As this part of my Bush Fellowship journey comes to a close, I re-read all of my monthly reflections, and my learning logs from the past two years. And there are themes that stand out that would have been wonderful to know ahead of time, but I am unsure if that would have made a difference. Would I have listened? Would I have been able to process words without experience? I am reminded of the Christian parable of the rich man who went to hell and who asked God to inform his loved ones about his fate and how God said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”
One ongoing theme throughout my journey has been living in discomfort – stepping away from the comfortable routine of my life and diving into deep change. It has been an opportunity to live in the groan zone, a land of freedom and fear. A land without the comfortable landmarks of career and salary; positional authority, or an organization to be a part of. A land without health care benefits or cozy relationships with fellow workers I have known for years. A land of new trade routes and discovery. And yet a land where my past still determined my present – assets from “life before Bush,” figured prominently in this leadership path facilitated by Bush. I learned how comforting and limiting my life had been. I learned that even necessary change is filled with grief for what is lost, especially when horizons are cloudy.
I could have more thoughtfully considered the internal experience to look within myself and wonder; to reflect on my life and leadership. What does leadership mean? How can I be honest in naming the shadow-side of my leadership and think about its costs? When should leading mean following? Was my original change-the-world plan important at all? Of course, it gave ahead-of-time thought to concrete directions, but in the broader scheme, how could I create a plan for a journey and not a destination? What does stretch mean – when is stretching preparing me for the race and when is it pulling a muscle. Do I know what taking care of myself means? What do vulnerability, courage, gratefulness and leadership have in common? Ask more questions. Get a coach. Write.
I did not realize how important it would be to follow a forgotten dream. Take a different path. Hunt for serendipity. For me, I jumped into creative writing – a passion I had when I was a little girl. It became one of the most cherished aspects of this journey. It helps me think differently. Perhaps like dreaming in a different language might be – a new perspective to look at the world, to further realize who I am, and ultimately to help me to continue creating me, anew. It provides peace and exhilaration. Serendipity also comes in the form of unexpected and amazing outcomes to ponder. Following is an example that I often cite as one of the best outcomes from my Fellowship. A young boy, the great-grandson of people I was close to in my youth, is dying from cancer. At ten years old, he had a bucket list and on his list was a visit to NASA. In one of the Harvard Executive Educational experiences I had, I met a man who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Long and short of this story is that the personal connection I made in the amazing class I attended facilitated this young boy’s and his family’s trip to Goddard. His mother wrote to me: “Thank you so very much for the NASA tour! It was literally the favorite thing he's ever done. They were beyond fantastic! Words cannot express how grateful we are. You've made a huge impact on us, something we will never, ever forget.”
And that brings me to networks - although I knew my networks would be expanding and they have, I should have paid even more attention than I did to really reflecting on what that means and how it can and will help me as I move to doing bigger things.
Finally, an important thing to realize is that the real world is just around the corner – tick-tock; tick-tock. Two years comes to an end, and with it, the permission to live in a fantasy land. Re-entry seems difficult. The patterns I boldly stepped out of are all different now, and there isn’t a road map to figure out what that means. I am definitely changed by the experience, but I likely don’t yet fully know how, and I likely don’t yet know what that means for my return to reality. I plan on trying to take the time I need to continue this amazing learning; to continue to practice reflection and gratefulness, and to write. Thinking bigger and differently doesn’t strike me like a lightning bolt, but comes to me slowly.