Edurne Sosa El Fakih graduated summa cum laude from Florida International University. Lots of people might have considered that a pinnacle academic achievement and rested on their laurels, so to speak. But Edurne was just getting started.
“I applied to the University of Cambridge in the UK and was awarded the Maria Luisa de Sanchez Scholarship, which provided nearly $40,000 to help fund my participation in the postgraduate research program at Cambridge.”
This remarkable accomplishment was made possible by strict adherence to time management principles, among other leadership skills she has developed along the way.
“For me, getting to Cambridge required organization, networking, patience, and attention to detail. I made a schedule that allotted specific chunks of time to spend on my application process, and to-do lists to keep track of all the many possible finance opportunities at Cambridge.”
Embracing New Cultures and Broadening Horizons
Achieving the goal of attending Cambridge for postgraduate work in sociology and anthropology is a remarkable success in and of itself. It's even more impressive when you consider Edurne’s life story. Arriving in the United States from Venezuela at the age of 18, she threw herself into English language studies and could carry on a conversation only six months later.
Edurne’s father’s death caused unforeseen challenges to her educational goals. However, she kept pushing forward. She secured full-time employment to help pay her way through school, where she joined the NSLS and furthered her understanding of leadership.
“The NSLS helped me gain more confidence in myself. Before being a member, I didn't think of myself as someone who could actually help and give meaningful insights, but working with this network of amazing people helped me feel confident to speak up.”
That confidence led to Edurne earning an NSLS scholarship that would have funded a trip to Italy. When that trip was unfortunately canceled, Edurne found a researcher to shadow in Mexico, allowing her to add field experience to her resume while simultaneously helping to launch Fondas de Pueblo, a Spanish ecotourism initiative. She also found time to write and publish Al Borde de un Viaje, a novel based on her and her brother's experiences growing up together.
Leading the Way and Charting Your Own Course
Leadership skills can help you achieve a team goal, but they can also help you reach individual objectives. Edurne’s dream of studying in Cambridge came with lots of bureaucratic and financial challenges, but breaking down those challenges into specific actions made it possible. Having real-life role models also helps illuminate the way forward.
“My former boss Virginia is truly my leadership role model. She is kind and funny and original, super responsible and dedicated.”
Another key to leadership success is understanding just what kind of leader you want to be, and how you define it in practice. For Edurne, it came down to a sense of authenticity in service to others.
“Leadership means personalized guidance. It's helping people find the path that best suits them, and showing them ways of navigating them. I think leadership must be organic and honest, and it depends on the connections between people.”
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Edurne’s Advice for Future Leaders
When it comes to shaping the leaders of tomorrow, Edurne is fully on board with the transformative power of education. Given her commitment to her own education and the challenges she overcame to meet her learning goals, that’s not so surprising.
“One piece of advice I got that really had an impact on me was ‘Don't be afraid of learning.’ I think I was afraid of not having all the answers or looking like I didn't know, when in reality, it's okay to be a beginner who is still learning. I want to be teachable.”
In that same vein, Edurne believes clinging to a need to be right or to be seen as the authority in any situation can be a fatal flaw for those who want to improve their leadership skills.
“I think one of the biggest flaws in leaders is not listening, or not admitting when they are wrong. It skews the perception. Listen to others. You'd be surprised to see what you can learn from the most unexpected people or situations.”
Edurne’s story shows how tackling challenges and obstacles helps us reach our most cherished goals, even in the face of adversity. Read about another high achiever who refused to put aside her dreams, even when coping with stage four colon cancer.