What I learnt at my time at Liverpool Sikh Society

Keerut Singh Oberai was a student at the University of Liverpool from 2012-2018 and played an active role in the Liverpool University Sikh Society. Now graduated he is a Sewadaar at BOSS and helped create the BOSS Cookbook which you can find here.

Coming to university, I assumed my main source of learning during my time there would be from my degree. Now, having recently finished, I realise that this presumption was wrong. Most of the skills that I learnt and most of the things I learnt about myself were from a different source; being part of the University Sikh Society.

I remember in the second week university, as a young naïve 18-year-old, going to the Sikh Society meet and greet unsure of what to expect. Along with some friends, we entered the venue at the ageing university student union. Here we met fellow Sikh students, snacked on samosa and sipped on some chai. This was my first exposure to the Sikh student community at Liverpool and, whilst it wasn’t as large as in other cities, it was a welcoming environment and the students who made up the committee were warm and engaging.

Fast forward three years later and now myself, along with those other friends who were at that initial meet and greet, made up the committee. At that time, we were unaware of the challenges that awaited us and how we would all develop as individuals. All we knew is that we wanted to really engage with the Sikh contingent of students as well as the wider student community. Our plan was to try and stick to the values that Sikhi teaches and try to put practices, such as Sewa, into action. With this in mind, we set out on our journey.

Now several years later and now at the end of that journey I have begun to reflect on that time which was so informative to me as an individual. In this blog post I want to share with you the things that I learnt on the way. The lessons that have stuck with me. The lessons that have still influence my daily life. The lessons that I think will help stimulate some thought on how many of you can run your Sikh societies. They are not steadfast rules and I encourage you to do what works best for you but hopefully it will act as a guide or platform for your journey ahead.

1. Preparation is key. I once heard the saying that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” I think this is true in everything in life and not just when preparing events. You get out what you put into things. Students often ask, “How do we prepare for an event.” To put it simply once you an idea for an event think about the logistics of it. When is it going to be? What is everyone’s role?  Where is it going to be? Do you need any equipment or anything pre-prepared for the event? You need to be thinking carefully about all these things beforehand. You also need to think about the things that could go wrong and prepare for those eventualities too. If you do this you will have the best chance of your event going well, so prepare, prepare and once you’ve done that prepare some more.

2. Don’t be afraid of the F-word! And by that, I mean don’t be afraid of failure. Not everything you do will work out and sometimes you may perceive that you’ve failed. This may even prevent you from working on ideas that you think may be a bit risky or that may not work out. However, this should not stop you from trying new things. Use every experience as a learning opportunity. We once had a cooking for the homeless event. For weeks we prepared to make sure that the event worked well and that it was a success. Despite this when we had the event only two people attended it. Of course, we still managed to feed those most in need which was our primary goal but we had failed to engage our members, and in that sense, we were less successful. However, we didn’t allow this to deter us. We went back to the drawing board to look at how we could improve it for next time. When we put this event on for the second time we added recipe cards, we changed the timings of the event and we even added a cooking masterclass. By being honest and open when looking at our perceived failures we managed to turn our least successful event to our most successful one.

3. Get out of your comfort zone. We often stay in our comfort zone in life. The zone in which we feel safe. The one in which we don’t push ourselves. The one that in which everything is familiar. Remaining in this ‘zone’ will stop you progressing and may even mean that you miss out on achieving your full potential. The most classic example of this is when members come to an event and the committee are huddled together chatting away in the corner not engaging with them. This is one of the worst things you can do. You need to be dispersed and chatting to all those who have taken time to come to the event and getting to know them. This is how you create the ‘home away from home environment’ and means that people feel more comfortable coming to future events as they were made to feel welcome. Don’t get me wrong I have often been guilty of this. I used to hate making small talk but once I, along with my committee, made the effort we began to feel more relaxed and comfortable doing it. So, every time I feel that I’m getting into my comfort zone I make a conscious effort to escape out of it! I know from experience that I, as well as so many others, have learnt the most when I have pushed myself and felt uncomfortable doing something that initially gave me anxiety. So, stay away from your comfort zone and you will achieve great things.

4. Teamwork makes the dream work. Another key to success is having a good team around you. You simply cannot do everything by yourself. If you are a leader you need to delegate. Each person has a different set of skills so make sure that you find out what these are and let each person express themselves. If you are a member of the committee your role is equally important. Keep on top of your tasks and contribute as much as you can. Sometimes within a committee you will disagree but this is not a bad thing. So often people become defensive during disagreements but you should see it as an opportunity to learn and affirm or update your beliefs. Sometimes you may not get your way but be willing to compromise for the good of the team and the society overall. If you get this part correct then you will find that the energy of the committee is infectious; the members will feel welcome and see that the committee really care, you’ll be more organized, more creative and even more efficient.

5. My last piece of advice is more of a philosophical point, perhaps because I have now finished university, and that is to enjoy it! There will be highs and lows but ultimately your time at university and as part of your Sikh society will provide some of the best times of your life. From a personal perspective, some of my favorite memories have come from Sikh society events. Whether it be climbing the Yorkshire Three Peaks as part of a fundraising event, cooking for the homeless or the annual bowling social each event gave me moments that will stay with me for life. So be in the moment and make the most of your time as part of the committee you won’t get this time again. If you do this you will no doubt gain so much and learn even more. You want to look back on your time at your university Sikh society once you have finished with great pride and with a feeling of achievement. In this short space of time you have the power to leave a legacy, be an ambassador for Sikhi and be able to elicit change in the environment in which you find yourself; that is an incredibly privileged position and you should savor every minute.