As I reflect on the first six months of my learning journey, I realize how much of my learning has been about building a strong foundation to support continued growth and to sustain my leadership beyond the Fellowship. I have also recognized that my goals for the Fellowship are starting to align into five categories: Capacity, Connections, Contextualization, Centering, and Care.
In terms of Capacity - When I started my Fellowship, I realized that what I need to do first, is to build my own capacity as a leader, while building the capacity of our organization to support and sustain our work. The areas where I need the most support for my leadership were in fundraising, non-profit organizational development and financial management. I have found coaching to be invaluable in this category. Having a regular check-in with an Executive Coach has been transformative for my life and work. My coach helps me identify what’s challenging me, lay out a plan to address the challenge, provide me with resources (articles, homework, etc.) to support my plan, and holds me accountable to doing the work - definitely take advantage of the coaching. Outside of coaching, I have also engaged two consultants - a fundraising consultant (Katrina Lynn, Inc.) and a non-profit management consultant (Propel Nonprofits). These consultants have been working with me on an individual basis, but they have also been working with my organization’s Board of Directors and Committee members to help build their capacity to support and govern our work. This has been extremely important in helping to delegate more responsibilities throughout our organization, so that I can focus more on leadership. It has helped me identify my strengths and soft spots as a leader, and what things I really want to work on and what things I need to hire out and / or delegate. This capacity building has really helped make more space to focus on my leadership journey.
In terms of Connections - The Fellowship has allowed me the opportunity to connect with more people in my field (and other fields) regionally, nationally and, even, internationally. I have been to a number of conferences and taken a number of site visits to learn from other rural practitioners. I have also connected with a couple of mentors that I am starting to meet with on a semi-regular basis over the next few months. In addition to connecting with individuals, I have also connected with organizational partners - both in our geographic area and across the region. The Fellowship allows me space for the art of visiting. Spending time in person, or on the phone, to learn from and with people I admire greatly in this work.
In terms of Contextualization - Another goal with this Fellowship was that I wanted to do more reading, writing and reflection related to our work, the field, etc. With this goal, so far, it has really been about setting the intention and setting boundaries (of time and space) to work towards this goal. I have read more books and articles, and listened to more podcasts and audiobooks, about ruralness in the past six months than I have in the past entire previous year. I have also written two editorials / articles that have been / will be published. Making space for this kind of learning and reflection has been very beneficial in helping to place our work in the regional / national conversation, and has led to a number of additional connections and contract work.
In terms of Centering - I had a great reminder in my fourth month while participating in an artist residency: don’t forget why you set out on your leadership journey in the first place! So often, leaders become removed from the work itself while they are focused on being leaders. This was something that I could feel was starting to happen to me and that I wanted to put an end to as soon as possible. For me, its artmaking! Many artists that start organizations become detached from the art-making process out of necessity for keeping the organization afloat. They become removed from the work and it leads to burn out. This Fellowship is providing me the space to recenter my artistic practice in my life through artist residencies and dedicated time in my regular work week. Since doing so, I have found myself to be a more joyful and effective leader.
And, finally, Care - Self-care is a big component of this Fellowship. For me (and, I know so many of us), it is one of the most difficult things for us to make space for - even though it is the thing that is going to support and sustain us the longest. What I needed to do to ensure that I make space for Self-Care was to think about it in terms of self-care that could be translated into community care. So, one of my goals was to attend yoga teacher training. This way, I could enhance my personal practice to ensure that I am taking good care of myself, but it is also something that I can bring back and share with my community. As I write this, I am 10-days into a 14-day intensive yoga teacher training in Costa Rica. I feel physically, mentally, and spiritually better than I have in years. And, I have so many ideas for how to bring this practice back to my community, organization, artistic practice, and work. The Fellowship provided me with the opportunity to make space for a 14-day immersive self-care training - something that is so vital to sustain the work, and something that I would have never given myself without the support of the Fellowship.
What I have learned - MAKE SPACE! The first few months of the Fellowship, I was trying to squeeze my Fellowship work in on top of all my other work. And, all it was doing was adding much more to my plate and stressing me out! But, now that I have laid a strong foundation, it is allowing me to really make space for this journey. Receiving this Fellowship is such an honor. The time goes by quickly and it is our responsibility to use it wisely. What I would advise new fellows is to make the space and time for your fellowship goals / practice / work early on in your journey, and keep that space and time sacred.