It's borderline overwhelming to try to think of this experience in its entirety. Earlier this week, the 2021 Bush Fellows were announced and I can clearly remember the day my cohort was announced. It was such a high energy day, with interviews and congratulatory messages from all corners of my life. I remember going to St. Paul for my in-person interview, the last stage before the 2019 cohort was selected. My now wife and I were driving from Sioux Falls to St. Paul and very shortly after we started the trek, a beautiful wambdi (eagle) flew around the car. I knew that was a good sign for the journey ahead. The movie Twister was on TV the night before my interview, which made me shake my head a little; I watched that movie often in middle school and it scared me every time. Tornadoes still terrify me to this day, but for some reason watching that movie was comforting. Interview day was long but fulfilling. I left feeling good and happy and comforted. I had a good feeling throughout the entire selection process. I don't know why but it all just felt like it was meant to be and then I got word that I was selected as a Fellow. From that moment, I allowed myself to really indulge in my vision for the next two years. There's no way I could've guessed where I'd be when the fellowship was complete.
I don't know that I have anything that I wish I would've known. I had heard to expect that my plans would change and to lean into those changes. I don't even know if I would've wanted to know about COVID-19. I think all of these things happened when they did for a reason. I would just tell others to be ready for those same things. Your plans will change, your life will change, and you'll be okay. I remember when my fellowship started - the summer of 2019. I moved to part-time work and spent the months of June and July catching my breath and centering myself, preparing for the next journey in my life. I planned my workshops, trainings, and trips. I laid on my hammock reading and napping on warm days. I went on six trips in 2019. Alternating between work trips and leisure trips, soaking in all of the experiences. I let myself slow down and listen to my body and it was an amazing nine months. Right as my fellowship began, I became a board member of a dynamic non-profit, The Transformation Project, and paired my storytelling skills with my love for photography and published a magazine that highlighted transgender and non-binary South Dakotans. We used data and qualitative interviews to form a narrative that would inform lawmakers and community members about gender identity and gender expression. That whole summer stands out and will forever be a memory I'll cherish. I was able to immediately implement the skills I was learning through the various workshops and trainings I attended.
Out of all the things, I was most surprised at how I much progress I could see myself making as a leader. Looking back, it almost feels like I finally gave myself permission to lean into being a leader because The Bush Foundation thought I could do it. I'm leaving this fellowship as a new CEO of an urban Indian health clinic. There is absolutely no part of me that could've predicted that. Just like most of us could have never predicted a pandemic would halt travel for more than a year. COVID-19 obviously destroyed my fellowship plans. I was preparing to continue my travels and experiential learning and living. Despite that, it really didn't totally prevent my growth. I was forced to focus on myself again and learn how to lead in a different space. I attended virtual classes and webinars and spoke with people from all around the world. Had it not been for COVID-19, I wouldn't have had those opportunities to talk with those people or participate in the programs I did. I read 80 books in 2020 because I had the time finally. Reading was always my comfort when I was younger but hadn't found my way back to it before 2020.
All of my experiences in the last two years culminated perfectly. I was always wondering what would be next. How do I top being a Bush Fellow? What can I do to really take advantage of my growth? Becoming a CEO is probably the best way to answer those questions. I would never have been ready for this opportunity without the Bush Fellowship. I can whole-heartedly, confidently say that. Every single experience since 2019 helped make me who I am and helped prepare me to be someone who could transform the care my relatives are getting. I wouldn't change a thing about how my journey unfolded. It was perfect in all its imperfections and mess. I learned more than I ever thought I would and made friends who will help mentor me through my journey as a CEO. My only regret is that it's over. Two years goes fast, especially during a pandemic.