I Am A Leader: Melinda Jane O’Cañas’ Thoughts on Leadership

Welcome to the I Am A Leader blog series, featuring leaders who make a difference. Today’s guest blogger is Melinda Jane O’Cañas. Melinda graduated from St. Edward’s University in 2010 with a degree in Communication, with a focus in advertising, public relations, social media, and media arts. Her experiences include serving as an Organizational and Media Consultant for Savvy Kids Education, a Promotions and Media Coordinator for published authors, and a Media Strategy & Planning Intern at the Multicultural Agency of the Year, LatinWorks, and a Social Media Intern for Communication professor, Dr. Corinne Weisgerber. Most recently, she served as the President of the St. Edward’s University Alumni – Austin chapter.

Currently, Melinda is in the M.B.A. program at St. Edward’s University. She works at St. Edward’s as the Administrative Coordinator for the School of Education and continues her tireless commitment to service, social justice, and community building within various affiliations. She enjoys working out, yoga, attempting to cook, and watching endless comedy TV shows. Melinda is also a proud member of the SOS Gr8 Women Leaders Program.

The leadership role that is most important in my life right now is being a positive role model for undergraduate students. It wasn’t too long ago that I was in their shoes, terrified about going out into the real world. Because I work with college students daily, I have a real advantage to relate and connect with them, to give them sound advice and inspire them to follow their dreams. There’s something about sharing my story, which identifies each hardship I went through that brings hope and inspiration to students. I will always go out of my way to listen to their stories, difficulties, successes, dilemmas, triumphs, or whatever it is they need to share. My door is always open.
The most important thing I’ve had to battle with myself is knowing that leadership has nothing to do with age. There are times when I walk in a room and I’m the youngest and least accomplished person…and then I ask myself, “Why am I in a room filled with accomplished individuals? Can my small contribution make a difference? Is my opinion even worth it?” You get the point, right?

Leadership has less to do with age and experience and more to do with example, and example is about self-awareness and the courage to act. No matter our age – whether we’re considered too young, too old, too experienced, or not experienced enough, genuine experience is what gives us knowledge.

Growing up in a small town, low-income, single-parent household, I knew that I had great barriers ahead. We lived paycheck to paycheck and only had the bare essentials: food, shelter, and family…we really had each other. I regret saying this, but growing up, I was always embarrassed of my circumstances, family, and living situation. However, over the years as I’ve matured, I learned that my mother had given me the strongest quality ever: Resilience.

The belief that leaders have the endless stamina, ideas, and skills it takes to deliver success year after year is a fallacy of the past. Thus, resilience, the ability to bounce back, cope, renew, and revitalize, has become key for today’s leaders. I’ve learned that my personal hardships have only made me stronger, hungrier for success, and more focused on bringing an optimistic outlook to EVERYTHING I do.
I believe the first time I identified myself as a leader was during high school. Over the years, I was always involved as a class officer, captain or co-captain of various sports teams including: volleyball, basketball, softball, cheerleading, track, and my favorite, powerlifting, but most of all, my strongest asset was my ability to connect with people from various backgrounds.

I took pride in instilling inspiration in my friends, classmates, and even myself. Although I was considered loud and obnoxious at times, people knew that I was a person of goodwill, and that I enjoyed creating enthusiasm in others. My perception of myself was and still is: outgoing, inspiring, enthusiastic, and most of all, optimistic.
My leadership role as the Austin Chapter President of the St. Edward’s University Alumni Association has brought me the most personal growth. Anyone who knows me really knows how much I love St. Edward’s and how greatly indebted I am to the institution. I have been a part of this university since 2006 and have no plans to leave anytime soon. (I will be both excited and miserable the day I choose to leave my “home.”)

I thoroughly enjoyed my time as president during my year and a half of dedicated service. This is where I learned patience, hard work, dedication, and the willingness to go above and beyond. Being able to reignite those memorable college years with so many alumni was such a passion of mine. 

During this role, I served as the primary coordinator of the Austin chapter by leading monthly chapter meetings, organizing chapter volunteers in planning and implementing local events/activities, and cultivating relationships with future and current volunteers, among other duties. There were times where I was pleasantly surprised with the turnout of an event, and times where I was frustrated with lack of attendance at meetings or events. And of course, when I felt something went wrong, my first inclination was “what did I do wrong?” I’ll admit that I was extremely hard on myself when I didn’t get the results that I wanted. Later I learned that truly effective leaders are distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill.
When I’m 100 years old and I’m enjoying a glass of wine, I want to look back on my life and reflect on all the great things that I contributed to make this world a better place. I want others to know that I am a hard worker who is enthusiastic and passionate about life and goal-driven.

One thing I remind myself frequently is not to “take everything so seriously.” Granted most things in my life must be presented in a professional manner, I have somewhat lost that sense of childish play and fun with whatever I am doing. When I was younger, I genuinely loved making people laugh by telling jokes, making silly faces or reenacting lots of SNL skits. I was deemed class clown because people expected me to be funny, which I’m not going to lie, felt pretty AWESOME!

With that, I will include a fun quote that ties in perfectly to what I just said, “Don’t you understand that we need to be childish in order to understand? Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn’t developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don’t expect to see.” – Douglas Adams.

Over the years, my educational and professional career has given me a significant sense of purpose, and I’m grateful for all the opportunities that have been presented to me. Of course, my leadership journey is just beginning, but I am hopeful that I have a bright future ahead of me.

The final thing I will leave you with is something that I learned in the SOS Leadership Gr8 Women Leaders Program, which reminds me of what I can do to improve as a leader:

  • Define your core values.
  • Recognize and believe in your responsibility to be the best version of yourself.
  • Learn how to develop a plan for accomplishing goals.
  • Sustain an attitude of hope and flexibility as you respond to the work in your life.

A special thank you to Melinda Jane O’Cañas’ for sharing her insights about leadership with us today! Stay tuned every Friday as the I Am A Leader blog series continues. Please share this blog post via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter using the #iamaLEADER hash tag! You can connect with SOS Leadership on Twitter here and Melinda Jane O’Cañas’ here. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Check out all of the I Am A Leader blogs here!


3 thoughts on “I Am A Leader: Melinda Jane O’Cañas’ Thoughts on Leadership

  1. I love this quote: “Leadership has less to do with age and experience and more to do with example, and example is about self-awareness and the courage to act.” This is something I really relate with. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on leadership. I learned a lot from your post.

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