The Birth of Lead Yourself Youth

by | Dec 16, 2023

This article is an excerpt from a story in the “Health Care News” publication called “An Innovative Model” by Joseph Bednar, from January 22, 2020.

Andrea’s Story

Everyone has a story they tell themselves, Andrea Bordenca says, and hers, growing up, was not a positive one.

“My story was that I was not a good student, that I wasn’t smart,” she told HCN, adding that her struggles in school and with self-esteem were compounded by unhealthy coping mechanisms — she was drinking at age 12, smoking at 14, and became addicted to both — and an ADHD diagnosis … and addiction to her medications to treat that.

“Because I didn’t have healthy coping mechanisms, it got worse into adulthood — I felt depressed and undervalued; I didn’t see my own worth,” she went on, adding that she was hospitalized at one point for suicide risk. Achieving the dean’s list at Roger Williams University, followed by some career success, demonstrated that she was smart, but she still struggled with those other issues — until she encountered the Institute for Generative Leadership (IGL), an organization committed to bringing leadership skills to adults through stress physiology and self-care practices.

“At IGL, they asked, ‘what do you care about?’ I didn’t have an answer. I was getting so lost in everyone’s expectations that I’d lost my sense of self,” she recalled, adding that money and career success are good, but not a source of meaning for her. “For me, it’s community, it’s people. That’s what was missing, and I didn’t realize that was the missing piece.”

The leadership program she undertook at IGL 20 years ago showed her “how we tend to culturally operate from a place of other people’s expectations,” she explained. “We’re told from a certain age what we’re good at and what we’re not good at. What’s missing is, what do I care about? What do I want to do in this world?”

These days, Bordenca is in a much healthier place, as both the second-generation CEO of DESCO, a healthcare emergency field-service response organization, and also CEO of — that’s right — IGL. She’s also building a $1.5 million collaborative in Hadley with a goal of connecting area businesses and their professional-development initiatives with healing modalities for adults and youth.

“I’m bridging the gap between the increase in depression, suicide, and anxiety among younger populations and the health and vitality of corporate cultures and healthy businesses,” she said, noting that the building will also offer classroom space, as well as hands-on learning and workshop space for DESCO. “My way of bridging that gap is by bringing social-emotional learning to young people so they can learn the essential life skills of communication and self-awareness, so when they are our employees and leaders of the future, they have basic, foundational life skills.”

Social-Emotional Literacy

She tells a story of how her son, who had dealt with severe social anxiety issues his entire childhood, begin to overcome them by secretly practicing the techniques she was learning from IGL — and she began to see how other teens could be positively influenced. That led to:

Lead Yourself Youth, an initiative Bordenca created in 2016 that adapts IGL curriculum so it is relevant for educators and adolescents. She and her partner in the venture, Sara Vatore, aim to bring awareness about life decisions, standards, and relationships to youth, and they’re interested in collaborating with leaders from area high schools, colleges and universities, and organizations such as Girl and Boy Scouts, Girls Inc., and boys and girls clubs.

She said teens are especially likely to fall into the trap of losing their sense of self and living according to external expectations. “Here, they’ll learn they don’t need everyone’s acceptance. Once they do, we’re going to have that much more resilient and able employees and leaders in the future.

“We don’t have to accept everyone’s assessment of us,” she added, noting that those external assessments affect people’s self-esteem. “I’ve found most teenagers are very open to this conversation, when they realize they can decline the assessments of people who don’t like who they are and realize, ‘no I don’t like everybody, either, and that’s a fact of life.’ As an adult, you’re going to meet people you like and don’t like. So if we get clear now on who you are and the people you want to surround yourself with, then that’s going to help you find your people, your tribe, moving forward.”

There’s an emotional-literacy component to this work, too, she added, as it’s important for young people — and all people, really — not to be afraid of their emotions, but to understand how they affect us, then deal with them and shift them in a healthy way.

Overcoming Stigma

In short, Bordenca wants to reduce the stigma around issues like emotional health, self-awareness, self-esteem, and any number of issues that affect mental health and overall wellness.

“Worry, anxiety, despair, it’s all OK, it’s all normal. What makes people feel isolated is when they’re afraid to talk about it,” she told HCN. “[Lead Yourself Youth] is all about bringing these emotions to the surface. It’s OK to feel crappy sometimes; it’s OK to feel hopeless sometimes.”

Dealing honestly with those issues can help reveal what’s missing in one’s life, she added, and open up deeper questions that need to be addressed, rather than pushing through with unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol.

As she learned early in her own life, and what she’s trying to communicate to others of all ages, is that succumbing to peer pressure is a response to the fear of isolation in people who haven’t learned to value their own voice and desires over the expectations of others.

“They want to feel connected, so they drink and smoke. So how do we create that space for kids where they talk about these issues in a way that normalizes their emotions and fear of being left out, so there’s less of, ‘OK, I’ll drink and smoke to be part of the crowd.’ We’re creating communities of kids able to voice their concerns.”

Bordenca has dramatically changed her internal story, the one she tells herself, and she likes what she hears. It’s a lesson applicable to people of all ages, and she hopes the Venture Way Collaborative Building provides a healthy resource for many of them in the years to come.

Joseph Bednar

Joseph Bednar

This article is an excerpt from a story in the “Health Care News” publication called “An Innovative Model” by Joseph Bednar, from January 22, 2020.

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