Becoming a Bush fellow has been a life-changing experience. It has allowed me to shift gears and step outside of the day-to-day busyness of my life. My life had become consumed with other things, other people and all things other than me. The fellowship has been an amazing opportunity for me to get to know myself in deeper ways. Through my self-designed program, one major goal was to create experiences that get me outside of my everyday routine personally and professionally. What I know about myself is that I am an experiential learner. I am excited to report the fellowship has exposed me to experiences that have both challenged me and inspired learning and growth.
In October 2016, at the start of the Fellowship, I took a month-long sabbatical geared towards spending time with my family and myself. This was the first time in my life that I had ever taken that much time off of work at once. Having the time and space to just “BE” and at times not “DOING” anything was exactly what my soul needed to experience. As a mental health therapist, father, husband, professor, trainer and business owner I had become a master at helping others and in the process was becoming out-of-touch with my own needs. I also used the time for reconnecting and being present with my family in meaningful ways. Having this time off helped me notice how my busyness and success has negatively impacted my ability to be intentional in how I show up in all of my relationships. This experience opened my eyes and served as the catalyst to making changes in how I take care of myself. This has been a new journey for me, so on a daily basis I have been practicing new habits with the goal of making healthier choices about how I live.
Another life-changing experience that I have had on this journey is taking a second sabbatical during the month of January 2017. During that time, I was able to travel to Singapore, where I stayed for a month. Living outside the United States for a month allowed me to immerse myself in another country. Singaporean culture is unique from any place I have ever been. The experience challenged me socially, culturally, and racially to relocate and re-adjust. My time in Singapore opened my eyes to growth areas that I have not been in touch with for a while and some I never knew existed. For example, exploring more deeply the paradox of why I felt safer, freer and more respected in a more collectivist country like Singapore with stricter laws limiting individual freedoms.
Additionally, being in Singapore exposed me to groups of people, their cultures and a part of the world that I had not been significantly aware of before. During my time in Singapore, I was exposed to students, college and university professionals, Traditional Chinese Medical professionals, mental health providers and others. My time spent with other mental health and medical professionals has changed my perceptions of what it means to provide culturally responsive and relevant mental health care.
Singapore's complex culture created an opportunity to for me to observe the relationship between dominant (Chinese) and marginalized cultures (Malay and Indian) within a particular society outside of my experiences in the U.S. It caused me to think about the complexity of these intersections and their impact on mental health in new ways. These experiences pushed me to reflect on my understanding of my own culture as an African American and how my experiences shape who I am as a human being and as a therapist. I was also able to think more critically about how I provide "culturally competent services” to clients and mentees from dominant and marginalized cultures here in the U.S.
One aspect of the Fellowship that I was not prepared for is the amount of exposure I have received. I am grateful for the attention for a couple reasons. First, it caused my network to expand immediately. It has been an awesome experience to get to know some of the other talented Bush Fellows in my cohort. They are a diverse group of individuals doing unbelievable work in our region. Beyond this, I now have a number of new relationships internationally, nationally and locally.
Second, I am grateful for the attention because it forced me outside my comfort zone. I had to face the attention that I often work at avoiding. It also challenged me to “think bigger” about my personal and professional goals. My new networks inspired me to think more critically and strategically about the impact I desire to make as an African American, father, therapist, and business owner in my communities. Thinking bigger was a concept I was exposed to during the first Bush Fellowship retreat. The expansion of my network has opened the door to me dreaming bigger.