They say the Bush Fellowship is different than all other fellowships because it’s an investment in you as a leader. I think it can feel a bit odd in the world we live in, that a two year fellowship will spend thousands of dollars investing in you as a leader without having very tangible deliverables. This was hard to grasp when I was applying and even after I was accepted. I began crafting my plan and I thought to myself, “okay, so what does an investment in my leadership look like? How would I become a better leader after this fellowship?” The first thing that came to mind was again, the tangibles - trainings I will attend to develop my skills, relationships I will build to expand my network, communities I will visit to deepen my understanding. What I didn’t know was really, how deeply personal this would all be. The skills, networks, and understanding have been important, but what’s been more important has been my continuing personal and spiritual transformation - a better understanding of my internal self, which has shifted how I view my own leadership and helped me refine the type of world I want to live in.
It seems like just yesterday I was struggling to figure out how to best stuff my new travel backpack with all my essentials (I’m now a packing pro, obvi). I headed to San Diego to spend a week with Buddhist monks at Deer Park Monastery. I learned a lot that week, which I wrote about it in my very first blog post. It was kind of a spiritual awakening for me. Beyond the importance of breath, intention, grace, joy, beauty, and everything else, for the first time I understood how to actually listen to myself. And once I began to do that, everything started changing. I think this helped set the tone for my entire fellowship - how I would view and approach things, how I saw/understood myself, and what I valued along the way. My ability to listen to myself - being able to more fully recognize my inner voice, knowing how this voice impacts my actions, and understanding where this all comes from - continues to be a struggle. Who is this voice? It's the voice of insecurity and fear, it tells me I'm not good enough, that I'm not smart enough, that I'm not liked, that I'm doing it all wrong, that I'm somehow less than. These thoughts can get in my head quite frequently. There are times when these thoughts spiral down a rabbithole that can lead to negative behavior. I definitely remember moments where this impacted my mental health in negative ways which at times also impacted the people I was interacting and working with. But it’s important to note that this voice is more than just negative thoughts. It's also a voice that is full of excitement and joy. Understanding it means knowing what makes me happy, what gives me hope, what gives me energy. I can feel myself getting better at this self-recognition and I see how important it has been for me. Before I began my fellowship I didn’t even know this was something I needed to work on. Now it’s something I think about every day.
It's made me think about myself as a leader. I think I’ve always enjoyed the act of leadership - having a vision, working together with others to carry out that vision, supporting and mentoring others, etc. But for some reason, I didn’t like being considered a leader. I was scared. It was that voice again. I was scared that I wasn't good enough and would fail. Scared of conflict. Scared that people would dislike me. Scared of the attention, spotlight, and responsibility. I had to think deeply and critically about these reasons, what they meant, and where they came from. To be honest, a lot of it comes from my childhood and growing up as an Asian American. It comes from my father who constantly hammered into my brain the importance of “success.” It comes from being bullied because of my race and therefore always wanting to be liked by others. It comes from a Chinese culture that told me to keep my head down, to not cause trouble, and to go along to get along. Recognizing this was an important next step for me. I think being able to recognize where my fears and insecurities come from has allowed me to disarm them a bit. I am starting to embrace my leadership. I’m trusting myself more. I’m relearning what it means for me to be a leader, how my leadership can and has changed, and how my actions and mere presence impacts others. I’m beginning to have a more full picture of my role in this movement and where I can make the most impact. And I’m ready to claim it.
Lastly, I have more clarity about my values and the kind of world I want to live in. What does our individual and collective liberation actually look and feel like? I attended a workshop session at a conference led by an organization called Movement Generation and they presented a vision for a world called a “Regenerative Economy.” Economy meaning not just money and capital, but the organization of our homes, communities, and societies. The idea of a Regenerative Economy isn't new, but for some reason at that moment, in that space, presented in that way, everything sort of just clicked for me. There was that voice again. I could feel it in my mind and body. I leaned in as the presenter was speaking. I felt excited, I felt hopeful, I felt energized and ready. Yes, this is it. It’s a world where our resources are regenerated and given back to the earth as opposed to extracted and dumped away. Where our motivations and joys are rooted in our caring for each other and our world as opposed to consumerism and capitalism. It’s a world where our government is based upon a bottom-up, community-led democracy as opposed to top down militarism and criminalism. It’s a world where our work is cooperative for the purpose of our social well-being as opposed to exploited for the purpose of corporate power. A world where we are free – liberated - to be our whole selves without fear. This is still hard for me to articulate because this world currently does not exist. It is in fact, still a dream. But I now feel more focused, refined and determined that this is the type of world I want to live in.
Many former fellows told me about how personal their fellowship transformation was for them. I guess I didn’t really know what they meant at the time. Now one year later, I’m beginning to feel it. For me, the transformation has been about a deeply personal understanding of self. It's been about listening to my mind, my body, my spirit and knowing my inner voice. It's understanding my fears, anxieties, insecurities, and digging in to confronting them. It's understanding my excitement, my joy, my hopes and digging in to embracing them. I'm beginning to see the whole point of this fellowship, which is that the better I know myself, the better leader I will actually be. More confidence to trust myself. More courage to fight for my values. More clarity to see a new world in our horizons.
As I continue to meet people throughout my fellowship, I’m frequently asked one question, “so what is your end product?” In the beginning I often talked about a potential presentation or report I may write. It was me conforming to that typical fellowship structure with some specific deliverable. There was a moment in the middle of my fellowship however where my answer changed. I was asked again. I thought about it for a second, smiled and then responded, “the end product is myself.” Yeah, it all makes sense now.