In a conversation with someone in September, I tried to sum up how the fellowship has been going at the halfway mark, I summed it as a work in progress, it feels like the foundation is being laid for work that will grow way beyond the 24 months I will have with Bush Foundation. While that felt like an inadequate response, my colleague encouraged me that this was not only normal, but healthy. As I reflect on the last year as a Bush Fellow, I have had many breathtaking experiences and more mundane ones, words of Germany Kent “It is more important to go slow and gain the lessons you need along the journey than to rush the process and arrive at your destination empty,” sum up some of the lessons I have learned, and will illustrate with a few examples.
I attended a two-day conference “Strengthening Tribal, State and Federal Partnerships” hosted by the North Dakota office of Indian Affairs. This offered an opportunity to learn a lot about treaties with the federal government and how they have been honored or not honored, historic trauma and its impact on those affected today. I assumed that these issues only affected our Native American brothers and sisters but was able to see correlations in its impact on our African American brothers and sisters, and many immigrants who experienced colonialism and now neo-colonialism. Strategies to deal with trauma and hurt were shared; the most significant that I will forever remember, and pray I apply were the words from one Elder who said: “we all suffer when we hold on to old hurts. We let the monkey off our backs when we choose to forgive and work on making things right, driven by facts and not bitterness. I know it is hard, but we need to address the hurts with sober minds that do not let anyone off the hook, but we do not let anger drive us”. And I needed to hear that. I needed to examine some “monkeys” that I had long ignored or learned to live with and consciously lay them off my back. Acknowledging my shortcomings is a great place for me to start in dealing with them. Confronting issues within oneself and with people that cause the monkeys in the first place is difficult, but very healthy in ensuring I do not live with monkeys on my back…at times the people who you think offended you do not even know that that offence exists, so bringing it up with them helps both parties make amends. From this experience I learned that forgiveness is a freeing process that does good to the person choosing to forgive, maybe more good than that realized by the one being forgiven. And as simple as this sounds, it was a good reminder of what is important in life.
Spending time developing depth in vulnerability and care among some members of our 2017 cohort was another area of growth that pleasantly surprised me. Close to a week in the beautiful Napa Valley provided the forum to go deep and share freely with seven other members of my cohort. The foundation laid then has allowed moments of vulnerability, and support as we go through the hard times and the mundane. From this experience I have concluded that development as a leader does not occur in a vacuum and having people who can relate and offer support through the process is great. It allows the leaders to get off the pedestal and be real. Leaders are human and should not expect themselves to be or allow others to see them as superheroes.
I have had moments of physical frailty for a couple months leading into fall. These moments remind me that I am not indispensable, and I need to take time for self-care. I have had to pull back from active “doing” to spending a lot of time “being”. And this is hard for many leaders, but the process has had great lessons attached to it, and the following has been the most profound for me: We influence and make a difference, despite the curve balls life throws at us. We are leaders despite our weaknesses and maybe even because of our weaknesses! I have learned that success as a leader is a process, not a destination. This is true in self-care, in leadership growth, in projects we engage ourselves in and the people we influence. I am excited for what the latter half of my Bush fellowship holds, and even for moments beyond the Bush fellowship.