A Leader’s Strong Conviction

I grew to admire someone whom I met on mere sheets of paper. As I flew through the pages of Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover, her story, particularly her upbringing and journey in getting her education, captivated me. Tara grew up in the mountains Idaho and was raised in a survivalist family. Her parents distrust, even despise, the federal government, and felt compelled to lead an off-the-grid family. Therefore, as a child, Tara did not go to school nor hospital; she did not even have her own birth certificate until the age of 9. According to the state of Idaho, she simply did not exist.

Encouraged by her sibling, Tara took the ACT, and was later admitted to Brigham Young University. Although she had been interested in pursuing music, she enrolled in diverse classes, such as art, history, psychology, which amplified her understanding of the world. These classes revealed to her multiple things: the small scope of her understanding of history, the distorted version of history she grew up learning about, and the unusual behaviors of her family members. Entering college, she did not know what The Holocaust was, and it took serious stares from her professor and classmates to make her understand the gravity of that historic event when she raised her hand in class and asked the professor, “what does [Holocaust] mean?” Furthermore, in her psychology class, she learned about mental illnesses for the first time. When she came across the term bipolar disorder, she immediately attributed the symptoms, such as “depression, mania, paranoia, euphoria, delusions of grandeur and persecution,” to her father, specifically his extreme aversion to the federal government, as well as his obsession with preparing for the End of Days. In all of these situations, Tara’s education challenged the extent of her knowledge and enriched her understanding of the world.

As I became engrossed in Tara’s background, I kept asking, how was she able to become as successful as publishing a book that made it to the New York Times best seller list? I believe that her insights on life are timeless and her leadership qualities worth emulating. Besides her restricted upbringing, which is rife with incredibly strict rules, she also experienced verbal and physical abuse from her family members. As Tara’s education took her to many places, from BYU to University of Cambridge to Harvard, she felt empowered to speak her truth that her brother abused her multiple times. Tara’s father did not believe her, her mother predictably sided with him, and her sister, despite being a victim of abuse from the same person, was unwilling to trade her family with her sister. At the crux of the story, Tara decided to live her truth and ultimately became estranged from half of her family.

Learning about Tara’s story showed me that leaders—effective ones—hold a strong conviction, and this quality is one of many that earns my respect. Tara could choose to trade her truth for that of her parents and have a family that is intact, but she could not do so because that would mean “los[ing] custody of [her] own mind.” Education not only exposed her to the immensity of the world but it also rooted her on solid ground. As a leader, I expect to face tough choices, but with rationality, integrity, and strong conviction, I am certain that I can press forward in any situation.

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  1. I am not familiar with this book, but what a story! Tara choosing her sanity over mind was a powerful statement because so many choose otherwise for comfort and “safety”…”As a leader, I expect to face tough choices, but with rationality, integrity, and strong conviction, I am certain that I can press forward in any situation.” I love the last sentence because I know parts of your story. You walk in your truth. It has been an honor to watch you over the years and I wish you all the best.

    1. Leaving out of our comfort zone is a point of education and the essence of leadership, isn’t it? But in the midst of abandoning our comfort zone, we ought to stay strong in our conviction and as you put it—”walk in your truth.” This duality inevitably shapes us into unwavering world changers.

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