In my role as an organizer with North Dakota United, I was responsible for the careful stewardship of members’ dues dollars, their investment in a responsive and representative organization. Influenced by a similar sense of stewardship for and investment from the Bush Foundation, on August 1 I began a leave of absence from NDU to fully embrace this once-in-a-lifetime Fellowship opportunity. The first few weeks slipped by. Even though and maybe especially because I was the only one who could say at the end of a day whether I had achieved my objectives, I struggled to feel like I was doing the Fellowship “correctly.” In typical fashion (I joke that “spreadsheets are my love language”), I began to color-code and track each hour to visualize the passage and judge the value of my time spent. Through this practice of observation, documentation, and evaluation, I recognized the need to adjust my expectations of this experience. Because we live in a society in which our worth is related to our productivity, at the root of my anxiety was a fear of disappointing those who helped me achieve this dream and believed in my potential. I felt the pressure to immediately perform at the standards to which I historically hold myself.
But the point of the Fellowship is not to perform; it is to grow. And I am learning that growth is not linear. The progression of ideas, the arrival of inspirations, the development of skills and relationships, the shedding of old and the adoption of new habits and identities – it all takes time. And I am so grateful for this rare gift of almost complete agency of my time, attention, and energy. I am learning to sense with greater discernment how to invite in that which feels true to my purposes and to release without judgement that which does not serve this growth journey or keeps me in roles and attitudes whose usefulness have expired. With greater capacity to deepen relationships and to form new ones, I have experienced different ways of knowing myself and surprising moments of healing. I am learning to recognize, explore, and move through those moments when perfectionism, ego, comparison, and expectation keep me from believing in my worth and potential.
At the end of this first quarter as a Fellow, I still keep my color-coded tracking spreadsheet (because it’s fun!) but I no longer rely on it to prove to myself that I am “doing” the Fellowship correctly. I am content with the pace of my growth and the progress I have made. I enthusiastically anticipate the continued challenges and rewards of this process and am excited to share a few action and learning ventures:
* In August, I began as a Master of Public Affairs student at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School. One weekend per month I travel from Fargo to Minneapolis to attend class with my cohort of mid-career professionals. We study Adaptive Leadership, Program and Policy Analysis, and Research Methods. The coursework is built on immediate real-world application, transforming my approach to change-making. Next spring, to complete my degree, I will begin a self-designed specialization, the focus of which I am beginning to explore now.
* In a return to my Wellstone Action roots, I am participating in a Storytelling and Public Narrative workshop put on by Re:Power. This effective, innovative, educational, virtual classroom, led by young women, mostly of color, feels supportive and engaging in ways I have rarely experienced. This training is intended to help share my story more effectively through “values, emotions, and actions” as well as to help me understand and communicate parts of the story of North Dakota’s progressive movement – to know where we’ve been, to inform where we’re going.
* I ushered many things from my plate in preparation for the Fellowship – it is exciting to invite back in opportunities to participate and facilitate and I look forward to sharing more as projects, ideas, and initiatives continue to develop.
Sometimes, contraction is necessary for expansion, pause is required for movement, and turning inward can bolster our ability to engage in the world more fully. Rest, reset, renew, redo. All ok. Innumerable thanks to the Bush Foundation and everyone who has already been a part of this journey. And wishing the best to my fellow Fellows!