I have spent a fair amount of time reflecting on what it means to be a Bush Fellow and how this has affected my life. Now, after a full two years into this journey, I am still amazed. The lessons keep on coming and I expect that will continue.
When the word first came that I had received a Bush Fellowship, back in March of 2016, I was elated and stunned, somewhat surprised and full of anticipation. There was no doubt in my mind that this would be a journey into a world that would be a bit new to me. There would be new experiences and the uncertainties that come with them. I also felt a rush of excitement thinking about what I had outlined in my fellowship application and during my fellowship interviews: Returning to school after nearly 42 years and a chance to study, learn and reflect on what has been a lifelong calling of community involvement and the joy and fun of civic engagement. It was at once both exciting and unsettling.
As a young adult, I had dropped out of college three times, each time lacking the funding to continue that path and each time returning to work. I was determined to save money and go back to school but was unsure about a major or field of study. That uncertainty proved to be a catalyst for not returning to school as life got in the way and didn’t return to the classroom. I did however, follow a pathway for life-long learning.
A Bush Fellowship, would be my chance to return to school and formalize what I knew from I had been learning during nearly 40 years of civic life and community involvement. I even dreamed about going on with graduate level studies and see where my long-interrupted educational journey would take me.
Of course I had no reasonable expectation of what all this would involve and how my fellowship-fueled pursuit of a Bachelor of Arts degree might fit into the many community, regional and state-wide commitments that I had. As with many of life’s turns, this too provided another significant learning opportunity.
Balancing those obligations with the demands of school studies was an amazing lesson in self-regulation and learning about establishing some reasonable limits for my appetite for community involvement. Because of these many commitments, obtaining a B.A. took a bit longer than I expected. I should have known better. I was 54 credits short of graduating. With my other commitments, that meant it would take three semesters to finish that up, not an unreasonable amount of time. That also left little time during my fellowship for Graduate school so those plans will be re-tooled a bit and pursued later this year or next year.
I have learned how easy it is to over-extend myself, something I wish I had known or realized earlier. Education provides perspective and critical judgement skills that lead us to understanding and practicing more effective ways of affecting decisions and outcomes for ourselves and our communities. Not having a formal education left me without that knowledge and the valuable lesson of self-restraint that could help prevent over-extending myself, something that has happened a lot in my life. I wish I would have known more about this. It seems that we can only be as effective as our training and skills allow. Despite the sense of accomplishment that graduating has brought, I also wish I had been more willing to explore other ideas and opportunities that a Bush Fellowship can bring.
Perhaps the biggest lesson and also the biggest surprise for me has been learning the value of reflection and self-care. It has been a recurring theme in our monthly writings and something that seems to become more and more helpful and constructive during my work with various community and non-profit organizations as well as with my work at encouraging civic engagement and community involvement. Reflecting on what we do, how we do it and how effective it is a key element in measuring worthwhile work.
This lesson on self-care has taken a personal twist as well as I have been struggling a bit with what we think is a neurological condition. This has slowly progressed over this past year and has affected certain elements of my speech but no other neuro-muscular skills. This condition remains officially undiagnosed, despite several tests, scans and exams at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic. It has also had some affect on my plans for graduate studies and future endeavors. However, as with everything that life tosses at us, there are lessons and learning opportunities here too. Learning to forge on and learning to deal with the limitations that come with a challenge like this is incredibly valuable.
Meanwhile the need for inspiring new, young and emerging leaders never ends and receiving a Bush Fellowship is a huge help in spreading that message. I cannot suitably express my deep gratitude for the opportunities that a Bush Fellowship has given me and my community. It has been a transformative, life-changing and wonderfully rewarding experience. I have learned and grown. I am humbled to be a Bush Fellow and am proud to be associated with the other Bush Fellows in my cohort as well as each of the other Bush Fellows before and since.
Although my fellowship is coming to an end, I am excited to continue this learning experience and feel energized to move ahead with the work I set out to do, namely inspiring community involvement and civic engagement and teaching about the community and personal opportunities that await. May the learning, and the teaching, never end.