I cannot believe that I am three-quarters of the way through my fellowship! It seems like just yesterday I was getting ready to depart on an adventure of a lifetime. Scared. Excited. Nervous. Ready - or so I thought. Something special I’ve noticed this past year and a half is that as I went along my way I started to view everything with a different lens. I’m not sure when this happened but it began early on. I started to view everything with a learning lens, I was constantly curious, constantly seeking to be enlightened, constantly pushing myself to grow. I’ve been thinking to myself, what does it mean to walk around with this lens throughout my life? What does it mean for my life to be on a constant leadership and learning journey?
The biggest change in my understanding of my leadership has been my commitment to leadership and a lifetime dedication to my own personal growth. The two go hand in hand. I’ve learned that leadership is just as much a commitment to yourself as it is to your community. This year and a half has helped me see that the better I know myself, the better leader I will be. I’ve learned that the biggest roadblock to my dreams for myself and my community usually have less to do with external factors and much more to do with my internal self. I have countless examples of this. I didn’t take a leadership position because I feared too much about what others would think of me. I was frozen from taking larger action because I was too worried about a very specific problem. I wasn’t firm with others because I wanted to be liked. I didn’t speak up in group meetings because I didn’t think my voice mattered. These are just a few examples. This past year and a half has given me time to reflect and see how much I hold myself back. But it’s also given me opportunities to learn how to overcome some of these internal challenges.
One of the biggest changes for me has been my ability to recognize these internal roadblocks when they arise and help myself to overcome them. In the past, I would feel each moment - nervousness, anxiety, fear - whatever it may be, and then I wouldn’t be sure what to do with these feelings. Sometimes I would shrink and run away, sometimes I would ignore it, sometimes I would try to approach it head on without much mental preparation. Now, I’ve learned to put myself into a different mental framework. I remind myself that I’m on a learning journey and that the instance is a chance to improve myself, to enhance my leadership, to grow. Once I’ve engaged myself into this framework, my stress, anxiousiousness, nervousness, etc, don’t go away, but they actually feel manageable, it feels maybe even a little exciting pursue, and it feels worth taking the (perceived) risk. It’s an interesting practice actually. I’m not quite sure why it works for me, but it mostly has. Maybe it’s just the reminder to myself that every opportunity is an opportunity for growth, that I don’t need to be perfect, that it’s okay to fail, and that by practicing this I will become better in the future. Committing myself to this lifelong learning journey has allowed me to put myself into this framework.
Lastly, yes I do believe self-care is critical to my health and my leadership. As an organizer, I’ve seen how the lack of self-care has lead to the burnout some of our greatest community leaders. I’ve also seen it in myself when all I wanted to do was give up. The truth is, in the past I had a false idea of what self-care was. The impression I received, as a young organizer, was that self-care is essentially taking short-stints of time away from work to relax and recharge, which was supposed to then give me the energy to return back to the daily grind. Bubble baths, short vacations, nice meals, shopping, relaxing on the beach - “treat yourself” type activities - were what I understood self-care to be. While I do believe these activities are important and play a role in self-care, I think that self-care is about so much more than this. It’s deeper. It’s more expansive. It’s more liberatory. To me, self-care is more about the long-term, the joyful and trying, personal investment in your own self. It’s the constant will to improve yourself - a healthier body, a wiser mind, a freer spirit. In practice, this means reflecting, journaling, eating healthy, exercising, meditating, seeing a therapist, engaging in difficult yet fruitful conversations, learning from people who are different than us, mending old wounds, healing our trauma, discovering our roots, uncovering our fears, finding joy, building a community, understanding the world - all of this and more. It’s not, one-and done, it’s not short term, it’s not recharge and get back to “normal” life. Self-care is a lifetime journey. Making a commitment to self-care is about making a lifetime commitment to yourself. Maybe that’s why we (myself included) are so bad at it. In a world full of instant gratification, we want the quick and easy path towards healing and growth. But I don’t know if that actually exists. Self-care is hard, it takes time, it takes courage, it takes dedication. The results that can come from it though are truly liberating.
The Bush Fellowship is an investment in yourself. In a way, you could say this entire fellowship is about self-care. It’s allowed me to uncover barriers in myself I never would have imagined, it’s helped me practice ways to improve my leadership, but most importantly, I think, is that it has pushed me to commit myself to this lifetime journey of self-care, of growth, of personal liberation, knowing that the more I care for myself, the more impact I can have in my community. A year and a half later, I’m still very much a work in progress. I still worry a lot. I still get stuck in my head. The nerves and anxiety still get to me. I don’t know if this will ever go away, or if it even should. But I do feel a bit freer, I feel a bit more mindful, and I definitely feel more committed to my vision for my community. I’m excited to see how else I will grow in the next two years, the next five, ten, thirty years, and beyond.