My Fellowship experience has been remarkable. I have been surprised by the willingness of so many different people to support and help me with my Fellowship. For the first phase of my Fellowship I have interviewed people from diverse backgrounds. Each person willingly gave of their time to share their knowledge with me. I have been reading many books from the various cultures, but the books do not begin to touch the depth that is reached through personal conversation. I have been profoundly impacted by these individuals, their beliefs and their honesty.
These interviews have broadened my leadership skills in ways that I did not anticipate. In my professional practice I am accustomed to meeting a wide range of individuals and hearing about their personal lives, their beliefs and their needs, especially those regarding end of life. I began this Fellowship journey with these clinical skills. Through this year of my Fellowship, my leadership skills have evolved to include supporting and encouraging the interviewees (who are not facing end of life) to discuss their beliefs and needs around end of life from the perspective of their belief system. As they opened themselves up to my interview, they shared deeply personal stories about the days leading up to their loved one’s death, relating the importance of language and rituals within their belief system. They also shared their thoughts about what was beautiful, healing, and helpful care provided by healthcare professionals, care that felt healing and respectful to the individual dying and their loved ones. Additionally, I heard what they believe needs to change in the healthcare system due to the healthcare professionals’ lack of understanding of their cultural/spiritual/religious beliefs and how those relate to an individual’s needs at the end of their life. Many times, we cried together as they shared their deeply moving stories. I was honored that these individuals trusted me, allowing them to be open and vulnerable in a way that others may learn from what they shared.
At the beginning of my Fellowship I hired an executive coach. I had never worked with one before, but many of the other Fellows at the retreat discussed how helpful working with coaches had been for them in the past. I found working with my coach exceedingly beneficial to my Fellowship.
My coach is guiding me through the whole of my Fellowship. She has helped me as my leadership experiences have continued to develop throughout the year. She has provided me with a safe place to discuss my concerns, fears, hopes and dreams for my Fellowship. This has been a surprisingly invaluable relationship. My coach has given me homework that has helped me reflect upon what I am learning, how I am developing new skills, and my ability to connect the different aspects of my Fellowship. Our conversations help me understand my weaknesses in a manner that allows me to grow.
As I began my Fellowship there were six different aspects I wanted to address. During the process of preparing my application I consulted with five individuals, each one focusing on one of the areas. (The sixth area is self-care, which was added on by the Bush Foundation.) These five individuals have been amazing resources for me. I have met with them from monthly to quarterly. Each of these mentors has provided me with valuable information within their area of knowledge. They have asked important probing questions, which have led me to think more broadly and boldly about my leadership.
The coach I was assigned from the Bush Foundation has also furthered my Fellowship growth. As a Fellow Alumni herself, the insights she has provided me have helped me understand the process of the 24 months. I have heard alumni reflections about feeling compelled to do everything the first year and becoming more focused in the second year. Now, as I enter my second year, I understand those reflections and corresponding statements and stories. In this first year I have met with everyone I could, gone to multiple conferences and read multiple books. I now have a more clearly defined course for my second year. I am aware that I could go in many different directions with the huge amount of information I have gathered this year. Yet, as I reflect upon the importance of self-care, I plan to focus on one path. Then, with time, I will unfold the many other possibilities.
This Fellowship has brought me many opportunities such as interviews for articles and even a radio interview with another Bush Fellow. People from a wide range of backgrounds have sought me out to consult regarding my Fellowship and the Bush Foundation. It is the community respect of and for the Bush Foundation that has opened these many doors for me. Each day I feel so extremely fortunate to have been awarded this Fellowship. It has provided me with offerings that I would never have had prior to being able to say, “I am a 2017 Bush Fellow.” I have gratitude each day for this award.
I have greatly appreciated the focus on self-care as an integral aspect of the Fellowship guidelines. Meditation and exercise have been my daily practice. The meditation has provided me with a time and place to allow my mind to empty, then reflect from a place of observation. It is from this calm, centered place that I have experienced intuitions about the evolution of my multilayered plan. Meditation gives me a way to watch as the moving parts create different patterns and grow in a way that I could not have planned or thought. The metaphor of seeds growing and not knowing what will come up and which seeds will be a part of my growth has been a powerfully accurate reflection for me this year.
I reread all my journal notes since I learned that I received this Fellowship. One of my notes from the retreat is “Fellowship as a mindset vs. a time frame.” This affirms my focusing on the one direction and allowing more to follow. (Here I deleted an entire sentence) The mindset is my desire to help create a systemic and cultural shift around end of life, one that is inclusive of many diverse cultural, religious and spiritual belief systems. That is not possible in twenty-four months. Understanding the “mindset” of the Fellowship is helping to guide me as my Fellowship plan continues to develop through my learning.
The evolving nature of my leadership has many aspects including: listening, being humble, awareness of myself, vulnerability, being aware of my assumptions (what I do know, don’t know, and especially what I don’t know that I don’t know). Letting go of what I thought this Fellowship was about and learning how it is continuing to change has been a “think outside the box” experience for me. And this has served me well. I notice an internal shift that has come through this year. I have a stronger sense of flexibility, internal stability and a deepened desire to give to others.
One of the best surprises of this Fellowship has been connecting with some of the other Fellows. As I read about each one of them, prior to our first meeting, I knew that they were all remarkable people. I felt so honored to be connected with them. Going to an optional experience with seven other Fellows provided a basis of connection. These are all people that I hope to know, consult with and spend time mutually supporting each other for the rest of my life. Each and every one of these remarkable women has taught me so very much. It has been invaluable to continue connecting and discussing each of our Fellowships. Even though all of the Fellowships are very different, we can connect and support each other about these amazing, challenging, frustrating and awe-inspiring stages we each are going through.
The experience of receiving this Fellowship is beyond words. I cannot describe the impact to others. But, speaking with other Fellows, there is an immediate understanding and ability to provide powerful guidance. I have not connected in this way with all of the 2017 cohorts. I do, however, learn from each one of them through their monthly blogs. In this coming year it would be wonderful to get to know more of the other Fellows personally.