Six months into my Fellowship I still feel like I am wearing the shoes of a new Fellow, and adjusting to this major life transition. To be honest, it still does not quite seem real just yet, and the biggest part of preparing to be a Fellow was leaving my job of 18 years. When the guidelines of the Bush Fellowship said this could be a transformative and life-changing experience, that is exactly what has been happening. Even before the Fellowship started, life began to change.
First of all, I left my position as Executive Director of Lanesboro Arts officially on July 1. Since my notification as a Fellowship recipient in March of 2018, the organization had a little over 100 days to implement a transition strategy. Fortunately, we had been planning for a new distributed leadership model specifically for a rural organization for over a year, so the timing of my Fellowship news fit very nicely with the nuances and complexities our staff and board had been working through to undertake this significant transition. I am still adjusting to this exciting yet huge life change, especially when it comes living in a small community of 754. I still live just two blocks away from the Lanesboro Arts gallery and office building.
I do feel as though what seemed to be a relatively small piece of advice that I received during in the Fellowship orientation process has been critical in my learning journey. That advice? Leave room for serendipity. A very broad statement, but it has left me space to be flexible as my Fellowship is evolving and changing. It is also not just leaving room for serendipity, but anticipating opportunities that may arise that you might never have imagined possible. Having a self-designed Fellowship that has very clear and goals and outcomes has been a wonderful roadmap, but having the flexibility to go “off road” and explore beyond what I thought was initially possible is exciting, as well as daunting.
I have read through many past learning logs from Bush Fellows, both before and after receiving a Fellowship. One lesson of reading so many reflections is the importance and impact of continual learning, both through formal study and experientially. I feel very fortunate to have found a leadership coach who challenges me to grow and push my learning boundaries. I have joked at times that I feel like I am back in Art College receiving a critique of my artwork--except for the fact that it is not my artwork but rather my leadership, goals, philosophy and process of moving forward that are being examined. In this process, adaptation and serendipity are the key words that seem to be coming up more and more for me. I had in my head a certain path that I thought my Fellowship would follow, and the very detailed steps and goals for that path were (maybe too) clear. However, as I continue to meet with my leadership coach to achieve balance and self care, truly and honestly practicing self care has led me to rethink the rigidity of my original Fellowship plan in order to leave/create more room for serendipity. The idea of serendipity was a quiet whisper in advance of this journey, but now I am embracing it.
Even before my Fellowship started, I began practicing what it might be like to have the framework of a Fellowship in place. My mindset in my last three months of working at Lanesboro Arts was trying to finish all of the “details”, as well as trying to mentor staff. I was so busy trying to get all of the details, forms, procedures, organizational history, etc. down on paper and put into policies that I almost forgot the forest out there among the trees. A funding opportunity that I had been cultivating for almost two years but seemed impossible, suddenly seemed within reach. During my very last day at Lanesboro Arts I worked with my staff to put together a simple packet that spoke of a big vision for a small town with a huge impact. Does a last day of work really matter, I thought to myself? Is the idea of thinking bigger and thinking differently and then acting on that thinking, with the best strategy and intuition that one has, really matter on a last day of work? Could the cobblestones laid down on a last day of work really lead to an incredible pathway? The answer is, Yes. Last week I learned that Lanesboro Arts received the largest contribution in its history: $500,000.
Part of what I am learning from this is that a last day of a journey matters as much as the first and all of the days in between. Six months into a learning journey I am also realizing that it is important to savor every day, and to continue to both think and experience life bigger and differently.