It’s hard to believe that the anniversary of my first year of my Bush Fellowship is already here! It has been a year filled with energy, networking, and learning. It has been exhilarating and exhausting and I still can hardly believe my good fortune.
The Bush Foundation Fellowship has provided me with an interesting status during this transition time in my community. I'm continually surprised by how often people, many times strangers, ask me what I'm doing and how the Fellowship is going. There has been a certain intrigue about my going back to school at this point in my life. Some, particularly middle-aged and older women, have told me that I am a role model and how proud they are of me! I had not expected this and it has raised the bar for me a bit as I don't want to disappoint!
I have honestly loved the learning environment at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs - it's been such a gift and my gratitude is immense. Initially I worried about being the oldest person in my classes (which I wasn’t always!) or how the younger students might respond. With the exception of some initial hesitation, things could not have gone much better. The young people in my class offered me an opportunity to understand the future leaders of our state, our nation and maybe even our world: The naiveté, the brilliance, the hope, the eagerness and an overall desire to make the world a better place. I could offer them some perspective and an occasional reality check about how the political and policy making systems work – but mostly we learned and worked together side-by-side and in groups. The diverse and international population of graduate school also enriched and broadened my perspectives on issues such as energy, historical trauma and contemporary racism, environmental justice, non-profit and community engagement on a world-wide scale.
I've learned a great deal about my own gifts and limits, my fortitude and fears. I know that learning more about myself will help me be a better leader for my community. I have discovered that others sense and/or attribute leadership qualities to me, even when I am not intending to exert them and this has given me pause. It means even offhand comments or social media posts continue to be given more weight in the public than sometimes intended. As someone who has a perspective to share and is not particularly afraid of change or trying new things, this can be problematic. I don't want to become "too cautious" as this can block creativity and innovation - so I'm working to hit the right note. It also means I can continue to lead in my community even without a title, which is somewhat contrary to what past retired elected officials had intimated. I need to find small and growing ways to lead during my transition time and have done so with careful choices about my involvement (Rochester LWV President, More Women On The Move, Rochester Children’s Museum expansion, the Rochester Energy Commission, and the University of Minnesota-Rochester Steering Committee.)
As much as I have loved my Master’s Program, I have to say that the Harvard "Women and Power" Executive Education program was absolutely a highlight of this year for me. It was not the content of the coursework (which was wonderful) or the teachers and speakers (also wonderful), but rather the environment that developed with 59 women from around the world. The opportunity to learn,grow and network with that group was something special. There is not enough time or space to share all I learned or the special qualities of those 58 special women, but catch me for a cup of coffee and I’m happy to talk your ear off! I think we were all sad to see the week end and talked about ways to gather together in the future - although how we will make that happen when we were from every corner of the globe, I don't know. It really was a magical week.
I feel as though I'm still in middle of learning about myself, despite years of leadership and I’m so excited about the second year of my Fellowship! Much of my learning to date has been academic and this next year will focus on searching for ways to put new skills to work. I intend to try to do more review, self-reflection and experimentation in the second year of my Fellowship.