My Happy Place

Have you ever heard the phrase “Be a leader not a follower?” Well to me, that was a scary phrase growing up. It caused me to have so many questions that I ended up with anxiety over it. I thought to myself “How do I become a leader? What does it mean to be a leader? Am I a leader or a follower?”

As I grew older the phrase rang louder in my head. It was a bit more difficult to answer my own questions due to the fact that I was suffering from social anxiety. My place in life and at work had made me become a bit of an introvert, because of that I loved staying behind scenes. And since I worked as a teller at a bank and I could have stayed a teller forever! But I soon realized that my happy place couldn’t last forever if I wanted to be successful. I wanted more out of my career at the bank and I started thinking about becoming a banker.

My anxiety took hold of me and I started to question myself. “How can I as an introvert start a conversation without being awkward to potential clients?” If I couldn’t do that than I wasn’t going to succeed. This is where I knew I needed to be a leader in my own life and stop being scared! I’m sure it is easier to those that are naturally born leaders but for me it was a scary thought and I had to be taught. So those unanswered questions I had as a child came rushing back.

I have learned so much in the last three years due to the fact that I found a mentor at work who instilled in me a confidence I didn’t know I had. She was a blessing in disguise. She saw something special in me, so she listened to my doubts and answered my questions. She not only helped me in my professional life but also my personal one.

As I started to grow as a leader I realized being a leader is not an exact science but rather leading someone to believe in themselves, to be a coach on the sidelines, or be their fan in the stands. My mentor had seen my growth, she told me I was ready to become a fearless leader. I laughed nervously as I had yet to see myself as that leader she saw.

Without even realizing it I had emerged as a leader within my peers, leading by example. So when she told me that she was leaving my branch I immediately knew she had been preparing me for something big. I was scared, I wanted to go back to my happy place as a teller. To go back to being behind the scenes, but no I refused to let fear of the unknown set in and I decided it was my time to step up.

Taking these classes through the Aurora Chamber Leadership Academy has shown me who are the leaders in my life. That I too am a leader. Visiting different businesses and getting to speak with different people I’ve realized that you don’t have to be in management to be a leader. I can happily say that in my own way I’ve become a leader both at work and within my own life. I look forward to continuous growth and learning development. I want to be that coach on the sidelines for somebody else.

Claudia Tornero is an Aurora, IL resident. She has 14 years of banking experience and currently works at First Midwest Bank in downtown Aurora.

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