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  • Sofia Sulikowski

The Most Empowering Week Of My College Experience (So Far)

Akimbo's Emerging Leaders Program



I'm fairly suspicious of leadership boot camps, especially those marketed to students. I've attended many events, and broad leadership topics tend to be...fluffy.


While reading HubSpot's blog, I came across an article describing summer opportunities for students. It included a link to Akimbo's Emerging Leaders Program. The online application described a 5-day, project-based program and detailed a non-traditional application form: list your goals, select personality traits, and make a 3-minute video answering "what doesn't your resume tell about you?"


Even after receiving my welcome email, I didn't get any more information about modules or project topics, which meant it could either be an ambiguous nothing-really-gets-taught type of seminar, or something really different from the norm. Thankfully, on Monday, June 1st, I was presented with the latter.


The program

100 students, 5 days, 2 hours of group Zoom morning discussion, 1 daily project deliverable due at midnight. All prompts, both for discussion and projects were broad, open to interpretation, and rubric-less.


The Goal

Seth Godin, an author and thought leader, founded Akimbo to improve education via workshops. His approach: Create more, consume less. Lead, don't follow. The June 2020 Emerging Leaders Program was the first run of his offering for college students. Looking back, if I had to create learning goals and outcomes for the program, they would include:

  • Shipping quickly. 12 hours is not enough time to polish a project deliverable to perfection. Push it as far as you can and then publicly submit your work.

  • Mapping your own direction. No instructions or rubrics to direct you.

  • Creating something every day. No exceptions.

  • Figuring out how you want to "make a ruckus" and committing to developing your potential.

I wrote a long, comprehensive overview of the program, but struggled to capture the meaning of the experience. Below is a short daily summary for context, followed by why the program impressed me.


Day 1: Education vs. learning—tell a story


After a 5-minute program philosophy overview, we split into the first of many breakout rooms. The get-to-know-each-other prompts: What is one thing this week that made you smile? When does the world get better? What is something life is teaching you right now? That was it. No longwinded fun facts or generic introductions. The first hour got a thumbs up from me.


The next 2 hours, just like all the group meetings to come, involved a series of discussion prompts and breakout groups centered around a daily theme:

  • What were you taught in traditional education that you want to unlearn or reframe as you enter the working world?

  • What is the relationship between performance and success?

  • Why do you think real skills are undervalued and overlooked in education? What is one real skill you want to work on this week?

  • Give an example of when standing out was expensive (lead to ridicule, violence, or rejection)

After each breakout, everyone sent their highlights in the chat, and 3 people shared their insights to the whole group.


At noon, the day's project was unveiled.


Project 1: Interview your teammate and tell their story. Tell an element, a fundamental, interesting, learnable, resonant element of how they became who they are. Don't simply transcribe it. Tell your version of it, and do it in a way that the rest of us need to hear. Submit at least four pages of written text and incorporate another representative medium.


No one wants to read 4 pages without context, but here is my visual story of Drew, incorporating his fundamentals into a frequently visited website of his, FiveThirtyEight.


Takeaways:

Effective storytelling requires vulnerability and relevant details. Vague statements add little value in a time-constrained assignment seeking to uncover true meaning. But it's impossible to tell your full life story in a few hours, and it was a challenge to communicate my main points in a cohesive, clear way. On the flip side, understanding and communicating someone else's story felt equally as vulnerable as sharing.


Day 2: Leadership and change — identify a problem and make a solution


Project 2: Work with your group to find something in the world that’s not working and design a solution for it. Points if it can be implemented and widely adopted.


After identifying health and fitness to be an overlapping passion, we created breathemovepause.com : a small, implementable way to equalize access to lifestyle changes.


The website has typos, broken links, and a more limited scope than envisioned. But we proudly submitted at 11:59pm. Takeaway: a collective why fuels good group work.


Day 3: Fear and what you do with it—consolidate and present your ideas


If you’re not feeling like an imposter, you’re not trying hard enough…you don’t do it without fear, you figure out how to use fear as a compass

Project 3: Create a 5-minute TEDTalk. Consider the structure, purpose, and audience.


Personal discovery 101. I didn't memorize my script, hello jumpy cuts, and I couldn't present dynamically standing like I envisioned. But I created a video on a meaningful topic in 12 hours.


Day 4: Put your ideas into action—act on a business idea

How would you like to be judged? Because if you aren’t judged, then you’re being ignored...Create a body of work that speaks for you. And that is what people will use to judge you

PROJECT 4: Part 1: Come up with 99 business ideas and write a 3-10 line business plan for each. Part 2: pick one and implement it.


Matched with a fellow plant-lover and voila, a gardening business.


Day 5: Moving forward—put yourself out there and commit

Pick yourself and start where you are. Most of the gatekeepers have left the business. You can just create and contribute without anyone telling you that you can’t.

Project 5: Recreate your application video in response to this prompt, “My resume and LinkedIn don’t say everything about me, let me tell you more.”


Summoning my last bits of energy, I explained an element of my why.


Overall takeaways (ie why I loved this week)


1. Support over competition My biggest takeaway by far, was the tremendous support I observed, received, and passed on. In college, I've been surrounded by competition. For grades, for recognition, for the highest number of achievements. I've rarely observed someone helping another student for nothing in return. Yet the Akimbo ELP Slack was active 24/7. People who submitted early stayed up late to support others, join group Zoom calls, and offer their skills. Every submission met kind peer comments, questions received instant answers, and resources + quotes filled a shared Google Drive every day.


2. An impressive community The commitment to submitting excellent work to an ungraded, unreviewed program (seriously, the mentors didn't offer the slightest bit of feedback), caught me off guard. No one needed to put in a single hour of the 12+ a day. There were no repercussions for low-quality participation. Yet everyone contributed to the discussion, listened to others, offered resources, shared their passions and failures, and produced better projects in a day than some semester-long assignments I've seen. Every person incorporated personal material into each deliverable, and showed they do something to pursue their interests and goals outside of school. A rare phenomenon.


3. Depth in a course The program was about the process, not the deliverables, but each prompt offered an opportunity to create something shareable I was truly proud of (not 10-page papers no one will ever read). The prompts offered limitless opportunities for meaning and depth, and the whole cohort rose to the occasion. The best part was not creating my own projects or sharing my ideas but rather reviewing the 100 daily submissions until 2am and listening to diverse, insightful perspectives during discussions.


The week threw off my sleep schedule, exhausted me, and challenged me to challenge myself. I don't support unhealthy levels of intensity for extended periods of time, but the 1-week experience left me more excited, hopeful, and accomplished than any academic course I've completed.


For current students who may be interested, Akimbo is running the program again in August; apps due July 6th.

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