My two youngest sons and I went for a walk last evening and saw the first buds of Spring on a tree we planted last Fall. I thought about my time as a Fellow. When this journey started, I was surprised at the focus on individual growth rather than collaborative projects or community development. It felt uncomfortable. I have been conditioned to see leadership as serving others. As my Fellowship comes to an end, I realize the wisdom in allowing ourselves the grace to build ourselves for the sake of those around us.
My final reflection as a Bush Fellow provides the opportunity to look back at what I envisioned at the start of this process. I wrote about Dorothy’s friends in Oz and our mutual pursuit of brains, heart, and courage. Reading the words I wrote two short years ago makes me realize how much has changed and how much remains the same. The brains I was in search of resulted from my lack of college education throughout my professional career. I pursued my college education after my unsuccessful 2018 Fellowship application presented me with a path to follow and the inspiration to do so. I graduated with my undergraduate degree in May of 2020. The same day, the Bush Foundation notified me that I had been selected as a Fellow, allowing me to follow my dream of attending the Humphrey Institute to pursue a master’s degree in public affairs. I graduated with that degree today. It is hard to describe my pride in achieving what once seemed such an unattainable goal. But the accomplishment is much different than I imagined at the beginning of my Fellowship. I imagined a clear line of academic learning that I would walk across and pass into a world of wisdom where I would forever be wiser and prepared to conquer any challenge through knowledge. Instead, it feels more like discovering the difference between command and control and adaptive leadership styles. It is not a defined set of actions or a destination but rather a constant learning process and journey of self-discovery. The sacrifice, failures, and doubts have added as much as the degree to which I attached so much significance.
I also wrote about having the heart to engage, listen, and learn from others. I didn’t know that those I would learn the most from were the ones closest to me. By opening my eyes and heart to what I have rather than what could be, I recognize the goodness of the community around me. It is too easy, especially in the divisiveness of current times, to get stuck on deficiencies rather than building on strengths. Listening, engaging, and learning from others is at the core of the greatest lesson of my leadership journey: supporting the work of others. In the past, I have regarded the accumulation of knowledge and power as the embodiment of leadership. But it is not always about me. Supporting and lifting the work of others is often the most productive and rewarding form of leadership. From large-scale community initiatives to my marriage and family. I may always struggle with this concept, but I will also embrace it in everything I do.
I wrote about developing courage in my Fellowship application. I have learned that you develop capacities, but you discover courage. The courage to live one’s convictions regardless of the situation or consequences is in us all. But we have to find it. It takes preparation and confidence. It’s a journey of self-discovery, of listening to and trusting in our humanity and that of others.
The most moving words I experienced during my Fellowship were in the chapter on the Sacred Heart in Leadership on the Line. The Bush Foundation gave us a copy of the book at the beginning of our Fellowship. Allowing the full range of our emotions, “innocence and wonder, your doubt and curiosity, and your compassion and love even through your darkest, most difficult moments.” When I think about the struggles we have faced as a human race over the past two years and the contempt and division that we face every day in our communities, these words speak to me about the core of our humanness and what should be the core of our leadership: Love for one another. The common good must be the focus of our personal and public pursuits.
I think about that passage when I think about my Fellowship journey. I think about my family, and I think about my community. I think about one day my kids sharing that same first bud of Spring with their children, and I smile.