coming at me, especially this one, but after we spoke to our supervisor, she said that “just because the others in the office remain silent, it doesn’t mean you guys have to! By all means, go ahead and talk to one another!” That was great–that communication with her truly showed me that with communication things can get better, and I am really very glad we had that conversation; it made the work environment so much better.

I think this entry has been a list of how what I expected was not what I am experiencing, however, it will also demonstrate how just because my expectations were not met, does not mean I should stop trying to make the best of it. In fact, the fact that my expectations were not met is what led me to work hard to find the beneficial rewards I can reap from my 10 weeks here.

There are so many things I have learned here and I am so excited to share them all, however, I am a bit tight on time with preparing for my presentation tomorrow with the other interns to the whole staff, so I will go now, but after the presentation tomorrow I will come back and right some more about how it went, what I learned, and what the next steps are for the last four weeks of my summer here at this wonderful organization!

Value: blog 3

Empty. I feel so empty. It’s as if there is a hole inside my soul that makes me feel uneasy; as if I am trapped in a state of unrest. Empty because something is missing…perhaps writing out what I feel will fill the gap that so suddenly appeared.

It is Monday June 30th and I got to the train station fifteen minutes early. Standing against the rail looking out towards my town with my back to the tracks, I ponder relentlessly about what to do. I have all my gym clothes with me and the gym is across the street from the train…I could easily leave the train platform, go to the 9:30 am spin class with that cheerful and optimistic instructor I like so much who teaches on Mondays, and then spend the rest of the day with my grandma who is here from South America for only another week. For some reason, that option colors in a piece of that gaping hole I feel in the middle of my chest, and brings my eyes up from a droop, to a slight droop, but it does nothing more…it does not satisfy me. Perhaps that’s because no one else is home…Sophie went to pre-college, Aram went to his center for the talented youth summer program, and Antranig is at summer camp for the day…so, what would I do with my grandma? Would I sit at home all day and just talk to her? Actually…yes. She has so much knowledge that will be gone if I never pry it out of her. But how do I do that if I get home at 9 pm every night? I can’t tell if it will make me happy to miss work and stay with her…so I begin to think about what the benefits are of going to work.

In reality, I am still a teenager, I don’t need to work, it is just something I am doing to keep me busy and also because I am intrigued by the organization I am working with. I ended up getting on the train, while reminding myself that I have an unlimited train pass, so I knew I could get right back on another train to get home when I got to Penn station…but I didn’t do that. I stayed on that train and called my mom. When I spoke to my mom on the phone, she too said she wanted to be with my grandma all day, but she couldn’t because of work. Then she said to me, “but your work is more lenient right? You can miss a day more easily than me, right?”

Those questions made me think. Of course I could miss work more easily than her! She is a doctor and I am simply an intern. But then I stopped…did that make sense? ….no. That’s not how it works Anoush! Are you listening to yourself? In that logic, can you say that because someone is a construction worker he can leave work more easily than a professor…by that logic you are claiming that one job is more important than another, and you are not valuing the work that the construction worker does…by not going to work, I am not valuing the work that I and Culture Project does.

All those thoughts brought me to question the value of my work this summer.  The thoughts perfectly led me to answer the second blog question I was assigned.   The question asked, “what value do you add to the organization and what value does it add to you personally, beyond gaining experience to put on a resume.” Well first of all, in this past month, I have already experienced so many new feelings and occurrences that have taught me lessons applicable in all parts of life that have no place on a resume, but rather solely exist for my improvement.

In order to answer the question of what value I add to my internship, I must first recall what my 14-year-old brother told me he read in a book. He asked, “do you know why 40% of women leave their husbands?” I called out “lack of approval” and my mom called out “lack of love.” The correct answer, my brother then revealed, was lack of appreciation. These women didn’t feel appreciated for all the work they did. Their children rarely said thank you, their husbands never displayed any signs gratefulness, and so these women left. It made sense. All people want to feel appreciated for the work they do. They want to know that someone cares and that there is validation for the hard work one puts in. It was an obvious fact, yet a meaningful one that led me to draw a parallel between the women leaving scenario and a workplace scenario.

