I started this journey in June 2019. Well, actually, I started this journey in June 2018, when I began working on my application for the Fellowship. I looked at questions they had available on the website and started answering them, giving myself plenty of time to let my thoughts simmer and evolve until the application was due in August 2018. I thought about applying in 2017 but ultimately determined I wasn't quite where I thought I needed to be to take full advantage of a Bush Fellowship. I used that year to really pay attention to the world around me and what my community needed from me. In my eyes, there were a ton of people doing fantastic work in my community and I wasn't quite sure how I fit in. Thanks to phenomenal mentoring and supportive nudges from my friends, I was able to really picture who I needed to be so that my community could be what I needed it to be. Does that make sense?
I'm beginning to realize that everyone doubts themselves and their abilities. Everyone. I think that doubt, though, is what helps us grow and become real leaders. After I found out that I was accepted as a 2019 Bush Fellow, I called my mom right away. Her support and belief in me has never wavered, and I wanted to share the joy and news with her first, before anyone else. I bring this up because it's always interesting that others can see things in us that we are unable to focus in on. My mom always knows best and that is becoming more and more apparent every day! I still have days where I doubt that I should have been chosen as a Fellow; I don't think that's all that uncommon in Fellows. There's no cookie cutter definition of a Bush Fellow, and every Fellow moves through their Fellowship in a different way, which is what's beautiful about this opportunity.
My learning thus far has been a whirlwind. I'm learning more about myself, which is most important. We are never taught in school to examine ourselves closely, but that is exactly what the Fellowship has taught me to do. Throughout the application process and then the orientation process at the Retreat, we are asked to really think about ourselves, how we learn, and how we lead. I have always known that I'm a very visual learner and face-to-face meetings/trainings are the most effective ways for me to retain information. I also have always known that I lead by accident. I hardly ever set out to lead something, but sometimes I would just find myself there. I sought out this Fellowship so that I could start leading on purpose because my community needs more of those on purpose leaders. One of my favorite parts of the Fellowship has come with the Leadership Coach. My coach, Pam, has really asked me some introspective questions about myself and my leadership. She has helped me break some things down and really pinpoint areas that need my attention.
Some people are confused about what this Fellowship is and what I'm doing for it. They'll ask, "How's the project going?" I usually laugh and say, "Great." Sometimes, I do try to break it down and explain that it's not actually a project that I'm working on, but I'm working on building the skills and knowledge that I might need to work on a project. I will instead tell them about the wonderful Storytelling Workshop I went to in Boston last month, where I learned compelling ways to create a story that will resonate with audience members of all kinds. They gave me a book of techniques to create beautiful slides. I might also tell them about a leadership certificate program I'm going to apply for because I want to learn all that I can about being a leader, and I do best under structured courses and programs. For some of the nerdy people that inquire about my Fellowship, I'll share that I'm taking some courses on qualitative data analysis so that I can figure out what to do with the multitude of interviews I'm conducting with trans kids in my community.
I also will talk a lot about the steps I've taken to take care of myself. I took time off work, got a gym membership, and allow myself time to read for fun. I noticed that people around me, like people I really look up to because of the tremendous work they're doing, were feeling broken down from their work. I know that's common for people like me and my friends; people who want to help everyone and change the world, we always run, run, run until we need to retreat for months. We might resurface in a year but are too scorned to jump back in, and that's not how I want it to be for me, so I'm figuring out what I need to do to take care of myself. It's a hard concept to accept because so many of us are taught to "tough it out" or that all the hard work will "pay off one day." That might be true, but that shouldn't come at the sacrifice of our health or our relationships. It feels incredible to have the space and ability to figure this out and put myself first.
I'm learning that it's okay to have no clue what I'm doing in this journey. I don't have to have a concrete plan that I follow, step-by-step. It's okay if I fall off the original path that I set out on because I'll find my way back. New opportunities will pop up and I want to take those opportunities when they present themselves. I'm reading "The Handmaid's Tale" for the first time this summer and, although, I dislike Aunt Lydia very much, there is something she said that really grabbed my attention. She's talking about two types of freedom: freedom to and freedom from. In the context of the book, it's a wild perspective, but in the context of the Bush Fellowship, it's spot on. I now have the freedom to say yes to opportunities that I didn't have the time or resources to commit to before. I have the freedom to take time off of work to go to a day-long workshop about writing. I also have freedom from the constraints that other young leaders might have. I'm free from that traditional mindset of learning, leading, and growing. I have the freedom to do it my own way. I'm free from looking at everything as a barrier, and, instead, everything is now an opportunity to do something new.
I have also learned that I deserve this Fellowship. I think for many in my cohort, we felt some imposter syndrome. I know that when I was sitting in St. Paul at our Fellow Retreat, I felt small. Everyone around me was dynamic and had done so much already; it was hard to believe that I was in that room with them. Now, though, after my first six months of the Fellowship and taking the time to get to know myself and how others see me, I know I am exactly where I need to be. I'm learning exactly what I need to be learning and connecting with exactly who I need to be connecting with. When I did the in-person interview for the Fellowship, I spoke a lot about wanting to build my confidence if I were to be selected as a Fellow. I didn't quite know how I would do that, but I've already noticed a change in my level of confidence. I still have a long way to go, but I think the biggest confidence boost I received was that email telling me I was one of the 24 people selected as a 2019 Bush Fellow. It all went up from there, and I can't wait to see how much farther it will go.