There is a sense of shock and sadness that I feel now that my Bush Fellowship is coming to an end. It seems in many ways it is just starting, or rather I am feeling more comfortable in a mindset of journey and exploration. I remember vividly when I first learned that I was selected as a Bush Fellow, not wanting to even look at the content of the announcement email, nervous and apprehensive. I remember feeling a sense of immense relief, then incredible gratitude and a sense of excitement replaced relief as I contemplated a new journey.
To be honest, part of my sense of relief was in part because of going through the Bush Fellowship application process several times. I made it to the finalist stage with interviews three previous times, yet I was determined that I would keep applying because I believed that this fellowship was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Patience? Perseverance? Or simply embracing the possibility that a journey also means letting go? I had spent the better part of 30 years in a leadership role as part of two separate arts organizations in two rural communities in Minnesota. The lines between leadership in an organization and community leadership overlapped and sometimes were blurred. I would often put the needs of an organization or community before my own self-care. It was not until a colleague from Ohio in an executive leadership forum retreat reframed the question for me, so that I looked at the Bush Fellowship opportunity through a different lens. My colleague, now friend, offered two valuable insights. One was that self-care is a key component to any leadership journey, and to embrace it as a critical component of moving forward. The second insight was to stop viewing my “perceived leadership impact” through the lens of one organization or a single community, but rather from outside of these constraints or lenses. A community can mean so much more than a location.
This simple shift in thinking put me in a completely different mindset on the entire application process, and how going through the process helped with this journey. I am so grateful to the Bush Foundation for the opportunity, but especially grateful for the thoughtful and reflective prompts by Anita Patel in the interview portion of the application process as well as ongoing support throughout the fellowship. The questions, “Why is now the right time?” and “How will this impact your life and change your trajectory?” now had new meaning to me and helped me focus more clearly on my goals and objectives while helping to frame this opportunity as a learning journey.
After reflecting on what I wrote about in my first learning log, this transition from leaving a long-held leadership position as an executive director was in fact a harder transition than what I had thought. Leadership coaching really helped with this transition and helped frame new questions in order for me to break old habits and patterns and be open to new ways of learning, exploring and listening. I continue to have a comfort level with a low key, behind the scenes leadership style, but have learned the importance of embracing multiple approaches to leadership as opposed to just one.
Those who know me best also know I love fishing and will search for a good fishing metaphor when I am able to. For me fishing isn’t about fishing. It’s about carving out intentional time for reflection, meditation, renewing friendship bonds, conversation, enjoying the natural world and valuing self-care. I reflect on this not so much as to talk about my love for fishing, but rather to stress the importance and genuine value of self-care. It is one thing to write about its importance, quite another to hold self-care as a value and as a critical component in developing and strengthening physical, emotional and spiritual resources in support of leadership. In terms of patterns, it seems like it can be incredibly difficult to break patterns that we have established for ourselves, especially if those old patterns have led to past success, or perceived success. Learning new ways of thinking or new ways to lead, and objectively looking at old patterns has been instrumental in not only leaving room for serendipity and being flexible, but also in reimagining the entire notion of “thinking differently and thinking bigger”.
The question of what stands out about this opportunity/journey is harder to answer because so much has impacted me and stands out. Back in April of 2018 at the Bush Foundation orientation gathering, one phrase kept resonating with me. Leave room for serendipity. Leave room for serendipity. It turns out this also meant leave room for being flexible, adaptable, open to change and also…leave room for serendipity. I did not realize how important or impactful leaving space for serendipity would be. It wasn’t just about being open to one new idea or experience, it’s about being open to, and leaving room for new ways of viewing leadership as well. Leaving room and space for being adaptable and flexible has been an asset when dealing with the challenges of a pandemic while navigating health issues.
One of the surprises or me was just how quickly time has gone by, and how important the coaching aspect has been for this Fellowship. A realization is just how much my future plans have been impacted by the COVID pandemic. Many of my long-term goals and end outcomes of my fellowship suddenly are no longer achievable in the same way. However, I feel both fortunate and privileged to be in a position to reimagine how my goals and dreams can be achieved differently, and even bigger than I may have imagined thanks to this once in a lifetime opportunity. That said, I wish I would have placed some of my goals I had at the end of my fellowship closer to the beginning.
What also stands out is how significant and impactful it has been for me to read the learning logs and monthly reflections of Bush Fellows, especially after the murder of George Floyd. Having the opportunity to reading and reflect upon other people’s journeys, struggles, questions, fears, accomplishments and courage has been life changing and life affirming. I want to thank the 2018 Bush Fellows class for their sharing and leadership, as when moments of self-doubt crept in for me, re-reading learning logs has been both humbling and inspiring. I will continue to process and reflect with gratitude.
There are so many new people I have met and have had the opportunity to get to know even better because of the Bush Fellowship, as well as places, cultures and communities I have had the chance to learn more about. Gratitude seems like an incomplete word. A few highlights that also stand out include: Having the opportunity to work with the leadership of Art of the Rural in Minnesota and Kentucky, working with Chuck Fluharty, President Emeritus of the Rural Policy Research Institute; presenting for the Smithsonian Institution Museum on Mainstreet Program; working with the Rural Generation Summit team in 2019 and facilitating sessions within the Summit held in Mississippi. In addition, having the opportunity to meet with visionaries and leaders like Carlton Turner, Executive Director of Sipp Culture and Lori Pourier, President of First Peoples Fund. Having the opportunity to present my first scholarly paper on my work in rural arts and economic development at the University of Florence in Italy, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Italy in February of 2020. These are a few of the people, places and experiences that continue to both impact and inspire me as a result of the Bush Fellowship.
Thank you, Bush Foundation, for this incredible, transformational and continuing opportunity.