Through the Fellowship to date, I have learned to be more intentional about what it means to be an authentic leader. As a millennial, woman of color, child of refugees, and mother of young children, I do not fit the typical shoes of what people might imagine as a leader. I have struggled with imposter syndrome my entire life, fearful that the vision I have to offer is not one others will value or that I will not fit the role that others might expect of me. As I embrace my role as a leader, I have come to understand that honoring my voice is the most powerful tool I have. Allowing myself to speak my truths, make mistakes, learn and grow is what allows for creativity, innovation, and paving new paths.
I have also come to understand that not everyone will see or understand my vision and I don’t have to be someone for everyone. Instead, being an authentic leader is about having the courage to be myself and proceed in my journey connected with myself as much as I work to connect with my community. Being an authentic leader is more than what I am able to produce or achieve, but how I show up that encourages my community to embrace their own narratives and truths. This past year has allowed me to let go of expectations of who I “should be” to fully step into the shoes of who I am.
Focusing on my own leadership has changed the way I lead in my work by being more clear about my values. By having clarity of my purpose and being intentional about my actions, I have been able to invest more time and energy in areas that make the most impact instead of trying to convince and persuade others to gain external validation and approval. I have been able to take action from a place of play and exploration that has removed pressures to produce and in turn offered unique insights and creative solutions. In addition, by being anchored in my values I have been able to focus more on the long game versus the short term. I have been encouraged by recognizing small changes as significant progress versus becoming consumed or overwhelmed by problems yet resolved. While I often feel an urgency to solve social justice issues and make systemic changes, it helps me to view the journey like driving a vehicle: Changing route can still happen with small, subtle actions whereas quick and overcorrective actions can completely derail one’s trajectory. As long as I stay grounded in my values in the daily actions I take, I know I will continue moving forward in significant ways regardless of the results or where we may be at in the journey today.
In sustaining my ability to lead, prioritizing self-care has been crucial. It is easy to become disgruntled and burnt out when working to heal collective traumas. I have been practicing acceptance of current circumstances that are not always comfortable, but outside of my control. Instead, I have been consciously choosing where I spend my energy to sustain the work that I do and to make the most impact. I have also been intentional about the people I surround myself with and those who I can lean on for support in order to sustain my leadership. In addition, I have been practicing letting go of the pressure to produce, spending quality time with family, and working on my mental health during this particularly challenging season in my life.
As I reflect on my self-care and being human through a global pandemic, I am conscious of how my individual experiences may be reflective of the current needs of my community including being retriggered by trauma, having limited resources and support, and uncertainty about the future. I am aware of how self-care is often a privilege that is harder to practice when in survival mode. Through these unprecedented times, I have been making small, intentional efforts to cope with current stressors and reflecting on factors that contribute to resilience and healing. I have found it particularly significant to regularly engage in hobbies that I enjoy. As simple as that concept may be, I have often found myself worrying about “wasting time” when there are so many other responsibilities often needing my attention. What I have come to understand is that these activities are in fact necessary to maintain one’s health and wellness in the long term. These activities are more than just “time fillers”, they help to recharge and regulate the autonomic nervous system that is significant in countering chronic stress. This has many implications when exploring today’s culture of productivity and reconsidering mental health treatment in terms of prevention and beyond crisis intervention. I am reminded of how Hmong culture has always embedded arts and crafts into daily living and the significance of revitalizing these activities for the wellbeing of the community.