At 10 years old, I discovered something that changed the trajectory of my life
My first experience with The Global Leadership Summit was as a volunteer. I was just a kid at the time, maybe 10 years old. My siblings, friends and I would spend most of our time out in the lobby. Then the doors would open, and all these leaders would come out, and I was there handing out snacks and coffee. I started to look at their name tags and where they were from. I asked them questions and they took time to invest in me and showed me so much kindness. It was a beautiful picture—a global group of leaders gathering in one place to learn together about how to impact their communities in a positive way. In those moments as a kid, I started to realize something—leadership matters. Even at my young age, I felt a part of something important.
When I turned 13, I said, I want to be in the room! I want to be like all the leaders I’ve been meeting the past few years. At 13, I started attending the Summit.
At 13 years old, I thought, maybe I can lead
Looking back, I don’t actually remember a time when leadership content wasn’t a part of my life. So, now as a young leader, there are things that come as second nature to me because they’ve been ingrained in me. When you learn leadership content when you’re older, sometimes you have to unlearn a lot of negative things, but because I started so young, it will save me from a lot of undoing. My parents were also very intentional to foster learning in our home. We were always going to the Summit, listening to messages together or reading books that were written beyond our age level. At the Summit, hearing the message that everyone has influence as a 13-year-old really shaped who I was. I remember growing up thinking, maybe I can lead.
It’s easy to go to a leadership conference and write yourself off saying, I don’t fit in because I’m not leading an organization, or I’m only 13. But because I heard that message over and over—everyone has influence—I saw my life in a different way. I realized my life isn’t just about me. If everyone really has influence, leadership development matters, even as a 13-year-old. Most people start working on leadership development after they realize they are a leader, but what I loved about me growing up in that leadership environment, is that I started learning leadership development before becoming a leader. If more young people could be at the Summit, catch that vision and see that the content is for them, no matter where they are, it would not only shape them for the future, it would shape the future of our world.
At 16 years old, others saw leadership in me
When I was 16, I had a lot of people saying, you have leadership potential. Even my pastor sat down with me and said, I see that you are a leader and a world changer. Those “I see in you” conversations are transforming.
I grew up listening to the Grander Vision stories at the Summit and hearing about people who had this moment when something shifted and then they took action. And at 16, I wanted that story to be true in my life.
My vision took shape
Because of the way I was raised and because I was exposed to leadership conferences from an early age, I developed a different perspective on what could be for my generation. I had this vision for what life could look like even as a student in high school. But as I was looking around at my peers, I felt like I wasn’t seeing this vision represented anywhere. I would go to youth group and think to myself, Why is there so much mediocrity? Why is there so much apathy? Why is it that all we care about are things that are temporary? And why are we wasting some of the most passionate years of our lives? There was a discontent brewing in me and all these messages telling me, You can do more right now! But who was telling my peers, You can follow your dreams now! You don’t have to wait until you’re older. I was hungry for this message for myself too.
In this same season, I had read a book about all the major injustices in the world in hopes of helping young people understand what they’re passionate about. I thought, Great! I’ll figure out what my passion is and get going! But I got to the end of the book feeling way more confused than I was when I started. I cared about all these issues, but I wanted to know what my passion was. I told God, I’m ready! I’ll do it! I’ll say yes! Just reveal what it is you want me to do!
Then I felt God impress on me, Hannah, you’re not called to solve all the injustices in the world. I want to use you to empower a generation to solve injustice in the world, and in so doing, you’ll have even greater impact.
I ran up to my bedroom, and I started writing out all these dreams, plans and ideas, thinking about what I could do to help my peers, and other young people, discover their passion, and not get stuck not knowing what to do with it. I wanted to help my peers pick a strategy around their passion and go out and do it. At age 16, that was my plan. But I put it on the back shelf, and said, I’ll do that when I’m older.
God said, Why not now?
That discontent stayed with me as I went to work for a church. I started thinking it would be more comfortable to stay in church work than step out on my own. So, I thought I would be in ministry for the rest of my life. But some key people in my life challenged me, primarily my mom. She said, What about your dream, Hannah?
And I said, Yeah…but in the future. I’m only 20! I have no business degree, and I haven’t been in the workplace very long. I have very little that qualifies me for starting my own organization. And she said, If God is saying he will qualify you.