In a workplace, one must feel that their work has value; that they are contributing in some way to the organization or corporation, otherwise, what are they there for? If a person begins to think that his work has no place or use within the company, what will be his incentive to go to work each day? One challenge for me has been to find this incentive. The work I am doing here with the two other interns is work for our growth and improvement, but not for the organization’s. We are creating three in depth proposals of possible blueprint projects for an upcoming season, however there is no guarantee (really no implementation at all) that the head of this organization will use any of the ideas we come up with. The three topics are 1) The inequality in education based on different socioeconomic statuses, 2) The injustices with crossing the border into the US, 3) The stigma against those in poverty. The project is more for us to learn how to create a proposal and present it. After our presentation, the head of this organization will choose whichever topic of the three he liked best, and we will then go on to create a documentary highlighting the main issues within the problem he chose. The documentary will not be used here at Culture Project though, and is more for our learning experience.

While this project is very exciting and I have really been enjoying researching these three topics and learning more about them, I feel this lack of value looming around my head. What am I contributing to the organization? What is my lasting mark? Do I even need to leave a lasting mark? I mean, I am only here for two and a half months…I don’t have to make such an impression.

Figuring out what the individual value is that I am receiving is easy. I am receiving this invaluable experience of being an intern at an organization that produces work I can identify with and aspire to do myself one day, and I am absorbing simple tasks that will be useful to me the rest of my life: how to conduct myself on conference calls, how to be handed a task and figure out one good question to ask instead of a million that I could have answered on my own, how to ask people to do things in a polite, non-condescending way, etc. In other words, what I gain personally is innumerable and I am very happy with the way I am learning new things each day. However, do I feel appreciated here? Is there anything that I am doing for them that will lead Culture Project to value me? I am now back to the question the prompt had asked me…what value do I add to the organization?

I think the best way to answer this question is in parts. First of all, I add value to the organization because I am one of five interns here at Culture Project who make up the first group of interns this organization has ever had. That’s great! So it’s a learning experience for both sides (interns and administration) and the way that I conduct myself will perhaps further influence the kinds of interns they hire.

Second, I add value to the organization by helping them with extra tasks that help them to be more organized. There is always more work and organization to be done, and perhaps in helping them with these small tasks, I am providing them with the ability to clear a little stress from their head, perhaps I am their daily breath of fresh air when they realize that they don’t need to do everything.

Third, I am spirited. I am the only intern who initiates conversation with the founder of the organization and I am the only one who initiates the conversation of creative ideas and different ways to go about a task or project rather than the traditional power point. Perhaps the others are thinking it, but I speak out, and as I have seen, the office is a rather quiet place, but when I do speak up, the others love to engage in conversation, so perhaps I add a bit of life to the place!

I don’t know…maybe I am just trying to come up with things here, but on the other hand, perhaps I am leaving a mark here in a way I don’t even realize.

Setting goals: blog 2

Setting goals can be an overwhelming task. When you look ahead to the future, it is easy to drown in a sea of ideas and tasks you want to accomplish. Typically, at least in my experience, people tend to create too many goals for the future. Now, that sounds ridiculous–you can never have too many goals, but I know that in my past, I have created book lists that I have never finished or goals that were too unattainable at the moment that made me then not try as hard to achieve them because I thought I would never get there.  

I’ve learned that the best thing to do is to create goals day by day. Of course you can have an idea of where these goals will get you in the future, but they needn’t restrict you yo feeling suffocated or pressured on a daily basis. Now of course, this is common sense knowledge and I am sure many people already know how to set goals in a way that works best for them–however I wanted to talk about the importance of making daily goals, and how that had helped me in my internship so far. 

Working at culture project has been a new experience for me–as I said in my first blog, I’ve never really had a job where I had to sit tat a computer all day and do research. Sometimes the tasks I am given to perform are broad, and it is my job to narrow it down and create an outline for myself of how I am going to research the topic, etc. There is no prompt like there typically is from a professor, and for that reason, I felt a bit lost. I knew what the general gist of our project was and I knew that our first topic to research was the inequality in education based on high and low socioeconomic status, however, what question was I supposed to answer with this research? I know we are creating a panel discussion, but how do I go about this with no example? I really enjoyed the research and of course I took loads of bullet points of notes noting the facts I felt were essential, but I felt I had no direction and I didn’t look forward to coming in and spending 8 hours researching something that I felt had no end. 

