Insights On Leadership, Failure, and Self-Awareness from Alexandra Robinson

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AIESEC enables young people to develop their leadership potential by providing a platform to discover international internships and volunteer opportunities.

Recently, AIESEC’s Global President Alexandra Robinson took the time to have a Q&A live session over Instagram with Goodwall, the community and social development network built specifically to address the needs of students and young professionals. In this hour-long conversation, Goodwall’s Niels den Daas interviewed Alexandra on leadership, self-awareness, overcoming the fear of failure, and much more. 

You can watch the recorded session here, or scroll down further to read some key moments from their AMA.

Excerpts From the Interview

Niels: What would you say is the key benefit from volunteering abroad?

Alexandra: I think a huge part of it depends on the work you’re doing as a volunteer. You’ll see a lot of really valid conversations around how to volunteer in a responsible way, and I think that’s one of the first things to ask yourself is what’s the kind of work you’d do as a volunteer. And that’s why at AIESEC we’ve been working the last few years to align our volunteer projects to the Sustainable Development Goals. …  We believe that showing that your volunteer impact, the impact you can create through volunteering, connects to a larger global ambition for a better world. I think that’s really meaningful and that’s really important to be able to say that “I’m not just spending my time doing some activity, [but] I really can see that my time has a measurable impact and a measurable contribution to something bigger.” 

But I also think that a second thing is the impact it has on the individual that’s volunteering. … At AIESEC, we also believe that, when you put yourself out of your comfort zone (you have a practical experience in a challenging environment), … then something also happens inside of you, which is that you have the opportunity to reflect on your personal goals, you have the opportunity to fail and learn from that, you have the opportunity to build a support system. And all of those things that happen to you by volunteering, that’s what we call leadership development at AIESEC.

Niels: Why do AIESEC’s internships have the condition that you’re not allowed to be older than 30?

Alexandra: Yes, well we have slightly less-strict restrictions on our volunteer members, but if you’re going to travel internationally on an AIESEC exchange, whether that’s a volunteer project, an internship, a professional program, you do have to be between the ages of 18 and 30. And that’s really just because we’re “by youth, for youth.” So, every organization has to put that line in the sand about what defines a young person, and we’ve chosen that age range.

Niels: What’s your advice for a new AIESEC member?

Alexandra: I’m the biggest advocate for failure at AIESEC, and I really believe that’s one of the special things that our organization does, it’s a place where we do real work, but you actually get the chance to experience leadership and fail. If you’re given a chance to be a team leader, really put yourself out there to be the best team leader you can, and every time it doesn’t go right or doesn’t go the way you planned or doesn’t go the way you imagined, really embracing that discomfort and really embracing that feeling of growing from failure, I really think that’s the best thing that young people can do. … Embrace all the times you mess up. I’ve learned way, way more from the times that I’ve failed than [from] the times I’ve succeeded, and I think I’m more successful because of the times that I’ve failed. … The fear of failure in itself is going to be the greatest failure of all. It’s going to hold you back from pushing yourself past your limits, and that’s where the growth is.

Niels: How did you experience your first true failure, and how did you bounce back from that?

Alexandra: A few years into my AIESEC journey, I decided to apply for the President of AIESEC in the United States. So, we have a president of each of our country and territory offices, and it’s a democratic election, you give a speech, you get elected by voting, and it’s an intense process. And I really wanted it, I wanted it so badly. I had gained so much from AIESEC and I wanted to give back, so I stood up for this election and I lost. I was not elected. And it felt, at the time, devastating, it felt like a failure I couldn’t bounce back from, it felt like the end of the world, because I wanted it so badly. And, at the time, it actually ended up opening a lot of doors for me. I moved to Egypt because I had the time available. And so I had my first year living outside of my home country, and my first time practicing a new language, my first time living in a different environment, and I spent a year there. Then I went back home and I was brave enough to stand back up again, give a speech again, and the second time I applied I was elected president of AIESEC United States. So I was able to go back and get that opportunity, but even if I hadn’t, I know that it opened up other doors. So I wasn’t seeking failure, I definitely wanted to win, but, looking back now, the chance to really want something and then it not work out was very instrumental in [making me] who I am today.

I think I say sometimes that the gift I got from working at AIESEC and the thing that I’m most grateful for, besides all the wonderful things of making friends, building a network, and having opportunities to be part of events, is self-awareness. That’s something that we say is critical to being a leader at AIESEC, and I do think that for anyone who’s ever had a chance to live outside of their home, whether it’s a new culture inside of your country or whether it’s a new country or territory, I really think it pushes you outside of your limits in a way that really expands your self-awareness. … [Because of living abroad in Egypt,] I really expanded my self-awareness, I really know what I’m good at, I really know what I’m not good at. …  I know how I respond to conflict, respond to being uncertain, how to navigate uncertainty, how I figure things out, how I overcome fear, and that self-awareness helped me to articulate who I am as a leader.

Niels: Can you tell us more about self-awareness and how it helps you in your leadership? And, on a more technical level, how you developed it along the way. Did you have certain tactics, did you apply certain things to be self-aware?

Alexandra: Yes, that’s something we do at AIESEC, we call it the “inner journey.” The idea that something happens outside of you, we call that the “outer journey,” so my outer journey might have been moving to Egypt. For any of you, an outer journey might be getting a leadership position in a student organization, it might be being given a project at work that you’ve never led before. So something happens outside of you, and then that inner journey is the opportunity to reflect.

So for me I think my self-awareness has grown from the opportunities I’ve had to reflect. And it’s happened in two ways: I’ve had facilitated reflection, which is something we like to do at AIESEC as well. Somebody, maybe my team leader, my mentor, or a friend has sat with me and asked me questions. How has this experience been? Why do you feel that way? What did you learn from that challenge? If you did it again, what would you do differently? And I’ve also had individually guided reflection: journaling, spending time thinking, meditation, all of those activities to kind of reflect yourself, and you also have moments of connecting the dots there as well.


For more great insight from AIESEC’s Global President, watch the full video!

This conversation between Alexandra Robinson and Goodwall came about because of BetterTogether, a free online program designed to help youth gain experience, develop professional skills, and connect with people all around the world. 

About Goodwall

Goodwall is the next-generation community and social development network built specifically to address the needs of Gen Z and younger millennials. Goodwall aims to help students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals by giving them a unique platform to share ideas, highlight achievements, showcase talents, document experience, meet like-minded peers around the world, find jobs, internships, and scholarships, and seek & provide support.

The Goodwall community is made up of over 1.5 million members from 150+ countries around the world. With 5+ million job and internship opportunities, more than $1 million in scholarships and awards, thousands of volunteer events, and hundreds of online courses, Goodwall is well-prepared to help navigate students and young professionals through this new decade.

This blog was written by Christian Eilers

Christian Eilers is a career and education writer with a focus on the topics of professional development, college entry, university life, and entrepreneurship. As the Content Lead for the Goodwall Blog, he covers subjects including self-improvement, social impact, college preparation, career advancement, fighting climate change, and more. Christian is originally from New York City and now resides in Warsaw, Poland.


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