And God said, Why wait?Why not now, Hannah?
At 20 years old, I took a leap into leadership and started an organization
I decided I wasn’t going to wait for someone else to solve my discontent for me. I wanted to build what my generation was hungry for. I made a deal with God, I’ll do this, but you have to provide the people who will train me and equip me to make this happen.
It became even more confirming when I would run into people who wanted to mentor me, consult me and advise me in areas they were experts in, and for free! Thus began Generation Distinct.
My dream for my generation
Our legacy vision for Generation Distinct is to equip a generation that is radically committed to Jesus. Why? Because what we’ve found is that so often, young people are walking away from Jesus because they have passion, vision, desire for justice in this world, and they’re going to the Church with it, but they’re being shut down. They’re not finding an avenue in the Church or their Christian community that fans their flame, telling them, Your dream and your pursuit of Jesus are unified, and can go together.
What we’re seeing is that young people are still passionate, still fighting for justice and still using their voice, but they’re avoiding the Church and going in other directions because they’re finding it’s more acceptable.
What if we could re-introduce our world to who Jesus really is?
Our mission statement is: Equip young leaders to discover the wrong they were born to make right, leading them to experience who Jesus really is. If we can help young people figure out their passion, what they’re created to do, how they can change the world and then show them that ultimately leads to the One who gave them those passions, then they’re not going to be following Jesus out of obligation. They’re going to be following Him because there is no greater adventure and no greater opportunity to change the world than by following this radical change-maker named Jesus.
What if we could re-introduce our world to who Jesus really is? If we can do that, we will see more injustices eradicated, truth released, love spread and unity established. Young people will understand that Jesus is not just a religious figure, a distant God, but He’s a rebel who started a movement and is inviting us to change the world.
My biggest surprise on this leadership journey
I feel like God is using my leadership to be an example to other young women, showing them that they, too, can lead. There was a young woman who messaged me after I spoke at a university chapel, and she said, I want you to know I’ve recently felt a call to be a leader and I feel like everywhere I look, I don’t see anybody who looks like me doing it, so when I saw you on that stage, I realized I can do it too. Thanks for stepping out. It showed me that I have permission to step out too.
If I keep stepping out, I’m paving a way for others. I want to see a world where I’m no longer the exception. I want to see a world where it’s normal for a 24-year-old woman to be leading and speaking.
Leading is not easy, and that’s why I keep coming back to the Summit
While leading this new organization, I’ve had to learn how to embrace failure, not just as a concept, but in reality. As a young organization, there were many moments when we made mistakes. But I feel like every time I go to the Summit, I realize I’m not the only one who struggles.
For example, I grew up listening to these world-class leaders say there were times they wanted to quit. So, when I start to feel those things as a leader, I don’t say, I don’t know what this means, I say, This is a part of leadership.
I did a lot of front learning through the Summit that helped prepare me for where I am today, even without a business degree. And to sit there with all these other leaders, listening to a speaker say something that resonates with me, and then to look to my side and see hundreds of others nodding their heads—it’s unifying. It’s realizing we’re better together and admitting that we’re all in the mess of leadership together. It’s messy and not perfect and these moments make me feel like I’m not alone. In those moments when I do feel alone, I can remember back to the Summit. And I think of the army of leaders who are a part of this GLN movement, all walking in this together, choosing to be leaders. It’s empowering.
Invest in young leaders and change the future
Our world has never been in more need of great leaders. We need to be investing in our leadership even before we have the platform. I truly believe if more young leaders came to the Summit and made leadership development a part of who they are, they would see greater influence in their life and greater leadership in the future. Our churches, our companies and our countries would look different because those young leaders coming into those roles know what to do.
If we can have a generation that knows what great leadership looks like, and goes into those roles, then great leadership would become normal and quality of life would increase. We would see so much more unity in our world.
Leaders of young leaders need to be encouraging and make this a priority. And young leaders need to say, I need to be trained in leadership, even before I even think I’m a leader. Then they’ll be ready when God opens up the door of opportunity to lead. For any young person who wants to make an impact on the world, the very best first step they can take is investing in their leadership.