As I had just begun to embark on this Bush Fellow leadership development journey at this time last year, I had no idea nor could I have anticipated what the year would bring to me personally, professionally, and as a 2020 Bush Fellow. I was adjusting to the pandemic as we all were and had been unexpectantly furloughed as of April 2020 from my place of employment and without certainty to return after 14 years in my position. In addition, George Floyd had been killed in my neighborhood, civil unrest ensued and damaged my place of employment, and the facility we were housed in had become inhabitable and our offices destroyed. However, I remained optimistic and miraculously it all changed in an instant as we headed into the summer of 2020. I received a few significant notices all at once that set the course and tone as I reflect on my journey in the last year that impacted me and my leadership. I was fortunate to be a recipient of the Bush fellowship, accepted at the U of M graduate program, returned to work full-time and began taking classes as part of a co-hort with other mid-career professionals.
I was amazed as well as astounded that so many great things happened all at once not realizing the toll of trying to manage them all would pay a heavy price on me mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I approached the fellowship with thoughts on international travel, spiritual healing practices, educational achievement, mentoring and business development. The pandemic played a huge role in having to restructuring my plan and I am thankful that Bush allowed flexibility to focus primarily on my MPA program. This program was quite the experience within itself. It prepared me my how to best manage my leadership priorities and leadership development plan along with taking care of myself with so many things going on at once both personally and professionally. It took almost a year for me to realize how much it had taken a toll on me as came to a breaking point this past April when my body completely broke down and I was hospitalized due to stress, exhaustion and other medical complications due to my family history.
I had to revise my plan and establish a different set of priorities that began with a focus on self-care first by slowing down my frenetic pace delving into trying to meet the demands of work, school, community and family obligations that had ultimately worn me down. I carefully created a new plan going into my 2nd year of the fellowship that prioritized my health needs first and self-care practices to sustain my leadership that also align with my long-term leadership and professional goals. I will be entering my 2nd year of graduate school taking classes that are more in sync with my areas of interest and specialized concentration focusing on leadership and management building on my expertise, and where I thrive and also come alive academically/professionally as a leader.
I am continuing to learn about my leadership, my wide range of experiences, along with how deeply personal they are, deepening my reflection, and my ability to mesmerize others with my storytelling ability has now helped me find my powerful voice.
These are powerful recognitions in my opinion. And with them, I am wanting to know more about my learning edge - and enhancing my personal leadership development goals. They have changed over the last year, and how I articulate them to be now. I know that It's okay that I came to some of these recognitions of my leadership capacities and strengths rather later in the year. I also know that being introspective and combining humility and ambition about my own leadership strengths, weaknesses, impulses, and preferences is a different way of looking at my leadership than just a "project" approach to my job.
I am still learning how to turn the lens on myself in a impactful way and, will keep doing it no matter how uncomfortable or unnatural for me. I am also learning and getting confirmation about my leadership that involves listening to my inner voice to tell me what to do when seeking guidance and direction. I know this is a POWERFUL tool for leadership: for self-care, to affirm my strengths and also to recognize, with awareness and generosity and hope, the areas where I need to grow. I think one leadership lesson I gained in the last year is my choice to slow down and tend to yourself a bit during times of terrible grief and illness. These are not desirable experiences, but I felt wise in the way that I applied this insight: "The lesson being that in life you control what you can," which includes tending to yourself so that you can sustain yourself for the long haul. I took time to care of myself; as I know many of my peers in leadership roles are not wise and strong enough to do that. I have lost many of them over the years as a result.