The greatest surprise in my leadership development in the first year on Fellowship has been in realizing my burnout and fatigue, and then recovering a sense of joy, connectedness to family, a deeper awareness of self, and discovering my direction as a healer. The path of my leadership journey these past 12 months has been unexpectedly focused on re-setting and rebalancing my relationships to home, family, self, and community.
Thinking back to our Fellows kick-off retreat in April 2018, I wince as I recall the moment I realized that so many things in my life that had previously provided joy and purpose, presently felt like a drain. It felt like work to spend time with my family. It felt heavy to have so many community projects. I envisioned a hamster wheel upon contemplating "greater leadership." When I began this journey, I was motivated by love of place, love of community, a sense of justice, and a desire to be of service. But somehow amid good intentions, I realize now, that I was a bit off track. There was a big discrepancy between my intended motivations and my daily actions and priorities. A year ago, I dropped my kids off late to school most days. I remained at work until after hours, leaving late and with a headache, frantically writing notes in the car of “new ideas” for projects and work. While very “productive” and “active” in the community, I felt a hum of frantic energy and was constantly interrupting myself with new ideas. For several highly productive years leading up to my Fellowship, I continued to “rev up”. My work brought greater accolades and recognition, while my groundedness in home and family slipped through my fingers. I realize now that I gave up (or maybe never really learned how to) prioritize “me” in the pursuit of “my work.” This led me to seek satisfaction and affirmation of my value and worth through my deeds and my work. During our Fellows retreat, all of this was revealed in the privacy of my mind. I felt unmasked and incredibly afraid, wondering how I could find my way out of this burnout and find a path to “greater leadership" that honored my wholeness and happiness.
I am not deterred by hard work. I was not deterred by hard work prior to this Fellowship journey, and I am still not today. Rather, I seek out hard work. I have realized over this Fellowship year, the damaging effects when I "lean in" to hard work at the expense of taking care of my body and soul, taking care of my most cherished relationships, taking care to kindle passion and joy in my life in a balance with work. It has surprised me that it took a few months to begin to seek out things that physically and mentally feel good- a cup of tea, quiet time alone in the woods on foot or ski, slowing down to write a poem, bedtime stories with my son, hugs from my daughter, warm rocks by Lake Superior, laughing with friends, time at home.
In the first quarter of my Fellowship, I withdrew from nearly all community responsibilities and focused inward. It was very uncomfortable and unfamiliar. It did not feel good right away. It felt glutinous, selfish. Over time, the guilt began to melt away. I started to get clearer on what matters most to me. I got clearer on the things that make my heart sing. Truth be told, I knew it all along. I had just buried this knowing in pursuit of greater service muddied by personal importance. I also started back to school as a graduate student to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. Things felt clunky all winter. Changing roles, changing finances, new stresses. But my warm tea, daily yoga, commitment to discovering each day, buoyed my family and I through it.
In the second quarter of my Fellowship, I found a rhythm with school and began to recognize a newly developing perspective. Being less involved to community organizations and projects, I began to think more about the connections between local healthcare and regional players. I felt my mindset shifting. During this time, I spent several days with other Bush Fellows at the “Dent the Future” conference. This was a very healing experience and deepened my understanding of just what this leadership journey is all about. For the first time, hearing other Fellows’ challenges and successes, I realized that my work (which has seemed intensely personal and not at all like what I expected for “leadership development”) was, in fact my right path to greater leadership. I started up a radio program called “Conversations on Health and Wellbeing” on 90.7FM WTIP North Shore Community Radio. This show has given me a venue to share conversation and experiences of my Fellowship with my community. I gave regional presentations on rural health issues. And I decided to put at the top of my to-do list the things that excited me rather than the things that I felt I “should” do. To my surprise, the world did not collapse when I prioritized things that made me excited and motivated! In fact, I found greater focus and productivity, and doors continued to open.
In the third quarter, this spring, coursework intensified and so did family demands. I have found myself drawn to places within myself that I had forgotten. I have been reconnected to people and physical places that are important parts of my history. It has been very surprising to me that my leadership journey in this first year has been focused on reclaiming my story, my history, my path. This was not an intentional part of my leadership plan, but life has opened these experiences to me. This spring, I realized that my leadership journey can be summarized as a process of healing. And in the beginnings of healing myself, I have realized my call as a healer: my mission is to be a healing force for women and children in rural communities. The strategy at hand to achieve this mission to become a Family Nurse Practitioner and provide primary care to women and children in my rural community. I’ve realized that the strategy is not the mission. This has been a helpful and surprising distinction.
Finally, approaching the first anniversary of the formal start of my fellowship, I am feeling incredibly humbled by this opportunity. I feel blessed beyond measure to have realized and started recovering from burnout and a direction that would have led me to unfulfilled, frustrated places. I feel rested. I feel connected to my husband and children and home. I feel much lighter. I still struggle with overcommitment, overwork, and spinning ideas at times. But it is much easier to get perspective than it was a year ago. I am cautiously ready to reengage when the time and opportunities are right. There is much more uncertainty in my life than I expected at the outset of the Fellowship and this is uncomfortable. I’m redefining the uncertainty as an opportunity to evaluate my needs and my heart’s desires, balanced with service and the realistic boundaries of my life. I have found a sustainable rhythm and balance of family, self, work. In this next year, I aim to better understand and practice ways to hold on to the dynamic balance. Over the next year, circumstances will dramatically change again. School will demand most of my days are spent travelling and in clinical rotations several hours from home and family. I will likely sunset my longtime and beloved nursing job. I will finish school. I will seek ways to practice clinically in my remote community while maintaining a presence in rural health advocacy, education, research. And I will face so many more changes- some expected, others unforeseen- for my family, community, our nation, and our world. My heart is open, I am grateful and energized, ready and curious for whatever comes next.