The heaviest lifting of the Bush Fellowship is invisible.
I don’t know that I fully grasped the magnitude of the internal work of the leadership fellowship when I first applied. What’s most obvious to an outside audience is the external work: travel, classes, conferences, trainings, etc. But as huge as is the impact of this supercharged “professional development,” what is so far beyond is the deep internal work that transforms individuals and transforms leadership: the guided introspection, the processing, the writing, the discussions, the deep digging into and ultimately re-visioning of one’s self and one’s work.
All this reflection has left me with a much clearer sense of how I have done what I have been doing up until now. I am much more aware of how I got here, how my approach is particular to me, and how it results from my strengths, my fears, my background, and my values. This deep inventory enables me to trust my own leadership and much more clearly understand my potential.
It’s also helped me figure out where I can have greatest impact. When I got the fellowship, I left both my career and the nonprofit of which I had been president for a decade. I had a clear sense of my desired impact on the community, and decided to use the fellowship to figure out where I could best do that work. Having been involved in community work and advocacy from many different angles, I now understand that that place (at least for this moment, for this community, for this work) is within the system, working to change it from the inside.
While I have a much greater certainty with my leadership itself, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I have mastered self-care. It’s particularly hard to be good at self-care in a Midwestern culture that values work. It can also be particularly challenging in the context of social justice work, when the task seems so urgent and any break from that effort can feel like a privilege. But I certainly have come to accept that it is *because* that work ahead is so hard, and it is *because* that work is so important, that one has to be in top form to do it. That’s progress. And it’s a critical lesson to take into these next, more challenging stages of my leadership.
One of the more powerful lessons in self-care actually came from the Emotional Quotient Inventory I took through my leadership coach. While designed to assess areas such as self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal, decision making, and stress management, it also pulled my responses from those questions into a separate scoring of my overall well-being. And it found this illuminating discovery: I am happy. Very, very happy.
Seeing this specific “diagnosis” in print offered me a new perspective. First, I came to realize the uniqueness of this state of being. But second, I came to recognize that this happiness was not necessarily a result of all the goodness in my life but was in part a *cause* of it. Simply, happiness is my power. With this awareness, I can now see more clearly the role that this joy has played in getting me to where I am, in enabling me to accomplish the work I have.
And if happiness is my power, I need to take care of it.