Say “YES” to life

Back in April, I was selected as a recipient of the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA, for short). Never having heard of RYLA, I decided to do my research and submitted an application a few hours later. The program consisted of 4 jam-packed days of leadership and teambuilding exercises at Loyalist College, as well as opportunities for self-growth and self-awareness. Over the course of the conference, I would be given opportunities to identify with myself on a much deeper, more significant level.

Leadership has always been a very strong quality that I have always strived to portray. Before going into the RYLA program, I would define a leader as someone who is able to lead a group of people into the direction of success, assisting them in overcoming challenges and obstacles that stood in the way. It always seemed very clear to me what characteristics and personality traits a leader would possess, but it never really occurred to me that they could also come with different strengths, weaknesses and frames of mind. I know that sounds self-involved, and so very shallow, and I apologize to all you leaders out there who didn’t fit into my stereotypical idea of what and who a leader looked like. But that’s why RYLA is such a wonderful thing. That’s why RYLA should be known. RYLA has taught me that leaders fall within DiSC – they are dominant, influential, steady, and conscientious – and while they are often more of one thing than another, every person has different traits that make them unique. It taught me that leaders can be soft-spoken, yet passionate. Or they can be outspoken and fiery. A leader does not need to fit a selected range of criteria – they just need to be. They need to do what works best for them, and what will assist them in leading their team to success.


RYLA participants enjoying a night of getting to know each other better through “the skittle game”

During our time at RYLA, we participated in several different leadership and team-building activities. Amongst the most frustrating were a game of “blindfold squares”, which consisted of making a perfect square out of tangled rope while blindfolded, and a game which consisted of crossing a jumbled rope maze without any talking. We also had the opportunity to put on blindfolds and be led by our partners around campus, instilling trust in people we hardly even knew. One of our nightly activities turned into a game of “Across the Floor”, which opened up a huge release of emotions and we found ourselves consoling our new friends.


Team-building activities in the sun

There has been a lot of really important moments during my week at RYLA. Our District Governor came to give a talk, and the most influential, most inspiring thing he has told us was that we need to say yes to life. We all have an idea of what we want our life to look like, but it will never look like that unless we say yes to life. Say yes to the opportunity that comes up that scares you a little bit. Say yes to accepting that new job offer. Or, do what I did and say yes to traveling across the world alone for a month. Do what is slightly uncomfortable. Do the unthinkable. Do the daring, and the strange, and the unique. Do something that you would regret not doing when you’re 90 years old and nearing the end of your life.

Rotary, and RYLA, have given me the tools and the skills to say yes to life. It has allowed me to find myself, explore my personality, and meet other leaders who all have the same goal – to make a difference in this world. I am not the same person I was 5 days ago. I have felt and seen so much change within myself that it is astounding. I feel more confident in myself, and I feel that I can be a more effective leader in the future. RYLA has changed my life – now I’m excited to start changing others.


RYLA at Gleaner’s Food Bank in Belleville, ON doing community service work.


Your RYLArian