When I applied for and was awarded the Bush Fellowship, I had (and still nurse) some lofty ideas that I could help the Kenyan community in the Bismarck-Mandan area come together as one, providing a safe place where we can encourage each other to thrive in our new home away from home. This goal has morphed into a broader spectrum focusing not just on the Kenyan community but the larger immigrant population in the area. I have had the chance to visit with several members of my community that are as passionate about immigrant issues in our region, and are willing to pool together towards understanding the issues at hand better, and things we can do to address them. Towards this end, my hope is that we all learn from each other through this coming together of minds on how we can better engage our community so that neighbors can know, care for and trust each other more allowing us to comfortably serve each other; giving and receiving help from each other towards greater community good.
My two-prong goal as a Bush fellow was to learn from other immigrant communities that have done some incredible work similar to my dream and to enroll in school pursuing a doctorate in public health where I would further my growth as a public health practitioner, preparing and enhancing my capacity as I serve the community I am in towards empowering our community to be producers of their own health. Since then, I have since been accepted to a public health school and have just started my second semester of training. It has been good for me to go back to school and learn from some of the greatest minds in the public health field. Being in school has also been great for me as a parent of two young children as I hope to model persistence and accountability to them even as they cheer me on. So, when they want to complain about how hard school is, they can look back and say, “if mom can do it, so can we”. I am still pursuing opportunities to continue learning from successful groups out there working with the immigrant populations in their efforts in bridge building in their communities.
To allow for continued leadership development, it has been helpful for me to connect with a life coach, someone with whom I can reflect about where I am in the leadership journey and how to keep developing. Some of the things we have worked on have included areas to strengthen and strategies to do so, and dreams I hope to realize. Simple truths that have emerged from this relationship and I am eager to develop them in my life, although their application is easier said than done. Some of the simple truths that I am learning include:
• Take time to enjoy the present because tomorrow is really guaranteed to nobody. This has taken on different expressions – taking time off work so that I can spend time with a friend going through treatment for a life altering diagnosis or loss of a loved one, or postponing doing that class assignment till later so that I can listen to my child narrate the happenings of a school day, or spending an afternoon doing crafts or playing twister though I am not the greatest in either the crafts or the game, just so that we can hang out.
• Take stock of life and eliminate things, thoughts, practices that do not build up and replace them with those that do; for example, a regular time set aside for physical activity, a practice to forgive hurts, some of which are pains that have been long buried and almost forgotten, and celebrate simple moments in life. Life is good, if only we would slow down enough to notice and enjoy it!
• Be persistent to achieve a goal even when it might be easier to just give up. Every great journey starts with and is sustained/finished by taking one step at a time, and keeping on going makes the difference between success and failure. While the expected results may not always be apparent, not giving up pushes us towards the final achievement of a goal, and in the process, it builds character in us, making us even better leaders.
• Give yourself permission to fail, but when you do fail, do not give up but try again! This is very closely related to the persistence mentioned above, yet it takes the pressure off the false expectation we all have of ourselves to always be good at what we do, or just fold camp if we do not make it.
• Take time to love deeply. When it is all said and done, at the end of life, I would want to be remembered as someone who loved and cared deeply enough to move out of my comfort zone to show my love and care for those closest to me, and those who crossed my path as well. Being able to give and receive love; genuine and deep love makes an enormous difference to our actual and perceived quality of life.
To be a great leader, I am realizing that it is important for me to take time to grow, rest and learn! This is contrary to the prevalent view in our fast-moving, driven world, where self-care is many times seen as a need only for the weak and not for the accomplished folks. Taking care of oneself helps guard against burnout, an epidemic that is taking out many prominent leaders in all fields of life. Yet to sustainably contribute to the society’s well-being, one needs to be willing to time renew and replenish themselves so that they do not run dry. It is okay to take time to pamper oneself so that they have the wherewithal to serve others.
Being a Bush Fellow has given me a sense of candor that I had not given myself permission to express both to myself and to others in the past. The ability to not stifle my voice in matters that are important to me has opened doors for me to connect with others at a deeper level than before. I am strengthened to dream and voice those dreams, challenge barrier that have in the past kept me from moving forward, and attempt things that the fear of failure may in the past have made me not to try. I am confident that this is driven in a large part by knowing that people at the Bush Foundation in considering my application believed in me and saw capabilities that were worth investing in.
I am thankful for the opportunity that Bush Foundation has afforded me to develop the leader in me, and pursue my life’s passion in community service. As I pursue these opportunities, I am driven by a great sense of mandate to make something with lasting impact out of this great honor that the Bush Foundation afforded me.