I think what stands out and surprises me the most at this time is that I really am viewing myself as a leader. I feel much more comfortable, as it seems a part of my identity now, and not simply a hat that I try on sometimes. It feels right.
When I submitted my application for the Bush Fellowship, I did so with a smile and a "What the heck" attitude. I did not expect to receive one. Then, each round that passed and I was informed that I would be continuing on to the next round, I still didn't really believe it. At the final round, I started to get scared: What if I really did get this? Then I'll have to actually go out and try to accomplish all the stuff I said I would! Of course, now that I'm a year into this, I have a much better understanding regarding what this Fellowship is all about: my formation and development as a leader. This Fellowship, and the mentors who guided me through the process, helped me find the courage I needed to make several major life changes this past year which were quite difficult. I changed jobs for one, and now am serving part-time as chaplain at St. Gabriel's Hospital in Little Falls. I saw greater opportunities for personal growth and leadership development there, and I believe it's a good fit for me. But not too long ago I would not have had the courage to risk making a change like this and going down to part-time. Another major change is going back to graduate school and working towards a doctorate in ministry. Now I see a good possibility that I might be able to teach graduate students at the seminary I attended: St. John's School of Theology. I could not even envision that before this Fellowship.
Another surprise for me is how much I am networking and connecting to all kinds of people.
I am definitely an introvert, but I've discovered and am strengthening my capacity to take the risk to be seen and heard. I continue to work on my public speaking and presentation skills, and have gained enough confidence and fluency with the material I present that I can bring humor into it as well. That's a good skill to have with a tough topic like childhood trauma and its lifelong impact. Before receiving this Fellowship, I held back from risking connection with people I saw as too important for me to bother. Now I go ahead and make the attempt, and not worry about it if there is no response....or maybe try again. This issue here for me is growth not only in confidence, but also self-worth. It amazes me to discover how self-worth is connected to lowered anxiety and rumination. I think I knew that connection in my head, but had not really experienced it before. It feels good.
A final surprise for me is really a part of what I've already said, but it bears emphasis: my willingness to risk, to try new things, to be creative with other people toward accomplishment of mutual goals, to not take myself so seriously and allow myself to experiment with being different in the world....or perhaps, allow myself to be more myself in the world, and to be seen and heard. That last one is really important to me. I was born with a facial birth defect, and also experienced abuse as a child. Both of these life challenges led me to embrace silence and invisibility as survival strategies. If I didn't call attention to myself, I wouldn't get bullied for how I looked, and if I made myself scarce and quiet, that lessened the abuse at home. This strategy did work fairly well, though not without losses to my own personal growth and identity. What I'm seeing now is willingness to not know everything and have the information down perfectly before I speak about it. I see greater capacity to just be the imperfect human being that I am, and know that I still have something of value to offer. I think greater collaboration with others who are also passionate about breaking into the generational cycle of childhood trauma has been a major factor here. I've never really experienced this kind of ongoing collaborative work with all kinds of people in different sectors. I feel equal to them in that context, no matter what letters are behind their names, or what letters I have behind my name. I'm realizing much more deeply that everyone, including myself, has gifts to offer and can contribute to solutions to problems, if given the chance and respect we all deserve.
I think the bottom line for me is that I'm feeling much more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have before. Maybe that's the biggest surprise, since I certainly did not know that receiving a Fellowship could result in that kind of personal growth. I never even really knew what that meant, although I did know that I was not comfortable with who I was. And I've noticed that the more comfortable I get in my own skin and as a leader, the more authentically I come across, and the more courageous I am about integrating my own story into my work...all of which makes the work much more powerful. Yes, I think that's the biggest surprise, and the biggest gift.