Through the 18 months of this Fellowship my thinking and understanding of leadership has evolved. From reading Leadership on the Line, to learning from my Bush Coach and personal coach I have had many thoughts about leadership, my own and others. Today, the words that describe the important criteria of leadership for me are: passion, integrity, courage, empathy, humbleness, learning, commitment, creativity, enthusiasm and honesty. A guiding statement for me, from the book Leadership on the Line, “The hope of leadership lies in the capacity to deliver disturbing news and raise difficult questions in a way that people can absorb, prodding them to take up the message rather than ignore it or kill the messenger.”
With my Fellowship focus on helping to make a systemic shift in how our culture responds to end-of-life and death, I have experienced the “killing of the messenger”, denial, distraction, feigned collaboration, etc. BUT I have also experienced individuals seeking me out, wanting to collaborate, support and encouragement from those who also are working on this important systemic change.
As I delve into understanding, or at least exploring my leadership, I have learned a great deal about myself. I recognize my willingness to stretch and learn. How I can react with self-doubt when someone doesn’t agree with me or understand what I am trying to convey. The Fellowship has pushed me to look at my fragileness, my quickness to believe in others over myself and step away from my beliefs. Through this amazing opportunity of the past 18 months, knowing I have 6 more months to completion, I have become stronger in knowing who I am. The time of this Fellowship has given me the opportunity to clarify why I am so passionate about helping our community find a new way to respond to end-of-life. Death is something we all deal with throughout our lives and also must recognize we will face our own end-of-life.
I have been learning to balance a desire to expand my own understanding with acknowledging that I began this Fellowship journey with a base of knowledge. The Fellowship has been providing me with the opportunity to expand my awareness, leadership skills while simultaneously exploring how I can disseminate this information to our community.
Through the process of finding avenues to deliver this difficult to hear information, I have learned to keep rolling. When I began this journey, I thought the best place to share this information, that had the potential to create the largest change, was teaching a curriculum to health care students. When I hit a wall with academia, it was another Fellow who provided me with an insight that helped me move forward. She explained to me that graduate level health care provider training is like “drinking water from a fire hose.” I am forever grateful to Kristin for this awareness. Moving forward from this direction I recall several other helpful quotes from Leadership on the Line: “Leadership is an improvisational art” and “A plan is no more than today’s best guess.” These statements give me the room to step beyond the outlines of expectations that I had developed, both knowingly and unknowingly.
As I sat back and reflected on what I had learned in my prior experiences with leadership, guiding others to listen and reflect on new information, I recalled that I had found the format of two people (or more) people presenting together on a given topic together is very effective. It breaks through the unintended yet implied “truism” when one person is presenting: that there is ONE Right Way to think or do or say whatever the specific topic is about. As I opened to this thought, it helped me shift from the grief and self-judgment that I held about my “plan” to exploring who can I collaborate with to participate this systemic shift.
The half-Fellowship retreat was extremely helpful for me. The timing couldn’t have been better. To have the Bush staff encourage us Fellows to not look for a single outcome, but to understand that the Fellowship is about allowing each of us to evolve our own leadership. Clarifying, that what comes from the Fellowship will not be on a specific time schedule, but rather, a growing and evolving experience which will continue to unfold for years following the conclusion of the 24-month Fellowship. What a relief!
As I become comfortable with this discomfort of not having a specific plan, working to be open to the evolution of where my Fellowship takes me, I have had several people call and ask me to collaborate with them on the topic of aging and end-of-life. It was almost as though, once I let go of thinking I knew how this “should go,” new opportunities began to present themselves. Today, I do not know how this will unfold. I do know I have one presentation scheduled with two co-presenters in February. The future is yet to be defined and I am open to the unfolding.
This Fellowship has and is changing my life. I hear the echo of the Fellows who spoke at our introductory retreat, sharing their experiences from their Fellowships. All four of them spoke about how their Fellowships changed their life. How they envisioned it at the beginning, the changes they went through and the multiple ways it dramatically changed their life and continued to do so. I am just now beginning to have a sense of that occurring for me. This is a process, from the inside out. Not the outside in, as our dominant culture tends to function, only looking at externals. This Fellowship for me has and continues to be an internal, deep exploration and learning. The seeds that have been planted through this Fellowship are germinating deep inside and are yet to be identified.
The Fellowship requirement of self-care has been extremely helpful by taking time to allow the seeds to germinate, in that internal dark, deep and damp place. On a more concrete way of describing this, self-care in multiple forms provides me with guilt free time to allow myself to be still. Providing me a conscious time to learn where my boundaries or edges are so I can move beyond them and imagine the potentialities of this Fellowship.
I have focused my self-care time on meditation, exercise, taking time to be with family and being in nature. All these formats require a slowing down and being present. This creates for me an increase in self-awareness, which many times then requires self-compassion.
I have come to recognize that part of the reason I received the Fellowship is because I have accomplished many things. To do this, I have been task oriented. A list has been a guiding light helping me to stay focused and complete things. The outcome was rewarded by our community with publications, awards and this Fellowship. I was good at that form. The Fellowship requires a different way of growing and learning about leadership. This was a big shift, incorporating self-care and balance, so that whatever bubbles and grows out of this internal learning, that it may be sustained and continue to grow. Internal stillness is not something that can be put on a list! The opportunity of self-care is a profound part of the Fellowship and I am forever grateful.
I realize I will understand this experience in a different and deeper way in the months and years to come, as I reflect upon this 24-month journey. But at my 18-month point, I am beginning to understand that there are layers of depth in my internal changing landscape. This evolving internal landscape will be what I draw upon as I head into the future with an openness to the ever-changing range of possibilities. The Fellowship has allowed me the opportunity to pause in my life, reflect, learn and grow in ways I could never imagine.
There have been many people that have been helpful to me along this journey. But one stands out as a critically important influence and that is the other Fellows in my cohort. Specifically, the group of women referred to as the Minnesota 8, from the Dent conference we all attended last year. To be able to discuss with each other this process of personal transformation, the fears, the hopes, the challenges, the opportunities as well as the difficulty of others outside this experience not understanding what this Fellowship is like. These women have been critical in my growth, holding me when I have (and will continue to) question myself, encouraging me and celebrating with each other all that we are becoming individually and together. I cherish knowing these women and I am in awe of who they are. (A big shout out to Alice, Baabiitaw, Catherine, Dara, Kristin, Shelley and Katrina)
I wish I could know the other Fellows in my cohort with the same depth. But I realize that we can only connect with so many people at any given point in time. What I know of each one, they too are remarkable people doing amazing things.
This Fellowship has been and will continue to be a gift that is beyond words. I have touched, experienced and lived through every possible emotion. The challenge to think bigger has stretched me and helped me become more of who I am and what I can offer to this world. Thank you.