Report date
May 2021
Learning Log

When I think about landmark periods in my adult life—years when things changed drastically, either for better or worse—I think about my first year in college, the year I completed seminary and came out as transgender, and these past two years with the Bush Fellowship. Without this fellowship opportunity I wouldn’t be sitting here now as the executive director of a new nonprofit, equipped with a huge list of contacts and a library full of resources. In fact, I don’t even know how I would have gotten through this past pandemic year, had the fellowship not been there for me when everything else shut down.

Thinking back over this past two years I’m noticing that the moments that stand out in my memory all happened in the first year, before the pandemic, but all of the critical lessons I needed to learn happened during the second. That first year was a time when I tried to dream as big as possible, and I basically said yes to everything that came toward me. I connected with Arif, my leadership coach, and right from the start he was pushing me to try new things and to believe that they were possible. That relationship, even though we only meet every month or two, has continued to be a huge source of inspiration and knowledge, and I never would have met him or even considered the idea of a professional coach without the fellowship. Another high point was being able to travel to Holden Village, a retreat and education center in Washington, where I got to teach as a guest faculty member for a week, reminding me that the thing I enjoy most is learning and passing on knowledge. That experience helped to crystalize my sense of calling.

About 9 months in to my fellowship journey I realized that my goal had changed, and a couple of months afterward the pandemic hit, which forced me to not only rethink what I wanted to do, but how I would be able to do it. The first version of my fellowship plan had included my intention to visit and talk with LGBTQ-affirming churches in the area about their experiences in order to understand better the process of becoming affirming. I began to realize, though, that what I really wanted to do was help other transgender and gender-expansive people of faith connect with and support each other. I re-wrote a bunch of my plan so that I could focus on my leadership in the midst of creating this new resource, and after making that pivot I was able to throw my energy into Transmission Ministry Collective—the nonprofit I now direct. I got to speak with other nonprofit directors, financial specialists, educators, and organizers and benefit from their wisdom.

But of course, I had to make a lot of my own mistakes. As I said, the second year of my fellowship brought the lessons I hope I won’t ever forget, and most of them were learned the hard way. First of all, as someone who’s quick to jump into projects and not great at finishing them, I learned a new mantra. When I originally heard this phrase, it had to do with knowing what to say, but I’ve mentally edited it to refer to figuring out what to do: “Does this need to be done? Does this need to be done by me? Does this need to be done by me right now?” Sometimes the answer to that first question is yes, but I’m not the one who should be doing the thing, and I need to sit down. Sometimes the thing really does need to be done by me, but it doesn’t have to be done immediately, and I need to hold on to the idea for a while and let it simmer. Although I’ve learned that being a leader often means being the one to say yes when something needs to be done, it also means taking the time to do things right, and leaning on the wisdom of your community, especially when they tell you to sit this one out.

Relatedly, another lesson I’ve learned can be summed up in the proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” By nature I’m a “go fast and alone” kind of person, but through this fellowship I’ve been able to build a larger web of contacts and relationships that challenges me to slow down. Even though you can get a lot more done when you’re a leader who acts unilaterally, you also take on the entire burden of decision-making which not only causes a lot of stress, but usually gets you into trouble for dragging people along behind you. Gathering feedback and gaining a consensus can seem like it takes forever, but the end result is that the stress is halved in the sharing, and bonds between people can be strengthened.

There are so many other lessons I’ve learned, but the last one I’ll mention is that it’s important to learn to ask for exactly the kind of help you need. Early on in my fellowship I started internalizing the belief that good leaders ask for help, but it took a long time for me to figure out why I wasn’t getting the response I wanted when I asked. As it turns out, you can’t just say “help!” and expect people to know what you need! So for me, the lesson came in learning to sometimes say “I need some advice about how I should do X,” and at other times say “I need someone to do X for me.” And of course, if I was going to make that latter request, I needed to be prepared to give up quite a bit of control in the process, which was a whole other lesson.

As I look toward the future after the fellowship, I want to keep hold of all these things I’ve learned. I know that many of them will be things I forget for a while and have to re-learn in another context, but I have absolutely no doubt that this fellowship experience has made me a better community member, a better leader, and a better person. I hope to keep nurturing the connections I made along the way, especially with the people who have granted me their wisdom through this process. I’ll never take for granted the belief that the folks at Bush had in me and my work, and I hope I’ll be able to hold that gift tightly as I move on to the next big dream.