When I first embarked on my Bush Fellowship leadership journey I was not sure what to expect, even though I had very clear goals. One of the things that stands out is the finality of leaving a job. Leaving not just a job, but a position of leadership in a small town for nearly 20 years. There has been the very real challenge of living in a small town where my role and leadership was very much defined by where I worked. Even though I worked very hard on a detailed and complex transition plan for leaving my position as Executive Director of Lanesboro Arts, it continues to be an adjustment living two blocks away from my former workplace. Leaving a job is not the same as leaving a community, and I am learning my community can be defined as broadly as rural America.
Before the official start of my Bush Fellowship, I took a trip to northern Minnesota to have a houseboat adventure (as well as do some fishing) on Rainy Lake on the Minnesota Canada border. I stopped first in Duluth, to take in Lake Superior, and also visit the shops near the canal district. At the Kenspeckle Letterpress shop and gallery I picked up a card with an engraving on it with the word “coddiwomple”. The definition of coddiwomple was written on the card, along with an artistic engraving. The purpose of the card and its meaning to me was about permission giving, or at the minimum provided an extra incentive to allow space for serendipity during my Fellowship. Coddiwomple: (v.) To travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination.
I feel as though the uncertainty of what comes next for me after my work as the leader of Lanesboro Arts was made a little clearer with this very simple card and word. To travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination. The goals of my Fellowship journey are filled with meaning and purpose to me and are as follows: Setting aside dedicated time for reflection and research, studying effective rural arts and economic development strategies. Learning more about the correlation between public policy, particularly in regard to economic issues, and rural sustainability. Learning how to apply optimum methodologies for understanding and implementing existing rural policies, creating new ones, and turning those policies into actionable recommendations and resources for Lanesboro and the regional community. To become a more effective advocate for rural equity in my local community as well as the larger state and national communities by developing creative strategies through collaboration with my peers in the field. What truly comes after pursuing the goals of my Fellowship is the unknown destination.
What has been surprising in some ways has been the impact of executive coaching on my leadership trajectory, and embracing the unknown destination. Part of coaching has also been focusing on how to have greater impact on my leadership trajectory, and to be a more thoughtful, impactful leader. Getting feedback in many ways feels like when I was in art college getting a “critique” on my artwork from a professor. Breaking down key components of a piece of art, or a composition to better strengthen future work by the examination and reflection of current work. Instead of a singular piece artwork however, it is my lifepath that is being reflected on with coaching.
Part of setting aside time for reflection to me means the outdoors and fishing. I find fishing very meditative and calming. It clears space for new ideas. Fish often have very predictable patterns depending on the weather, time of year, and type of fish. I found it very surprising to find a connection to my coaching and fishing though. Part of the feedback I have been reflecting on from coaching has been about recognizing patterns in behavior, in part to change negative patterns that may hold me back from achieving goals, and in part to appreciate positive patterns and to help amplify those positive patterns.
I had the opportunity to go fishing this June with one of my mentors, Bill Felker, who writes a column for small rural publications and also writes Poor Wills Almanack. In addition to being a writer, Bill is also a philosopher, naturalist and an encourager of following dreams. Having the opportunity to fish for giant catfish while the moon rises over the James River in Virginia while talking about how to change the narrative about rural America was an incredible experience, a surprise and an incredible learning experience. We also caught some big catfish. He encouraged me to continue to follow my goals and dreams, and to also try to do the impossible things not officially on my list of goals.
That’s OK I believe. A few impossible goals, whether achieved or not, seem to go along with travelling toward an as-yet-unknown destination.