As I look back over the past eighteen months, my understanding of my leadership has definitely changed immensely. Even before my Fellowship began—as I considered applying and found myself advancing through the selection process—this understanding was evolving. When I learned about the Bush Fellowship, I saw it as a longshot opportunity to help me achieve an important personal goal: to earn a PhD in my field. I was hesitant to apply because I questioned my leadership—I didn’t see myself as even close to the same league as the leaders in my life who I admired. This process and experience forced me to 1) ask why this was actually a goal of mine and 2) challenge me to see myself as a leader and how achieving this goal would help me become a better one.
The personal reflection that I went through as I applied for the Fellowship and advanced through the selection process expanded my thinking dramatically. The growth I experienced during that time would have made it an incredibly worthwhile experience regardless of whether or not I was selected. Being named a Fellow changed my perception of myself before the Fellowship even began. All of this led to an important shift for me—one that moved me from wanting to earn my PhD for the sake of earning my PhD to seeing this goal as a crucial step I needed to take to impact the influence I wanted to make.
As my Fellowship began, this shift in my perception combined with access to new human and financial resources. Every month, I was reading about the journeys of my fellow Fellows who were introducing me to new ideas and practices and filling me with inspiration. Three-quarters of the way through this experience, I have gained so much that will stay with me and help me grow for the next several decades.
But something else important has happened within during my Fellowship. Surrounded by new resources, ideas, practices, and inspiration, I have at times felt overwhelmed and I am beginning to see the value in slowing down and re-centering myself on the reasons I came here in the first place. For the most part, I think there has been great value in trying to get as much as I can out of these two years, but there have also been times when this way of thinking has been harmful, when it has pulled me in too many different directions. I have needed to remind myself that there was a reason I was chosen for this and it had to do with what I have already achieved and a belief in my potential. I have nothing to prove and my original goals and ideas—while constantly evolving—are valued and worthwhile. The challenge now is to find balance in focusing my efforts on building a strong foundation and expanding out of my comfort zone into new places. It is also important to remind myself that my central goal of earning a PhD is not a simple one. It is both foundational and expansive and there is nothing wrong with maintaining my focus on this work during this experience.
The biggest way that I have seen focusing on my own leadership change the way I lead in my work is in the form of a new level of confidence. As I wrote earlier, my leadership was something that I questioned quite a bit. Leader is not a word that I would have been quick to use to describe myself. This process and experience have made clear to me that I too often underestimated myself. I learned a lot about what the people around me thought about me and this has changed how I think about myself. I have seen this change manifest itself in a few ways. I find myself more willing to take risks and more able to say no when I need to. This confidence has also helped me weather some big changes in my life and pushed me through some challenging work as I have adapted to new situations in the past year. While I still feel the need to grow my confidence in many ways, I can see a big difference when I take a step back and reflect on how I have changed during this experience.
Another important area of growth for me has been in how I view the role of self-care. Honestly, this wasn’t even a term I was familiar with before this Fellowship. I obviously knew that it was important to stay healthy, but I had never really considered it in relation to leadership and my professional goals. One of the most important ideas I took away from an early experience with the Bush Foundation was that it is more important that I approach this opportunity not with a goal of cramming everything I can into these two years, but rather how I can use these two years to develop my leadership in a way that will allow me to keep growing for the rest of my life. This way of thinking has been crucial in how I have approached the Fellowship and it has led to a shift in my perception that I think will improve the work I do for many years to come.