It is hard to believe that a year has passed, and everyone tells me, I am a different person than I was before the Fellowship. In the beginning, I struggled with understanding what was expected of me as a fellow. What was I supposed to do to build my leadership? Focusing so much on myself seemed so frivolous, there would always be time to do these things, action is what was needed now. And yet, here I sit reflecting with such gratitude that I have to been able to take the time to do this vital work.
Much of my leadership experience was developed through community organizing. Developing networks to get things done and provide resources was the goal. Then, I moved into politics to address public policy and to focus on the real bottlenecks. The development of my leadership was block building, little time was left to reflect and adjust because at any time, the blocks could tumble down.
Now, as I am going through this leadership development experience, I realize that I had many gaps in my skillset. I got things done, mind you, but I was always struggling to figure out if I was working hard or working smart. Of course, you always want to be working smart – I was working hard.
Over the past year, I’ve been addressing these gaps. Getting stronger, smarter, and realizing that with every new connection or idea, I am growing, filling the holes, smoothing the edges that needed them, and focusing on what I can do and where I can be serve. My confidence is boundless, I can has replaced I wish.
I’ve had a few obstacles to get over to free me to be able to work on my leadership; better self-care focused on getting my mind and body into tiptop shape and ready itself to take on the challenges before me. Emptying my mind of the woulda, coulda sabotage cycle where you beat yourself up when you realize you could have done something better, faster, or with more attention to the details to smooth the road.
I’ve also realized that I don’t have to do everything all the time for everyone. Like the movie, Yes Man, I was that Yes Man person but not in the fun, freewheeling way. I always said yes, of course, I could do that for you, you need me! Without a doubt, I can get that done, you need me! Are you kidding, this won’t take me but a minute to do, no problem! What I was doing was not preparing for the next phase of leadership, all I was doing the opposite of what I needed to do which was to mentor someone to take my place.
Growing pains and self-reflection are hard. If things are uncomfortable, we shy away because that is easier. When I was caught in the cycle of unfocused community work, I lost sight of the bigger issues; the ones I had set out to solve. Leaders teach others to be successful. Leaders develop networks to rely on when times get tough and leaders take time to reflect on their successes and losses. It is a cyclical effort, not a flat-line.
I see things now in hindsight that were so visible had I opened my eyes at the time. New lightbulb moments of clarity propel me forward. Networking with innovators, both through the cohort group or conferences, learning to look at things in a new way has become an inspirational journey for me as well.
What’s coming up for me these next few months? Completion of my degree program, travel to three universities to network on ideas about employment and transition issues for students with disabilities and broadening the public discussion on the oppression of people with disabilities in general. Creating new advocacy channels for public policy changes that will remove barriers to self-determination.
I am excited to see what my next six months will look like – I’m not worried about controlling everything because my new toolkit will have tools to help me bring people along with me so I can lead, not follow.