One of my greatest strengths is knowing where I excel and where I don’t. The former is heavily out-weighed by the latter. Fortunately for me, within the sweet spot of my talent lie some traits that have been key to YACC’s success. I’m not sure how I would have had any success without them.
If you are to analyze the growth of YACC, especially in the early years (and I have), you will discover a strategy that was simple and built on a few of those strengths (some which were more a “belief” than a strength).
Personally, I was built by my genetics and environment to be open. Like most people who have this disposition, I’ve faced triumph and challenge as a result. My experiences in this life have been so much richer — incredible, if you will — because I have shared my life with others. I have faced judgment and criticism from others as a result of this openness, but I wouldn’t change it, and I know YACC would simply not be here without it.
As I came out of my first cancer challenge, I had this desire to be open with a new group of people, specifically about my cancer experience. This desire was really the seed that grew into YACC. The disposition to be open also leads me to use this as a tool to figure out problems, create solutions, and put many life experiences in context. I needed to talk about cancer so I could figure out what it meant to me. I believed that doing this could help me, and help build YACC.
I knew that if I was open and shared my story with other young adults, they would respond with compassion and an emotional connection would be formed.
If I was able to establish an emotional connection with a mass group of young adults, together we could build YACC, and that is exactly what happened. Indeed it is exactly what’s still happening and it is what we will continue to make happen.
The strength to be open was paramount. I also needed the ability to communicate my openness. This was much more belief than strength, particularly in the early days. I just believed I could do it. I started forming those connections in high schools near my home, and when I took the mic at O’Donel High School in November 2000, I had never spoken to more than 20-30 people at a time to that point, but I believed I could do it. Since then, I’ve had lots of practice with hundreds of presentations to way over 70,000 students. I’m more refined than ever, but I know it is the openness and honesty that engages them, not whether or not I can remember my speech or how eloquently it is delivered.
In addition to my strengths and beliefs, I had an understanding that I needed to start where I had influence. I started by talking to my old French teacher (and current YACC Board Vice-Chair) Val Pike. Val is one of those exceptional people in this world who has always taken a genuine interest in her students, during — and after — their time in school. She was immediately open to hearing the seed of an idea I had, and immediately supported me by engaging her principal who also jumped in promptly. This was a position of real strength, one I knew I could leverage; those supporters helped me connect with two other schools.
Long story short, that is how this whole thing was started. The strength of openness combined with my belief in my ability to emotionally connect with other young adults lead me to start where I had influence. Those things gave us momentum, and 13 years later we are — as much as ever — relying on those three ingredients of openness, emotional engagement, and influence.
I know the success of our next 13 years will be heavily reliant on our ability to work with more survivors to be open, use their influence and emotionally engage new audiences in YACC’s mission. And I can’t wait to do it.
Live life. Love life.