Since being selected as a Bush Fellow, I have been filled with gratitude at the opportunities that have opened up for me as I continue my leadership journey. Over the last six months, I have learned so much about myself, my community, and what it means to be a leader. I have also made significant progress on my fellowship goals and am excited to continue what I have yet to tackle.
On a personal level, I have been intentional about working on my own mental health and maintaining work life balance so that I can show up everyday to my full potential. As a mental health professional, I have found it to be conflicting that while we teach self-care and promote mental health and wellness to our clients, we are often working in a system that does not prioritize a culture of wellness for clinicians. We are often bound to large caseloads, a never ending pile of paperwork, and working overtime to keep up. I have found that prioritizing productivity over personal wellness has often led to burnout and stifling of creativity and passion. Since being intentional about meeting my own needs over productivity, I have learned that I am even more effective in my work. I have come to realize that in order to promote mental health and wellness in my community, there needs to be a cultural shift in what society prioritizes and values. If even mental health professionals have difficulty being supported in prioritizing their own mental health needs, there is a larger problem that needs to be addressed if we are to enhance the wellbeing of society and our communities. I am beginning that shift within myself by adopting a lifestyle that encourages rest and recovery. I understand the privileges I have been offered to be able to pursue this lifestyle and will continue to fight for systemic changes that may allow more people these opportunities.
Since the start of this fellowship, I have had opportunities to participate in various community projects and trainings. I have been able to gain more perspective on the desperate need to address mental health as we see a rise in suicide rates in the Hmong community. In working with a team of community leaders from various backgrounds, I’ve learned the benefits of how ideas can flourish when different angles and perspectives are brought to the table. I have also learned how building relationships and community outreach can more effectively engage the conversation to address such topics as mental health. While there are many challenges with bridging the complex needs of the Hmong community, I have learned that finding a balance between embracing traditions and embracing change has the potential to more effectively address gaps in mental health services for the Hmong community.
What I have learned about what it means to be a leader is that connecting directly to community is the most effective way to understand and address specific challenges and needs. I have learned that while I may not be the loudest or most engaging person in the room, my strength lies in listening and empathizing with the needs of others. I care deeply about hearing other’s stories to offer support and understanding. What I have learned about my own leadership is that I don’t have to be perfect to want to help or lead others, I just need to have good intentions and a desire to learn and grow. I am allowing my experiences and imperfect self to grow into becoming an authentic leader. In addition, I’ve come to learn that leaders celebrate small, actionable steps even if their vision is about large scale movements. I have learned how taking small steps consistently has the power to make waves. I am reminded that even when the issues I care about feel urgent and it seems there is not enough I can do in a day, the process moves at the pace it is meant to and I can realize any vision with faith and persistence.
Over the last six months, I have made progress on my fellowship goals including learning and using online methods to disseminate resources on a large scale. I have learned the value of social media campaigning and am continuing training on the use of telehealth for online mental health services to increase access to care. In addition, I have worked towards building community and exploring collective healing through embracing art and culture. I have also continued practicing documenting knowledge through the Hmong oral tradition. What I am excited to continue is reflecting on what it means to bridge traditional healing practices and modern mental health services. I would like to continue to explore ways I can better lead within the Hmong community including unpacking historical trauma associated with the loss of the Hmong language and working on becoming better at speaking Hmong myself. Lastly, I want to continue building community, sharing information on a large scare through the use of online platforms, and destigmatizing mental health needs in the Hmong community.