A version of this article appeared at Inc.comThis article is an adapted excerpt from Les McKeown’s book, Do Lead.
I meet a lot of people who hear a call to leadership, but who are perplexed about how to get started.
Where’s the right place to begin? When’s the best time to start? Which is the most appropriate opportunity to take? In the last excerpt, we heard about Alycia, who showed us that one way to begin is to simply start small. Prior to that, we heard from Thomas, who showed us that you can never start too early. Here’s another option:
Carissa’s first memory of suffering debilitating panic attacks was when she was four years old. Her home life was a mess, and though she was too young to know it at the time, things weren’t going to get better any time soon.
As she grew older, and life around her became ever more dysfunctional, Carissa retreated into anxiety and depression. By the time she was in her late teens, she was, to put it mildly, a handful.
Gradually, with the help of her faith, Carissa began to turn things around. A stint in parent education while at college lit a flame in her – perhaps, at that stage, only a pilot light, but enough to start a long, slow burn.
After working as a parent educator for seven years, then as a tutor, Carissa took a position as a crisis pregnancy counsellor at a local Pregnancy Resource Centre, where she worked with (mostly young) pregnant women, many of whom had been kicked out of their parents’ homes. Again and again, Carissa found herself scrambling to help her clients navigate the effects of disrupted education, minimal health care, unstable relationships, at-risk behaviors, and financial uncertainty.
In the years that followed, while Carissa brought up her own three children, the flame that she had kindled in college continued to grow and her desire to help single pregnant women only mounted, until finally – Carissa can tell you the day, it was 21 July 2010 – she knew she had to act.
Now a striking, self-assured woman of 40, Carissa has in the space of three years, with the help of over 100 volunteers, brought into being The Sparrow’s Nest – a 3,700-square-foot house, on an acre of land, which is expected to house 25 to 30 mothers and their children every year, with staff that includes two house parents, two respite house parents, a case manager, family counsellor, office manager, and Carissa herself as executive director.
The woman that envisioned, raised the money for, secured and converted The Sparrow’s Nest is one of the most impressive leaders I’ve met in my lifetime. And yet, she’ll be the first to tell you that few, having met the four-year-old girl or the eighteen-year-old adolescent she was, would have accurately forecast her future.
So, if after reading this book you’re thinking, ‘I’ve left it too late to make a real difference,’ think of Carissa.