Today at work I tried what I always do when I set up camp at the reading room during finals week. I spread all my materials out, ripped out a piece of paper, and wrote “TO DO” in big letters across the top of the page. I then started numbering different tasks. 1. Make a page of all the links you have used so far. 2 create a page for possible speakers to come who are involved in the education system. 3. Create a page that states the problem and trends that keep moving this problem into modern days instead of stopping years ago. Etc. 

I cannot tell you how much easier my day has been so far with just this simple task sheet in front of me. I think structure is one of the greatest necessities in performing tasks efficiently and I want to bring this need for organization to a broader level. Not only is structure needed on the individual level, but also on the grand scale of the whole organization. I have realized here that if organization can be improved, things will function better. The staff here do a little bit of everything, and while that is great that they are all capable to do such tasks and have so much knowledge, perhaps if everyone had clear cut goals and assignments things would be different. Now I am not saying that things do not run smoothly here, because everyone seems to have everything under control and each person sitting at his or her desk knows what they are doing, I just feel that things could be tighter. But that is besides the point. The point is that it have realized that if every part (person) of the organization is structured, the whole is destined to be so as well. 

As for the 2 “SMART” goals I plan to set for myself this summer, I think writing all of the above had helped me reach this decision. 

1. I will make a daily to-do task

2. I will leave here with something I am proud of and can show to others. –I know I will be writing s 15-20 page research paper at the end of this internship, but I mean something in addition to that. I originally had set my goal to write a play by the end of the summer, but I don’t want to restrict myself and feel pressured to write something that does not come naturally–so whether it is a documentary, a play, a short story, a series of real testimonies joined together to create a mini novel about the dangers of crossing the border (a topic I am interested in working on next), or simply just an awesome PowerPoint, I will create something I can bring back with me to school to continue fighting for these issues through the power of artistic expression. 

Thanks for reading!

Until next week,

-Anoush

 

The Beginning: Blog 1

Dear Readers,
Wow! What an educational first week I have had working at Culture Project. The experience was a unique one, in that everything was new for me. Every summer before this one I have done some type of physically active program. Whether it was my summer day camp I went to for ten years, the summer theatre camp on Long Island I went to one summer where we did musicals and danced around, or the summer theatre programs in New York City and Oxford which all had movement classes, I have never been sitting in an office all day. If someone had told me I would have to sit at a computer for eight hours a day I would have laughed at them and said I couldn’t do it. Not “I don’t want to do it” but that I would never believe that would be something I am capable of. I can barely sit at a computer for ten minutes without going on Facebook, how could I sit there for eight hours and research? Well boy, did I surprise myself! I am glad I have been presented with this opportunity because otherwise I don’t think I would have gotten the chance to experience how much I am actually capable of.

These past four days, I have learned how a passion can make anything exciting. It seems weird to say, but I am becoming a person I have always wanted to be, but never thought I could be. I am learning what it is like to work each day and feel productive after a day of work. I love being thorough but I only usually need to be when I am reviewing for finals. I now am able to see how the skills I have learned/am learning in school have become inherent and now help me in my every day life. I will give you an example of this phenomenon:

When the three other interns and I arrived at our first day of work monday morning, we were told that one of our tasks over the summer will be to create three proposals for the blueprint for accountability panel discussions that Culture Project holds in the town hall. We will need to come up with possible speakers, budgets, and the themes, and then propose them to Allan Buchman who is the founder of culture project. This is a very exciting project and researching for it has felt lass like work than a mission since the topics are so interesting. Our first topic we chose to research is the “Inequality in education based on Socioeconomic status.” The second and third are not as fleshed out yet, but one will be about the injustices and secret challenges presented by the American Govt for those who cross the border, and the third we are not sure of yet. I am so excited to take on these projects and work with the three other interns to learn more about the topic, learn how to work efficiently as an individual, but more importantly, as a team.

I also see the possibilities of a new play this summer. I have been inspired by these topics, especially the one about crossing the border. I am excited and am looking forward to fleshing out my ideas and creating something I can present when I get back to school. I am now at an Armenian Student Association conference in Boston to learn about the modern day Armenian/Turkish relationships and am so excited to learn more about this topic that means so much to me and can help me understand outside of the textbook how the aftermath of genocide plays out and repeats itself! Then I go back to work on monday and I am looking forward to the second week and letting you all know how it went so you can continue to follow my learning journey!

Thanks for reading!

All the best,
-Anoush