My life since beginning my Fellowship has changed so dramatically. In a year, I went from the private practice of law (pulling my hair out, being anxious, gaining weight, feeling unfulfilled by my work), to being a part of a coalition that has brought about sweeping change to awareness, collaboration and policy on human trafficking in North Dakota. It really blows my mind to see how far we’ve come in just a year. I will never be able to thank the Bush Foundation enough for selecting me as a Fellow, because that selection started this whole change. My Fellowship led to my job as the coordinator of FUSE. This new role has been incredibly invigorating, and I’m happy to say, very successful. These successes make me feel ever more grateful for the investment that the Bush Foundation made in me almost one year ago. These successes have also shown me that I can do this! And North Dakota can do this! In the last year, we hosted a statewide summit on human trafficking, built an Advisory Committee, and we secured $1.25M for direct services for victims of trafficking in our state, we passed Safe Harbor, which decriminalizes commercial sex for minors, and instead identifies them as children in need of services, increased pimping to a C Felony offense (it was previously a misdemeanor!) and secured the ability for victims to expunge prostitution convictions from their record if they can prove to a court’s satisfaction that they sustained the conviction as a result of being trafficked.
So what have I learned about myself in all of this? I learned that working in a high conflict profession (civil litigation) was HARD on me, and that while I am not afraid of conflict when necessary and productive, that I do not wish to perpetuate conflict as a way of making a living. I have learned that I am happy to fight for ideas, and for progress, but I see less and less value in fighting just to assign blame for things that happened in the past. I see more and more value in people taking time for counseling, contemplation and self-care, so that they can deal with the past in a way that will actually make them whole again.
I have learned that I have an intense passion around working with the larger non-profit community in North Dakota to grow, innovate, and welcome new ideas. I have learned that I want to continue to lead, innovate, and connect. I’ve learned that while I love my current position, I struggle with the fact that I’m not involved in directly serving the populations I’m advocating for, and that I feel like a bit of a hypocrite sometimes because of that…
On a more concrete level, I recently read an article about a DC based former non-profit (now for-profit) entrepreneur from my hometown that I really admire, where she admitted that she’s a great CEO, but a terrible COO. She described having passion and a talent around generating ideas and new approaches, to motivating people and empowering them, to taking risks. She then admitted that she was terrible with many of the small, but crucial, details that go along with the process of building new approaches, ideas and collaborations. I have learned over the first year of my fellowship that I continue to struggle with a similar disparity, and really want/need to acquire skills and strategies to better manage schedules and details. I am haunted by my shortcomings in responding quickly to emails, keeping tasks straight, keeping offices clean. I fatigue quickly when it’s time to get immersed in minutiae. I strongly desire to improve this area of myself, but I also am trying to give myself a little grace, and acknowledge that it’s OK to be mediocre (at best) at something, as long as you understand that you need to partner with people that are excellent in your areas of weakness. I’ve begun to readily admit to those I’m partnering with that I struggle in these areas, I think of it as managing expectations. I think there’s a balance to be struck, and I want to strive for continual improvement, and some ability to partner with others.
I’m also learning with all of the interaction with colleagues and the public, that I’m becoming increasingly introverted. I find myself exhausted after lengthy interactions with people, which really didn’t used to be the case for me. I think that’s an important realization for my future career to avoid being perpetually run down. I have really valued the Bush Foundation’s emphasis on self-care and self-awareness, and their tendency to refocus Fellows on the personal development aspects of the Fellowship.
My Fellowship is really helping me own not only my desire, but also my ability to be a strong leader. I have really started to believe that I can make a significant change in my community and my state, and am consciously observing other leaders who are successfully doing the same. Some observations: Great leaders know that they have extraordinary abilities, and own the influence they can have on other people, but are not arrogant about their gifts. They deeply understand that they, like everyone else, constantly make mistakes. They also understand that they are part of a team, and that the whole team is as responsible for successes as they are personally. They are aware of how quickly they can squander people’s trust, and lose their position as a leader. They acknowledge when it is someone else’s turn to lead. They step up and work very, very hard while it is their turn.
So, I am striving to learn more about the art of leadership, and how I can emulate these characteristics. The journey continues…bring on year 2!