The Fellowship has taken me to places I never expected to go, even with all the planning and re-planning we were encouraged to do during our initial fellows retreat last year. I am happy to write that all of these journeys, expected and unexpected, have been exactly what I needed to hone in on the areas I need to develop my leadership.
It's difficult to pick any one moment that stands out, so I will share reflections on two experiences that have helped me reconsider my relationship to what networking means. In the past, I have had a bit of a skeptical view of networking. To me it seemed like social climbing, or something that people who want to sell something do. I admit, my hackles used to go up when people asked me if they could network with me, or "tap into my network." It sounded so extractive and possibly exploitative. I didn't want anyone to think I was trying to scam them, or waste their time. I dissociated myself from the idea of networking. I was doing fine in my job, so I didn't need a "network," right? Wrong.
Since the fellowship began, I have changed my tune about networking. Networks are communities, and to develop as a leader I need to find ways to network so I can skillfully accomplish goals. There have been two major moments when I realized how grateful I am for the connections the fellowship has fostered. The first was during the optional experience I chose for February. I attended Dent the Future with eight members of the cohort, and there we were able to extend the conversations that had only just begun during the retreat and on-line. I could see and feel the resonance across our experiences and interests. Being in a group of minds that are open to rigorous discussion and radical vulnerability was important. We were able to talk about our fears and misgivings, as well as celebrate milestones. I felt and still feel a deep sense of respect and community that will carry on well past the dates of the fellowship term. In the lovely surroundings of Napa Valley, I felt rejuvenated by the landscape and the group's energy. I felt my whole self relaxing, listening, and engaging fully. It reminded me of how important it is to build and maintain community, a lesson I continually relearn as I heal from driving myself so hard at work without attention to what sustains me. Community sustains me. Since the Dent conference, I have looked for ways to honor the multiple communities I am involved with, thanking those who have embraced me, and making sure I don't "steal" from myself by over-scheduling on the days when I am working in community. I want to bring my whole self to the engagement, and have the energy to think and speak skillfully in community.
The second was a serendipitous reunion with another cohort member, D.A. Bullock. I pitched a request for a mini-documentary to be made by the Making Media/Making Change class, a HECUA experience where college students learn to make short films to support community organizations. In the past, I have worked with this class in years past to get films produced for Gordon Parks High School, and this year Hallie Q. Brown Center was interested in showcasing the community archive project we've developed with youth and seniors. I was ecstatic when I realized D.A. was instructing the students in ethical community filmmaking. Not only did this facilitate a long-delayed reunion, it also got me thinking about how many connections I now have in the Twin Cities and beyond that I didn't before the fellowship. And, as I reflected later in my journal, how uneasy I have been in the past to call on any member of my network. Part of my fellowship journey has been to unlearn over work and unpack assumptions about why I feel the need to take on so much. A lot of the self-study I have done allowed me to see how I was making assumptions that I would be over-burdening others the way I was feeling over-burdened. I was looking through a lens clouded by fatigue and resentment.
The investments in self-care and reflective practices have given me the skills to better discern when, where, and how I should bring in members of my network. It has allowed me to be a better mentor and strategist, to really plan what are my tasks, what I should teach or encourage others to do, and when I need to lean on the amazing expertise and resources of the networks I am building. I'm happy to report that I had no compunction about talking to D.A. about getting a filmmaker to document a performance project that was upcoming. He had plenty to offer, and it was a joy to watch him work. And what a relief I felt knowing an amazing artist was going to facilitate the work that will finally allow my group to share the performance with others.
To sum it all up, my new vision of my networks is a result of taking the time to study my own wounds and scars around what it means to be competent, what it means to deliver on promises. All too often that translated to me as doing as many tasks as I could imagine completing to move a project forward, and not "burdening" others with too much. That was a position that came out of fear of being judged or pre-judged as not up to the task, and the compulsion to prove people wrong. This externally-directed fear led to overwork, and under-engagement with the talents and gifts of other people. It was unnecessarily self-isolating. Allowing myself to feel the strength and energy of the community across a variety of courses, processes, and experiences during my first year of the fellowship, and allowing myself the time and space to heal and reflect has done wonders for my views of what is possible, and how to achieve it.