The biggest lesson the fellowship taught me was one I didn’t know how much I needed to learn: self-care.
I now know who I am. I know what I am capable of. And I know that my most important job is to be guardian of that power.
As I sat in a coffee shop three years ago and dreamed, I could not have imagined what direction my life would go through my Bush Fellowship. Especially not this past year. Run for mayor? Lose? Have my program cut, and with it, my employment? While living in the nation’s hotspot in a global pandemic? But even if I could have accepted that these challenges and heartbreaks were in my future, this would have been the biggest surprise of all: I am good.
There is no way I could be this well and this whole through all of that if it were not for the insight I gained from the fellowship.
When I applied for the fellowship, I had held my job for sixteen years, and the nonprofit I founded was in year 10. I was “thinking big,” but that thinking was just the start. At the close of our fellowship launch weekend, I realized it was time to step away from the security of my university career, to take a full dive into my community efforts with the new faith that I would land somewhere, sometime. This fellowship was my chance to push myself far beyond the comfort of the familiar, and I best take full advantage.
So I leapt.
Now, leaving a position might not seem that big a step. But I was not historically a risk taker. My approach was always cautious, and progress on my life path was marked by small, steady steps. The “What Ifs” often stymied any bolder moves.
And I certainly had my steps in order in my fellowship plan. I’d pursue this training, attend these conferences, and read these books. And yes. Self-care. It was a mandatory part of our fellowships, and I knew this was important. I could explain its value to anyone. But what did it actually mean in practice? How do I “do” self-care? I shrugged and got a gym membership.
Eventually, physical activity became a much more regular part of my life, and I am so grateful for that. And yes, taking care of our bodies is critical to our leadership.
But what I came to understand over the course of my fellowship is that self-care is not something you can get a membership for. It’s not something you fit into your schedule. Instead, it’s a way of being.
This realization started when I completed an emotional quotient test as part of my leadership journey. In addition to providing an assessment in various categories, it included a special note at the end: I am unusually happy, especially for a leader. It struck me as a rather odd diagnosis. But then it hit me--that is my superpower. It’s that relentless sense of hope, possibility, and joy that has allowed me to accomplish what I have thus far. And if that’s my power, I’d better guard it and feed it. My job was to do whatever it took to be well and whole.
I realize now that leaving my position at the start of my fellowship to focus on this new opportunity was the most generous care I had given myself. Time to be new, and faith in myself.
So here I am, two and a half years later, having “thought bigger,” taken risks, been hurt, and I am well and whole.
I don’t know right now what’s next for me, and I am fully okay with that. I know that who I am is someone deeply committed to creating a world which all have the ability to shape and the means to do so. I am deeply proud of who I am and what I have done. And I am giving myself the grace now to breathe, to be, and to continue growing. I know I must take a break, and I know I can trust that I will jump back in.
Cultivating those certainties at my core has provided the greatest self care to preserve my leadership.
The Bush Fellowship helped me locate my North Star, gave me the certainty to walk toward it, and the resilience to stumble, heal, and keep going.