The Bush Fellowship is an incredible opportunity to reflect, learn, and grow. My fellowship began as a major transition in my life tapered and closed, which profoundly impacts the experience I am having today. I will share a few reflections and pieces of advice about my learning journey so far.
1. I can’t plan my way out of it.
As much as I would like to think I can—I just can’t. I love planning and I still choose to do it, but it can only take me so far. Last fall (2014), after co-founding and co-leading Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF) for eleven years, I was transitioning out of my formal role. Since I co-created and implemented our succession plan, many believed that would lessen the blow of departing. This was not my experience. I was definitely at an advantage—I thoughtfully reflected, prepared, and anticipated. I could brace myself in a different way than if this transition would have been a surprise. However at the end of the day, even with all the thinking and preparing and reflecting: change that is planned and thoughtful is still change. And change takes its toll; there is some pain that comes along with change.
2. Create space, “it” has to go somewhere.
Prior to the fellowship, I took a four-month traveling sabbatical. I remember several frustrating moments during that time, where I was staring at a floor full of stuff—and nowhere in my luggage for it to fit. In order to bring something, I was required to create space and prioritize. Thanks to the timing of my transition and the start of the fellowship, I have a lot more space in my figurative suitcase and it is paying off! I am in an expansive space at the moment; in a place personally, mentally, and emotionally where I am able to take on the creativity and challenges that come with these experiences. My learning journey has required the creation and maintenance of more empty spaces, to make room for when opportunities and learnings show up.
3. Accomplishments don’t expire.
Part of creating space is quite literally—creating space! Carving out, and practicing, time for travel, rest, reflection, and doing nothing. Time to do these things are essential components to transition, growth,
strength, and leadership. When I shared that I was taking time, both during my sabbatical and embedded within my fellowship, many people provided feedback around how my skills wouldn’t be relevant or how a gap in my resume would be viewed unfavorably. I have learned that if you built transferrable skills, authentically did cool stuff, contributed with integrity, led in a way that was aligned with your values, and nurtured an honest network—that those fears are unfounded. Hard work does not expire after some time away.
4. Everything takes longer than I thought.
Change, reflection, rest, growth, learning—all of it takes deep care and a lot more time than I thought. I imagine a garden. We can have all the “right” or “appropriate” elements and ingredients in place, but that does not guarantee growth or health of the garden. I have found that as a society, we put many time-oriented pressures on ourselves. While I acknowledge this is important, I also believe we need to take advantage of times and opportunities that allow us to do the opposite. The Bush Fellowship helps me prioritize the expansive spaces and times for wandering. It is helping me build that muscle so I can strengthen this skill, ensuring I am able to continue doing this for the rest of my life.
5. Take the less obvious paths, too.
There was an incredible person I met during the retreat. A learned a lesson I will always carry with me, and I will share paraphrased, mind-blowing conversation/story here:
Me: When you studied entrepreneurship it was an emerging field of sorts. I am attempting something similar… I am focused on shared leadership and succession, which is a bit emerging as well. Do you have any advice, thoughts, or perspectives for me to consider as I begin the fellowship next month?
Person: First, let’s pretend you are pursuing a solution in health care, because you think the customer service sucks. You have had bad experiences. Tell me, what traditional thing would you do?
Me: I would probably seek expertise—becoming an expert in school, or seeing expert opinions.
Person: If you want to learn about health care, yes that’s a good answer. But you think the customer service is the problem, so study experts in customer service. Come here to the hotel, see what you can learn. Going the traditional route may get you 500 ideas, 400 applicable, but most already thought of or used. But if you study customer service, maybe you get 500 ideas, only 100 are applicable, but those 100 may be truly different. So with what you shared about why you’re pursuing shared leadership and succession, go to where it happens best—go to nature, study the sustaining in the seasons or the transfer of power among the animals. Inspiration is all around you.
6. The only thing between me and my desires is a fine line.
I was leading a session on shared leadership and succession planning when one of the participants shared a thought that struck me: “Being scared and excited are the same feeling. Once you realize this, fear has no power over you.” Over days and weeks afterward, I continued to think about this quote. I learned long ago that if something lingers in my brain or heart, I should try to learn why. I decided it was because I agreed—that fear and excitement feel so similar at times, that it ends up being a matter of perspective or attitude. I began exploring other areas where a fine line is all that’s in between me and my desires. The difficult days and years co-leading at STLF gave me a significant gift that strengthens me even today— my experiences there transformed fear to excitement, insecurity to energy, unknown to asset, inexperienced to opportunity, ambiguity to innovation, uncertainty to power.
7. Possibilities exist at your edges.
The Bush Fellowship provides a structured, persistent commitment to remain stretching toward my leadership edges. One major component of learning centers on self-reflection and understanding. A common manner to seek understanding is by comparing. Our brains first perceive, then we associate—meaning, we try to figure out what is similar or dissimilar. It is in the contrast—or at the edge of something—where incredible learning and insight can take place. I consider myself a highly reflective person, so I am a bit surprised at the learnings I am continuing to have about myself, made possible because of the contrast my current life has with the one 12 months ago. I am finding myself learn more and more now that I am in a brand new context. The contrast of my current life with my past experiences is exposing and revealing new learnings.
For example: At work, we often talk about being “entrepreneurs” and I see articles about “entrepreneuring within the corporate context” or other similar topics. This is intriguing to me because I while the community knows me as a social entrepreneur, I never really identified as an entrepreneur. Now, contrasting with my current environment, I definitely can see how I am an entrepreneur!
Definitions are limited and lifted up by the surrounding context. Wander to your edges and see what other possibilities are in store.