Being a Fellow is first and foremost an amazing experience in learning about who you are becoming. The journey is rich with opportunities to discover yourself and grow into the leader that is needed to make a difference in our community. Thus far I can say I am a better and more dynamic person than I was when I completed my initial application over a year ago. However to be honest the journey to get to this point has not been a light load to say the least.
Starting with the application and interview process to the announcement, I went deep to learn about me and who I wanted to become. I thought a lot about the skills I wanted to obtain, and the people I wanted to meet, and it broke me down to the core of who I was. That process alone is brutal yet rich, and to learn what makes you unique and similar to your peers is amazing and yet humbling because you also learn about what flaws or imperfections you have. We all know we have them however most of our lives we live in denial of them or try to hide them in order to "look good" or to appear to have it all together. What I learned about those characteristics or flaws is that it is ok and that being aware of them and how it may impact others around you allows you to truly be your authentic self. It also freed me from having to be perfect.
This freedom yet is not free. After the announcement I felt elated, humbled, proud, and anxious to be one of 24 out of 632 people selected for this opportunity. There were numerous congratulatory calls and messages and new opportunities started to spring up because of the recent awareness of me. All of these things were great however I decided quickly that I didn't want this moment to be for not and get caught up in "being" a fellow. I wanted to be the best fellow I could be and to develop into the leader and person I always imagined I could be. But there was much to learn about myself and I began seeking opportunities to find me. I took a radical approach to do so for the next 9 months after becoming a fellow. I went further into researching neuro cognitive development and experimented with salt therapy, float therapy, and neuro supplements such at Magnesium, then deepened meditative and journaling practices. This was my approach to developing the cognitive space and capacity for a breakthrough. From these experiments I learned a lot about what mindfulness can do for me and it increased my emotional intelligence. I have been able to better understand and manipulate my emotional state. I feel less stress and am able to become unstuck when I hit a mental road block which allowed me to solve a difficult challenge I had in my work for over a year and changed the course of my organization's pathway.
I've had some amazing experiences thus far in my fellowship, the first being the fellowship retreat in April. It was amazing to meet and to get to know other leaders that had the similar ambition to become their best selves. It was also reassuring to here from the Foundation staff that this journey wasn't solely to build up your technical skills but also your restorative practices. It was definitely impressed upon me that in the midst of developing and leading that a leader must take care of self to sustain. Also shortly after receiving the fellowship I was selected as a member of the 3rd cohort of the Young American Leaders Program at Harvard. I spent a week among the nations top young talent learning, debating, and creating solutions to make America more competitive. I also was able to convene in Dallas with other great leaders at the Federal Reserve's Community Leaders Forum to take my leadership and network to another level.
One thing I've kept coming back to with all of the development in classes, books, convening, etc was this concept of self care. Becoming and evolving to be the best version of me has been exhausting and isolating. The more I've learned about myself and my role in this world the more I've become more "woke" and aware of world in which we live, however not everyone around me is on that same journey. The simple things in life that I once enjoyed became burdens to my development and relationships. Whether it was being an avid news consumer to a loyal NFL fan, my awareness of what the negativity of our current news environment had on my mental health and my values being compromised as I watched Colin Kaepernick being black balled from the NFL for taking a knee took a toll on me. It also kept me from simple interactions with friends and family. I was becoming more serious and not able to connect on a basic level at times which made me more introverted and quiet in groups. This awareness required me to take time away from it all and re-evaluate how I wanted to have these interactions and/or not allow myself to go into isolation. So I took a retreat for 4 days with a few other leaders to simply restore and recharge and talk through how challenging our situations were and ways to be less heavy and more light in our lives. I have also determined its ok to take time away from the news simply as a mental break from the negativity and have allowed myself the enjoyment (and pain) of watching a Vikings game which has allowed me moments of lightness.
Another avenue I'm exploring in the realm of self care is about my physical health. Having the physical energy to lead at a high level is critical to success. I've allowed myself to focus too much on the work and not balancing my physical health and long term that will not work. So I joined a gym, a nice gym, and also made it apart of my daily routine so that it will be sustainable. I must admit that the first few weeks completely sucked however getting through the soreness and out of shape-ness I had acquired over the past few years made it all worth it. My endurance is much stronger and my personal confidence is higher and my energy more positive and productive because I'm working out and eating better.
My last thoughts thus far in the journey that I'm pondering constantly is the concept that" the most fulfilled and effective people, look at their life's journey as perhaps 25% finding themselves and 75% creating themselves" (Timothy Ferriss, Tribe of Mentors). Much of my first few months has been heavily on finding myself and I realized that I kept hitting a wall. I thought I could go through all of the activities I mentioned above and somehow there would be some breakthrough of who I was and then I'd know where I was going. However I'm in the camp that believes we can create who we want to become and there isn't just one way or one self to become. I will be meditating on where I want to go and what I want to become as a leader and am more motivated now than when I began that application 18 months ago.