It's not hard to put myself in the shoes of a new Fellow, because I still consider myself one! There was such a sense of excitement and anticipation. I looked forward to all of the things that I was planning to accomplish over the course of the next two years and to finally be able to work on something I have felt so passionate about for most of my life. I was going to be meeting with leaders of the disability justice movement, traveling, attending trainings and conferences – lots of fun stuff.
As a new Fellow, I decided that in order to be fully present in this once in a lifetime opportunity, I would leave my job. I want to be able to look back on the 2 years as a Fellow without hesitation knowing that I took full advantage of what opportunities it brought me. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel this was the right decision for me.
So many questions have gone through my mind. I wondered how I would financially be able to handle things. I wondered what my day-to-day schedule would be. I also started wondering what success would look like once I have completed my fellowship.
After getting some peace of mind by creating a budget that confirmed I could indeed quit my job, I started to think about my schedule. Pre-fellowship, my life was in constant motion. It was always go, go, go. Early mornings turned into late nights and what filled in between were kids, work, PTO meetings, board meetings, etc. In regard to work specifically, the experience was always deadlines, reporting structures, and overall dissatisfaction mentally and spiritually. Then it hit me – why would I ever try to impose the same kind of structures on myself as a Fellow???!! So I decided, nope, I won’t. I will not make my fellowship into “work”. Yes, there is a work component to it, however at the end of 2 years, do I really want to look back and see that I did the same thing as a Fellow that I did when I had a regular job?
I see this realization as part of my leadership development. The desire to do work in a different way is something that I’ve thought deeply about since becoming a Fellow. It’s amazing to me how we all have spent years doing 9 – 5, going through the grind, working ourselves to the ground. I definitely do not want my Fellowship experience to be like this. So I made the decision to be intentional in how I set my schedule. I am not going to fill up my calendar with deadlines, appointments, reports, etc. I want to be able to soak in everything that I am planning to accomplish, and I truly believe that I can learn more about myself when I approach everything at a slower pace and from a place where I am more focused and peaceful.
The other thing I have been thinking quite a bit about is how success will look once I am done with my fellowship. How do I know I have reached success? What kinds of measurements do I need to have in place now in order to determine this? I got a little anxious the more I thought about it since I don’t want to fail. I want to be able to show that I created transformational change in not just myself, but my community – but how?? To go back to my point about doing work differently, I also came to the realization that success in this case, also does not have to look like it normally does, or what the average person has been led to believe it should be. I think all the work that every Fellow is doing is important and will make a huge difference in the lives of others. For myself, however, want I am doing as a Fellow involves the community, more specifically, the disability community. I want to co-create with them in a real and authentic way during the next 2 years. I want them to lead the way, not me. Success can be a conversation to be had with community to decide. The work that I am doing only has a chance at success if the community is involved, so I believe they can help me determine what it will look like.
Because a unique journey like this is not linear, I still do have many questions. What if a training or conference comes along that I can’t pass up that wasn’t in my original work plan, what about covid and it’s impact on my plans to travel and meet people, am I doing all I can to be open to ideas and suggestions, welcoming, realistic, and open. It goes on and on. As a new Fellow, it still feels okay to have lots of questions. The amazing thing is that I have so many wonderful people who are coming with me on this journey, including my coach, and they are supporting my work. They help to answer a lot of my questions, or if they can’t, they at least make me feel better about asking them. But I think questions, uncertainty, even doubt, are all normal on a path such as this. It is part of the leadership growth. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds!