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Lisa Martin, MA

Staff Training & Development Coordinator, Missouri Department of Mental Health, Division of Behavioral Health

I Was a Little Fish in a Huge Pond: A Young Leader’s Story

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Last year’s National Council Conference was the best professional experience I’ve had in my eight year career in behavioral health care. As a millennial still finding my way in a field continually growing toward a fully-integrated health system, the most difficult part of being a “young leader” is feeling misunderstood.

I dare to compare generational barriers in the workplace to the ongoing dilemma of those who live in recovery while desperately trying to be understood by the general public. As millennials, we have a strong desire to be understood by those with different life experiences and to help others realize our strengths — all while working to remove the discrimination associated with mental illness and addiction. An opportunity like the Young Leaders Program at the National Council Conference provided me an environment to network, find inspiration and discover the tools needed to facilitate effective changes in our organizations and communities. As a proud young leader working in behavioral health care — this opportunity was second to none.

While each opportunity at the National Council Conference was phenomenal, my most memorable moments were from the Young Leaders’ Program discussions facilitated by  Jeanne Supin, the Middle Management Academy’s star faculty. For the first time in my career, I found myself in a room full of other millennials, and WE were asked for input about the future. We were asked questions like, “How do you imagine services and systems when you’re in charge?” or “What can your bosses do to support you and your vision?” More poignantly, I felt that my input was not only considered but taken with great interest. The discussions that followed were invigorating. I listened to my peers and thought, “Yes, me too! Where have you people been all my life?”

“For the first time in my career, I found myself in a room full of other millennials, and WE were asked for input about the future.” 

I was a first-time attendee at the 2014 National Council Conference. Thumbing through my #NatCon14 materials — yes, I still have them — certain feelings and words come to mind including: overwhelmed, excited, confused; networking, FUN and fellow millennials — a lot of us. I also quickly recall my favorite sessions, TED Talks, plenaries and Young Leader discussions. The inspiration, knowledge and lasting impressions I received from individuals such as Patrick Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, David Lloyd, Jeanne Supin, Holly Green and Joe Robinson are as strong today as they were when I was in DC last spring.

I left with tools and information to use daily at my organization. For example, Arudia Founder Anne Collier taught me to brand myself as the only choice people see. This applies to the quality of my work, and I have used this motivation to produce the best products possible for the individuals I serve. Additionally, at David Lloyd’s Preconference University, I learned to improve the way I do business. For example, I learned that you can’t lead effectively unless you are “all in.” This involves recognizing system versus personal challenges. As a leader in a fast-paced field, it’s important to step back and ask, “What’s keeping my organization from moving forward in our goals? Is it a system challenge or a personal challenge?”

Similarly, I learned the importance of managing stress and finding work-life balance. Many millennials flock to this field because we are helpers. As a result, it’s easy for us to focus our time on helping others and to forget about ourselves. I listened to a TED Talk and a Young Leaders session with Joe Robinson about maintaining work-life balance. I was even able to chat with him in person! On my desk, I have taped a Post-It note that says, “A passion can add 8 hours of joy to your week- Joe Robinson.” It reminds me that I need to take the time to play and enjoy my interests. Not only will I reap the benefits of an extra eight hours of joy, but my colleagues will, too.

Opportunities to network on a national level are priceless, as is nurturing relationships with colleagues who share your struggles and successes and who will likely be with you throughout your career. In short, fellow young leaders, get yourselves to NatCon15. You will collaborate with your colleagues to assess the latest information that will bring your vision to fruition. And more importantly, you will find your unique voice within the extensive behavioral health care space.


Editor’s Note: Need help convincing your boss to invest in you by sending you to the 2015 National Council Conference? Download our sample email, tailor it and send it to him or her today.