The first lesson I learned from the Bush Fellowship came during the application process—before I had any real hope that I’d be one of the people chosen. Even though I kept telling myself that “the worst thing that can happen is that they’ll say no,” the act of applying still felt like a risk! Putting your hopes and dreams on paper for other people to see is a vulnerable act—you worry that someone will tell you that you’re reaching too far, or that you’re not the right person to tackle these things. Instead, the awesome people at the Bush Foundation asked us to think even bigger, and to keep mustering up the courage to ask “why not?” Over the past six months I’ve been thinking a lot about taking risks, and I’ve been especially influenced by Brené Brown’s work on risk taking and resilience. One of the questions Brené prompts people to ask is, “What would you do if you not only knew that you MIGHT fail, but if you knew that you WOULD fail? What’s worth doing anyway?” Application to the Bush Fellowship definitely falls into the category of something I would have been glad to have done even if I hadn’t ended up joining this cohort, because I would have received the gift of time spent outlining the future that I want to be working toward.
Another thing I learned early on in this fellowship is that leaders need to be able to move beyond a reactionary stance and toward a proactive vision for the future. When I first began meeting with Arif, my professional development coach, he asked me to flesh out my “big idea”—the goal I want to be able to help my community move toward. At first I had a hard time articulating that goal because it felt so revolutionary to me, but so basic and uninspiring to the rest of the world. At the root of everything was my desire to decrease the number of transgender people murdered and pushed to suicide. Because the deaths of trans people does constitute an emergency situation, I found that I was stuck in a reactionary model where I could only think about responding to what was going on around me. I was stuck trying to pour water on individual fires, rather than asking what I could do to prevent those fires in the first place. I’m still in the process of figuring out what my proactive and preventative vision looks like, but I’ve been helped by adrienne maree brown’s book Pleasure Activism, which suggests, among other things, that we can build alternative systems rooted in joy and abundance, rather than fear and scarcity, which dovetails nicely with my understanding of faith-based organizing.
Before starting the fellowship, one of the things I was most excited about was having the resources to take classes and consult experts. Over the past six months I’ve been able to attend a seminar in trauma and resilience taught by the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute; attend classes in pastoral care from United Seminary; consult with a CPA about my finances and how to organize funding for the future, and spend time with some of the wonderful nuns at the Benedictine Center of Minnesota learning about reflection and self-care. It’d become clear, however, that when it comes to becoming a better leader, I can’t just download information from sources like these and expect to automatically improve. Because of my background in academia, which unfortunately tends to focus on HAVING knowledge rather than USING knowledge, I think I expected to somehow get better at things just by knowing more about them. Turns out, you have to actually practice things to improve! Over the next six months I’m hoping to find ways to practice what I’ve gathered so far.
And of course, practice takes time. One of the roadblocks I’ve been facing lately has been the fact that I haven’t had the time—or made the time—to build the framework for what I’m trying to do. I recently rescheduled my monthly meeting with my professional development coach twice because I hadn’t finished what I told him I’d have ready! This Fall has been the busiest of my professional life, and I’ve been traveling so much that daily maintenance feels like the only thing I have time for. But of course, I was the one who designed this busy schedule in the first place, and that means that going forward I have to intentionally build in time for practice and time for planning, and not just focus on implementation. My coach recently introduced me to the Eisenhower Matrix, which asks that you chart the work in your day based on how urgent and important it is, with the eventual goal being a balance that allows you to budget time for things that are important but not immediate. So, along with planned time to be with friends and family in December, I’ve also planned two weeks to focus specifically on finding ways to build the structure I need for a productive Spring.
I can’t believe six months of the fellowship are already over, but I’m so excited for what the next year and a half will hold!