At the start of my Fellowship journey, I had a clear vision for how I would meet my fellowship goals of reconnecting with Hmong healing practices, training in telehealth services, and building business acumen to expand my impact. The first year of my fellowship involved growing my network and committing to community projects that strengthened my leadership skills. Initially, my focus was on making the most out of this unique opportunity I was given by producing tangible outcomes. As my fellowship progressed, I began to question what it really means for me to be a leader. I had fears that I was not living up to the magnitude of established leaders around me and tried to stay afloat in a sea of imposter syndrome.
Then I gave birth to my second child.
Then the pandemic hit.
Then the murder of George Floyed happened.
All plans I had to embark on a glorious leadership journey went out the window. For over a year I was stuck in my home with two babies under two, no childcare or help, no fun community event to show up to, and no extravagant trip to take. I was merely an overwhelmed, young mom, desperate to meet my basic needs without community support during a social revolution. This was far from the Fellowship journey I had imagined and far from what I thought my leadership would amount to.
Then something interesting happened. I was no longer able to keep up with producing tangible outcomes or maintaining a perfectly put together image of what it meant to be a leader. Instead, I was forced to sit with my own suffering as a fallible human being attempting to heal personal and collective trauma like everyone else. And while I didn’t recognize it at the time, not getting to do everything I had planned for my Fellowship year may have been just what I needed to grow. A year of unstructured chaos led me to fully embracing my authentic self and from this place I could see more clearly the gifts I had to offer. From this place I got the opportunity to start from scratch and to let my creativity run wild as the world around me transformed overnight.
What I gained from my Fellowship journey has been profound. I have learned:
1) Leadership is less about the grand gestures and more about the small commitments you make everyday. While I didn’t get the extraordinary experiences I had anticipated for my fellowship year, it was through showing up every single day committed to moving the needle forward that poured open opportunities. I didn’t have to work as hard as I thought I needed to. Instead, letting go of expectations to do more took off the pressure that can often be paralyzing and allowed me to just do. It made creating transformation and expanding my impact easy and fun. I was no longer working myself to the ground from a place of pressure to produce, but full of energy to keep going from excitement to create.
2) Leadership is strengthened by fully embracing who you are. I realized that from the start, I was doing this Fellowship thing wrong. I was holding myself to stereotypical characteristics of leaders. I believed I needed to be more outgoing, extraverted, loud, confident, dominant, productive, and even forceful in my approach. It then dawned on me that I was feeling like an imposter because I was expecting myself to lead like people in positions of power I had seen growing up; People who tended to be older, white, men. Of course, I felt I didn’t measure up. I am a Hmong woman, first born in the U.S., child of refugees, mommy of two young children, millennial, psychologist, and healer. I am quiet, subtle, feminine… traits not typically associated with leadership. In order for me to fully show up and pave a new path, I needed to let go of my expectations to be like the leaders I saw growing up and instead start embracing the leader who was unique to me. Instead of minimizing my role as a young mom because I could not produce results the way I had expected, I started embracing the profound work I was doing: Healing, teaching, raising the next generation. As a stay-at-home mom, I gained perspective of the profound role I played in demonstrating leadership that is nurturing, compassionate, and understanding to cultivate an environment that promotes wellness and optimal health in communities.
3) Leadership is more than producing tangible outcomes, it is about ways in which you build connection and inspire. I realized that it is not always about what you do for others that creates the biggest impact, but what you do for yourself that allows ripple effects for the world around you. As I worked on my own healing throughout my Fellowship journey, I witnessed my relationships shift, my work transform, my community calibrate to the level of consciousness I was unveiling. The seeds that we plant must first be cultivated within us. I no longer saw it as selfish to invest in myself as I was able to do so much more when my cup was overflowing with abundance.
As I grew in my leadership journey, I gained so much perspective on what it means to heal and the possibilities to expand my impact. I learned distinctly that we do not heal alone, we heal in relationships and community. This has inspired me to further envision and pursue collective healing in our communities. In addition, I learned that we already have it within us to heal. At times the concept of mental health and healing seems mystical and foreign. In fact, when we look to culture, history, and traditions, healing practices have always been deeply embedded into our daily lives for thousands of generations. It seems the modern world has disconnected us from daily practices that may allow us to more fully heal and thrive. I have a newfound desire to advocate for the reconstruction of systems to better support the optimal health of our communities. In my quest to reconstruct mental health services for the Hmong, I have gained a greater vision for the need to move towards collective healing in order to heal from historical trauma. I have also expanded my vision to pursue how a shift to collective healing and holistic health may benefit the country and world at large.
As I close up my Fellowship journey, I am so grateful for the opportunity to invest in the development of my leadership and to expand my impact. I am appreciative of the experiences I have had to further develop my vision and purpose. I take to heart my commitment to community and my role as a leader, healer, teacher, and nurturer cultivating communities that thrive.