There are three things that I know to be true in life: my name is Valerie Caña, I am currently eighteen years old, and I just broke $200 worth of Christmas cat ornaments at the store I work at in a matter of six seconds.
A lot of my peers might know me from before as that girl who was a DECA State Officer for wayyy too long or as a former National Officer candidate from Nevada. Both of those were acceptable. But now? Well, now I’m just the clumsy sales associate who decided to defer college for a year. I believe I did awesome things in DECA, but honestly the titles I received back then don’t matter anymore. It’s in the past. I am irrelevant, and I’ve come to terms with that a long time ago.
Since I was invited to write this article, I’ve been struggling to come up with “THE END-ALL, BE-ALL” ultimate leadership lesson that summarizes everything I learned in my CTSO career and maybe help raise your spirits to the land of success.
Unfortunately, I possess no knowledge of the secret of life, nor the key ingredient of becoming a great leader. In a perfect world, I would have won DECA Executive Office, gone to a top college on a scholarship, and still be relevant enough to be featured on this awesome blog. Instead, I just remember crying against the concrete wall of the Closing Session room, watching a different reality take place instead of my dreams. So as you can see, I can’t exactly tell you how to be successful. I, myself, am wobbling on my own rocky path. But I can tell you, despite my seemingly failures, why I am inescapably and undeniably happy:
I decided to be.
There’s a lot of room for joy once you cry out all of your sorrow. The morning after our national conference ended, I waved all of the members of my organization goodbye and emptied the millions of used tissues out of my purse. Then, I ascended the elevator back to my hotel room and chose to enjoy the way the sun’s light stretched across the floor and onto me. I packed my bags and chose to love how my DECA blazer looked wrinkled into a tired heap and how my heals were scuffed with the memories of running all across Orlando. I chose to admit my defeat, and then I happily chose to take the path that completely contradicted my original plan.
I took a gap year. Not even an “exciting” gap year abroad or working on a farm on the East Coast. I stayed where I have always been and got a job I really liked…for no legitimate reason other than that life was tremendously great that I could make my own decisions.
My family and friends were quite shocked. I had always been the person they expected to be extremely accomplished, trying to do big, extravagant things every single day.
“No,” I told them, “I’m just a human being and I kinda wanna take a break.”
I’m not saying I wasn’t happy when I was in DECA. Of course I was ecstatic doing all those cool things standing under the spotlight. But when I woke up that one morning and the sun shone so brilliantly during my time of loss, that alone told me that this was still my time. I can do everything and I can do nothing, and it can still be a great day.
That said, YOU can do everything or do nothing, and have a great day. It’s important to realize that yes, you can absolutely move on and do crazy big things, but there is also a joy in taking time to rest and to experience the smaller aspects of life. There are many paths in this big world of ours, and sometimes you have to stop in the middle of the direction you’re moving to notice the million other directions available to you. Not all are major roads to mountaintops. Some are tiny detours and bumps in the road. And others are the in-betweens of a journey where you just have to sit down for a bit and love the world around you will keep on going. All is good. All is life.
I quite like this “small somebody” I am today, because it lets me feel how large our universe is and how wonderful every minuscule detail of it is. It’s the small things like how my best friend calls me in between her busy schedule, how my sister includes me by asking which headphones to buy, or how I can now afford to treat my parents out to dinner. What I never noticed before has become so incredibly significant. Even laughing together with strangers at the bus driver’s joke is miraculous to me.
We can be people who are larger than life, always doing something, always chasing our dreams into oblivion. But when we stumble on the ground, we don’t have to suck up our pride and get right back up immediately. Instead, I encourage you to lie back for a while, reflect, and see that life is probably a lot larger than you expected.
I decided to be happy in life, and that meant to be easily impressed and appreciative of every encounter. It meant to let go of what I wanted, and grab on to what the world had always had. I think it’s pretty cool to stop for a moment and feel fulfilled just by how alive and decent the world is around you. Especially to someone like me, an eighteen year old klutzy sales associate, things like are pretty awesome.
I suppose that’s the fourth thing I know to be true.
Valerie Caña is a former three-year DECA State Officer and a talented, inspirational young person. She currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.