I have been surprised by how difficult it is to remain in a developmental mindset. Often, my default is to look at new experiences in a transactional way. I want to know what I'll learn or what the benefit will be before I proceed. This journey has given me numerous reasons to distrust that mindset. It's a convenient mirage to believe that my time and attention can only be focused on activities with a clear benefit. Everything around me tells me that time is money, that I shouldn't waste my effort on random pursuits, specialize to have an impact, and so on. All are logical and seem helpful. But, to my surprise, those things aren't even close to what I need to find inspiration, build resilience, and find the confidence to pursue a different path.
The first half of my fellowship has been about completing coursework in a Ph.D. program while working fulltime and being present as a father and husband. The past six months have been filled with some fantastic new experiences as I began to transition some of my fellowship efforts from spending time completing coursework to other opportunities. Taking a course is a linear path. The semester starts, there is a syllabus, there are readings, papers are written, and then it is on to the next semester. The things to learn are well organized and specified. I'm not against this approach. It's been essential for me on my journey to learn through this coursework, but it wasn't surprising. Instead, the surprising things have been those non-linear activities and those times that I was able to explore without wondering where that exploration should lead.
One example of this type of exploration was a trip that I took in June to Australia. This trip was a chance for me to take a step back from my daily routine, engage with new people and new ideas, and spend time getting inspired. Part of my trip involved learning from a community development veteran, Jim, who works with communities in rural Austalia. I resisted the urge to schedule every minute of my time with Jim. Instead, I left it to him to share the work he found interesting. A standout from this part of the trip was a 9-hour road trip with Jim into the Australian outback to meet with rural community leaders. The trip was an incredible chance to change my perspective on the things I work on here in Minnesota. The experiences and unexpected conversations on that trip were invaluable but wouldn't have been possible had a been more rigid the items I "wanted to achieve" from my trip.
The second part of this trip involved spending a few days at the University of Sunshine Coast Center for Human Factors and Sociotechnical Systems. This aspect of the trip stood out for several reasons. First, I was inspired by the work they're doing at that center and the collaborative team atmosphere they have created. Second, it was exciting to spend time with a group of people that see the same opportunities to apply human factors approaches to challenging issues. Third, I'm often asked what my fellowship is "about," what this field of human factors is about, and what might a person do with all of this. At this center, I was with a group of people that already know the answers to those questions. It was amazing to see something in focus that's only been a fuzzy image to me. This experience was another example of taking the non-linear path. I connected with this center via a cold call. I planned to visit the center and see what I could learn. At times before I arrived, I was anxious about whether it would all be worth it. I wondered whether I was worthy, whether I would be an intrusion, and whether I would have nothing to share. Thankfully, none of those things were grounded in reality. Those thoughts are all the residue of thinking about a developmental process transactionally.
As I consider the next year of my fellowship, I'm excited to explore more new experiences. I know that I'll be bringing a new openness to learning in every interaction big and small. I am also enthusiastic to spend more time organizing and communicating the things I've been learning. A significant milestone for me will be making progress on my dissertation.
I continue to ask myself what does all of this have to do with my leadership development? These experiences, learning new things, taking classes, all have to add up to something, don't they? Do I need to take a new role when this is all done? Do I need to publish a book, provide a new curriculum, start a business, or make something unique and amazing happen? And will I ever be able to produce enough outcomes and impacts to be worthy as a leader? And again, I'm back to that transactional mindset. It's hard to believe that it's enough allowing myself to grow without knowing what the result will be.