Report date
February 2018
Learning Log

And now it all ends…or, I’m suddenly realizing, it’s just beginning. As I look back over the last 20 months of this amazing Fellowship opportunity and sort through what to share, I understand that I can’t really explain my growth and change! I will resort to writing a high-level overview of my plan and simply share the most striking take-aways. This, of course, does not begin to explain all that I did, all that I learned or how I have changed as a person and leader. This will be but a snapshot of a much larger experience that cannot be put into words.

I still remember the absolute thrill I felt when I learned in March of 2016 that I’d been selected as a Bush Fellow. I was excited about my future and what lay ahead. The retreat, my first glimpse of the fortunate “chosen few”, was such a moving experience for me. I recall the wash of “imposter” syndrome that came over me when I heard all the dreams, visions, and goals of the other Fellows. My vision, focused on my community's approaching transformation, seemed flat and impersonal by comparison. Still today, I feel such a sense of awe and inspiration when I think about each one of them and have wished often for more time with the cohort to learn and grow. During the first year especially, but even now, many of us sought additional contact with each other. Our Facebook group and outside organized face-to-face meetings have served as additional inspiration and camaraderie.

Several of the 2016 Bush Fellows met in the Twin Cities for dinner one night, and we commented on the paradox between the awesome gift of the Bush Fellowship and the surprising stress we all felt! How can we be given our heart’s desire and feel overwhelmed in living it out? But, indeed the most wonderful things in life come with their own surprising, unimagined influences - both good and bad. I think about getting married, having children, satisfying “perfect” jobs, and volunteering – they are never without their fair share of stresses. So why were we surprised to have the feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed?

I recall writing (and re-writing, editing and re-editing) the Bush Fellowship application where I set a course for myself that I believed in, desired, and was eager to tackle! For all the excitement and joy of going back to school and finishing a Master’s Degree - a goal long set aside for raising children, supporting a family and falling into a life of public service - came the stress of relearning. I was relearning how to study and write, how to use new technology and terminology, how to work in groups over distance and more. Graduate school stretched and challenged me not only academically, but personally in the areas of openness to new concepts and ideas. My ideas and thinking were challenged, and I had to be more flexible. I felt an unexpected vulnerability in being graded and judged that I hadn’t expected, given my previous life in the fishbowl of being an elected official. The fear of failing not only myself and my family, but the Bush Foundation that had placed its faith in me, was tremendous! But with support and great tolerance on the part of my husband and friends, and the wonderful MPA Cohort and Humphrey staff, I persevered and, dare I say, succeeded! Today I waffle between amazement, pride, excitement and feelings of post-graduation loss. I loved the graduate school environment and will truly miss it.

A highlight of my Fellowship was the Harvard’s Women and Power Executive Education program. It was a great experience, and I would recommend it to future female Bush Fellows. In fact, Harvard offers plenty of other great programs for all genders. At Women and Power, not only did I have an international experience with powerful women from across the globe, but I was gradually able to see myself as a worthy participant. I linked the learning there to my Master’s Degree program, which enabled me to expand my learning into hiring practices related to gender and racial equity - an area particularly enlightening and helpful to me. The Women and Power experience - and others during the past 20 months - broadened my exposure to the many different ways women can be powerful and successful, which has enabled me to address deep-seated insecurities and beliefs in a positive way.

The one year of “bonus” training funds I was allotted (because I was an elected official during the first 6 month of my Fellowship, I believe) was distributed to me in the second year. I talked with Fellows from several cohorts who had already taken advantage of the trainings and after considering their input I (wisely) chose Rockwood Leadership Training. I selected Rockwood because it was less about watching or listening to others or about getting “swag”, but was instead focused on a more personal level, which I hoped would help me address my shortcomings as a leader. The choice was a good one and was one of the most impactful experiences of the Fellowship for me. The experience included a 360-degree evaluation, which was a bit awkward because I didn’t have a non-profit job to draw from as the other participants did, so I threw a wide net and sought feedback from friends and foes across a broad sector of folks I interact with. This approach gave me a unique and wide spectrum of responses, which were difficult to process immediately, but over time have provided much needed reflection. The on-site week at Rockwood received my intense attention and focus. It was definitely outside my “comfort zone”, but I was “all in” and so took full advantage of what it offered. I found myself reaching deep and dealing with some very painful personal experiences that have festered for years, and the experience has helped me deal with some of my insecurities by offering myself the support, forgiveness and assurances I have needed to move on.

Additionally, at Rockwood I had a unique experience of sharing the week with a wonderful, diverse group that included half a dozen individuals from the “re-entry” fields – men and women who committed serious crimes and spent time in prison but who now work in the non-profit world helping others with similar experiences. Because of the nature of the program, it was not uncommon to pouring your heart out to various participants, exchanging private thoughts and/or insights in pairs or in a small group manner depending on the activity or outcome being worked on. The methodologies used not only helped us grow and learn, but also to see each other in non-judgmental, caring ways. Never in my life would I have expected to share pieces of my life with someone who had done “hard time” in San Quentin or Riker’s Island – but I have indeed shared hugs and tears with loving, caring people who were sentenced to life in prison for murder, and I have most definitely grown from the experience.

My fellowship also included some experiential learning through travel. This was a late addition to my plan included after consultation with Bush staff who suggested I stretch my thinking and learning vision. What a wonderful addition it was, too! It not only broadened my knowledge base in the energy and environmental sector, it challenged my leadership at a different level. I was able to connect the contacts I made in Denmark to the Destination Medical Center staff in Rochester - facilitating a successful exchange visit by Danish Government staff in my community this past year. Working with the University of Minnesota's IONE “Climate Smart Municipalities” program, I was able to help build and grow relationships between Muenster, Germany, and Rochester, MN, in the area of energy and sustainable communities. This connection has served to support and maintain local efforts to focus on this area. Because my husband traveled with me on the experiential journeys, it strengthened our relationship at a very stressful juncture. The Fellowship journey was very personal at times and these opportunities to share the experience was very helpful. My husband was an eager participant and we made a wonder team of learners, bouncing ideas off each other. We each picked up different pieces of information and shared our individual gleanings with each other, which strengthened our relationship and my learning!

As I shared in my monthly log, I will be forever grateful for the opportunity Bush Foundation has given me. It is my intent and continued desire to use all I have learned and to give back to my community in as many ways as I can. Currently I am working locally to improve voter engagement in the political process by focusing on issue-based education efforts through my leadership in League of Women Voters. A group of local women, which includes a former Bush Fellow, has been working to develop a new organization (More Women on the Move) to build a stronger base of women leaders. The team of young women we brought together is forging ahead with the fledgling organization we formed in exciting ways. I continue to work with multiple groups toward sustainable living and energy efficiency goals locally and across the state. I have shared information on the variety of methods I found being used nationally and internationally and it has been well received and in-line with the direction Rochester needs to go as a growing city. My love of all things education keeps me busy mentoring youth in a variety of capacities and working to expand the vision and footprint of our local Minnesota Children’s Museum-Rochester. The non-profit board work I am currently involved in is certainly one means of giving back to my community, but there are others that I will be pursuing beginning at the end of February, when my Fellowship Journey is officially over.

Thank you for putting your faith and funds towards my leadership vision for myself and, ultimately, for my wonderful community.