Student Reflections: 2012 USNA Leadership Conference, Part 1

In Leadership, Student Stories, Undergraduate Students, Wharton on March 18, 2012 at 1:45 pm

U.S. Naval Academy Leadership Conference 2012
Visionary Leadership: Navigating through Unchartered Waters

In this 3-part series, three undergraduate Wharton students reflect on their lessons from the U.S. Naval Academy’s Leadership Conference in February 2012.  Students from over 20 different schools, military and civilian, gathered in Annapolis, MD for three days of leadership development workshops and experiences.

Reflections from Janani Ramachandran (W’11), Greg Rose (W’12) and Anna Pham (W’12) are featured.  We’ll bring you their reflections in three parts.

 Part 1: Janani Ramachandran, W’11

What is the definition of success? Prior to attending the United States Naval Academy Conference I would have said a variety of things: getting good grades, having close friends, or landing the “perfect” job. I wanted to accumulate titles and achievements to prove to others that I was smart and capable.  When things didn’t go as planned, I handled it with frustration and a little self-pity, wondering why I needed to suffer through obstacles on my path to success.


Through the three day conference, I listened to a variety of military and civilian leaders who helped me understand visionary leadership through anecdotes and advice. The most meaningful take-away I took from the conference began from a small quote which fundamentally changed my definition of success. In a very heartfelt speech, General Mattis said “the only thing you can control is how you react to things.” This seemingly obvious statement was simple, but extremely powerful. Thinking about it was liberating; I realized that obstacles were natural and uncontrollable, and in this understanding came the ability to let go of my desire to control my surroundings. Simultaneously, his statement was empowering. Itmade me realize that even if I couldn’t control my surroundings that I would always have control of my reactions.  I can choose whether I feel sad about something or use it as ammunition (the way Southwest CEO Howard Putnam used a man’s condescension as fuel for his success).I can choose whether to wallow in self-pity or to embrace challenges and move forward. I realized through General Mattis’s speech that the true success is simply the sum of my reactions.

Since getting back to campus, I have had time to reflect on my experience at the USNA conference and even in this short time, my understanding of success has changed. I know now that success isn’t the end goal—it’s not the number of trophies you have on your mantle, the number of things you can brag about, or the number of friends you can brag to—but rather, it is a mindset. It is the process of getting to your goal, and what happens after you get there.

It is the self-certainty and self-confidence that every action you take is aligned with your values coupled with the knowledge that you are giving your all for a higher and unselfish purpose. Prior to attending the conference, I did want to do good for the community but my primary focus was self-improvement. I gauged my experiences and my success purely on myself—what did I do? How did I feel? How would people think of me? What would my legacy be? But after spending three days with a group of people, many of whom are devoting all of their effort, and their lives, to their nation- I realized the immense satisfaction that one gets from bettering those around them, their community or their organizations. I am refocusing my definition of success from a far-away goal to an everyday experience and from a pursuit of self-improvement to a pursuit of the improvement of a greater cause.  I believe I am becoming a stronger leader and a better citizen as a result.


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