I knew getting the fellowship would enable me to do a lot of personal and powerful development, but I was not quite prepared for the guilt that followed. Hearing the good news brought calm, but the weeks following I began to feel uneasy. I wondered why I felt such tremendous guilt about getting something so wonderful. I wondered if others felt this way about having this investment in themselves, so I sought counsel.
After several conversations, I began to understand that being resilient and having the kind of grit that’s allowed me to create so much from scratch, even when others didn’t believe in me, meant that now I doubted my own worthiness when it became solely about me. Though I’ve received a number of awards for my work, none of those awards came with any financial investments to me directly; and, none came close $100,000. The feelings of guilt took me aback.
Instead of being swallowed by it, I decided to start planning. I processed my feelings with others, and decided I would do what’s always worked for me before – that is to find ways to act and fail forward. So, I spent time planning out the specifics of my learning journey. I found lightness returned as I found people I wanted to talk to, explored trainings I wanted to attended, and learned about retreats I felt would be beneficial.
I started my journey in June just sitting with my application again. It’s interesting how things read when you know you have the resources to spend on things that will help you get there. It is liberating knowing that the things I want for myself are now things I can invest in.
I started with an individualized retreat with a graphic facilitator. It was wonderfully healing and clarifying. I was able to develop a set of questions on leadership transference, culture, and eldership in the social justice movement that I wanted to deeply explore. That time also helped me see that I was overly ambitious and needed to recalibrate. Instead of taking a week off a month to focus on the fellowship as I had intended, I adjusted my time to work around trainings, interviews, learnings and reflections, and self-care as I identified them. The biggest lesson here is that you have to plan, but also be nimble enough to allow enable adjustments as life happens.
What happened to me next was an important lesson in life. Both my parents became very ill and I had to adjust yet again. Nothing truly has gone as I had thought. I came out of the gate attending multiple retreats, taking a training on how to write op-eds, signing up for an executive speaking course, working with a few coaches, organizing and attending global women’s summits and so on. Then, I had to slow down almost to a halt when my parents needed me. The trick is learning how to be gentle with yourself when things veer off course.
Sometimes this means putting some things off. For me, I am putting off beginning any true self-care. Most things that I thought I could do to focus on my own health I’ve put aside. It’s just been easier to let others share and teach me, especially because I’m having to be emotionally available to my own family during this difficult period with two very ill parents. I’m okay with that, but I want to not just let this slide. So, note to self – create a short list of what still needs your attention, even if you can’t get to it now. To me this is different than deciding to forgo something completely, but it is to say, “I just can’t get to that right now, but it’s going to be next.” The word balance seems elusive and loaded for me at the moment, but I’m absolutely dedicated to discovering what it right for me. It is an essential part of sustaining my leadership.
I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve been able to have thus far. One of the most important resources I’ve had becoming a fellow is that I was welcomed by the network of current and past fellows. I was able to tap multiple past fellows to learn from them. They were extremely generous and shared their experiences of going through the process, but also gave good advice about trainings and retreats to attend. That’s how I discovered an op-ed writing course designed for women of color in Boston. The amazing thing about having the Bush Fellowship is that for the first time I didn’t even have to think about whether I could attend, I just did.
Spending two days with some truly brilliant women (most with Ivy League educations who were on the leading edge of technology, law, social entrepreneurship, climate work etc.) at that training, I observed that even as marvelous as those women were, they too all felt insecure. We spent more time talking about how to deal with those insecurities as women and especially women of color rather than actually learning to write op-eds. “Leadership” seems elusive when we try to live within the systems of patriarchal power and white supremacy. What I appreciated most about that experience was not just getting the basics of how to write an op-ed, but the fact that being a Bush Fellow allowed me to be in the same room with these women. We weren’t all that different from each other in terms of wanting to continue to build our leadership and finding our most authentic and powerful voice to change the world.
Beyond the learning, skills building, and self-exploration, one area that I was grateful I had experience and enough skills to manage was in the area of financial management of the fellowship funds. I developed a cash flow chart and budget to actual spreadsheet to track my expenses. I hadn’t really considered how the funds would be distributed, and somehow, I had it in my head that we would receive larger chunks rather than monthly amounts. This reality meant that I had to project my expenses well, and it may be the case that I would possibly have to loan funds to myself to cover months when my expenses exceeded the monthly distributions. I came close to having to do that the first several months because of several big trips and training fees, but luckily have not had to borrow. I feel this is worth mentioning because new fellows may not always be prepared to handle the financial management aspect of the fellowship.
Everything seems to be flying by and before I knew it another Bush Fellowship round of applications was upon us. I began receiving numerous calls to meet or to help review the applications of applicants. I tried my best to talk to everyone who had questions, but it soon became more than I had time for. I was glad when another past fellow organized several of us from different classes to offer a session for other Asian American and leaders of color who were interested in applying. I sent everyone who had reached out to me via LinkedIn, email, twitter and email to that session. I didn’t particularly feel like I a lot to share with them being so new on my own journey, but I was happy to share my experience. More than what I had to share; the session offered space for those considering to be in community with each other. Most importantly, doing the session made it much more manageable for me to support anyone considering.
As I head into my next six months, I look forward to continuing to dive deeper into my area of learning on eldership, and taking more time to define my version of self-care, which is collective-care.