“What stands out to you or has surprised you about your leadership development through the Fellowship to date,” is a surprisingly tricky question to answer. There are a number of things that have surprised me - information that I didn’t expect, people who knocked me over with their stories and insights, dead-ends that I didn’t expect. But those are all external surprises that exist in the world around me, which I uncover like a forgotten treasure. Naming surprises about my own leadership journey feels incredibly personal; wrapped up deep inside me away from the glaring public light. So, I’ll start with the less-vulnerable “standouts” and work my way deeper to the “surprises.”
I’ve been keeping a log of the big ideas I’ve learned throughout this journey. Usually, I’ll write a sentence or two summarizing a concept that really struck me or a quote someone told me. There are a couple that I wrote early on in the Fellowship that make me pause every time I read them. The first one is that the human spirit is much more resilient than the human body, and it is much more important. The irony of this, though, is that the dominant culture in our society pays very little attention to the human spirit. For me, some this has to do with the religious connotation of the word and not being a person who practices a faith tradition, I’m not as comfortable thinking in these terms. But it doesn’t need to be this way, of course. The concept of a spirit isn’t owned or copyrighted by any one faith tradition. In fact, I’ve found that a lot of the latest research in brain science can be, in a certain light, viewed as the search for the human “spirit” as it tries to answer how we have this concept of a self that is beyond our physical body. What I’ve gleaned from this simple sentence that I wrote over a year ago is that health is much more than the physical and mental health - things that can be measured and diagnosed. Health is actually too small of a word when you begin to think about the human spirit. For this reason, I’ve lately started talking more about “well-being” to encompass the understanding that the human spirit is just as important to tend to as a person’s blood-sugar levels or cholesterol.
The other phrase that I wrote, right after this, was, “Be very thoughtful about who you choose to work with - they need to have the trust and respect of those around them, plus a leadership role that can get something done.” As I’ve unpacked this phrase, a few things stand out for me. The first is the concept of trust and what a fragile thing it is. It can only be built over a long period of time, through the careful nurturing of a relationship and intentional actions that demonstrate genuineness. And it can be shattered in one fleeting moment. I’ve met with a number of people over the past year and with a few of them, those who we seemed to be sharing a common self-interest, I’ve tried to developed stronger relationships and pay close attention to how I’m building trust with people in a genuine way that will last for years to come. The second part of this phrase, “plus a leadership role that can get something done,” has been an interesting one for me to unpack as well. Clearly, it’s about power and working with those individuals who wield it. Definitely, positional power is one way this manifests itself, and I’ve taken advantage of the fellowship to open the doors of several high-level leaders. But it’s also helped remind me that positional power isn’t the only way things get done. There are people out there doing incredible work, whose power isn’t rooted in a title or deep pockets. I’ve been honored to learn from them too.
So those are the standouts, and as promised at the beginning of this entry, I going to now move into the more vulnerable surprises. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me throughout the first year of this Fellowship has been the rediscovery of an old companion constantly at my side - my insecurity. Its reemergence has made it hard to feel capable of developing into a better leader and one that can catalyze change in such complex systems affecting so many people. Without a doubt, this journey has been difficult. And yes, it has also been joyful and incredible, but anytime you push your limits and try to achieve something greater than what you were previous able to do, you struggle. And let me tell you, I’ve struggled plenty.
I’ve dealt with self-doubt before (precious few haven’t at some point or another), but this Fellowship ratcheted it up several notches. Some of this is because I have more time to focus on myself (after all, that’s the purpose of the Fellowship) and when you aren’t distracted as much by those shiny objects in life or quotidian duties, those doubts can spread into the new-found spaces of mental awareness like Creeping Charlie in a garden. I think the bigger driver of this, though, is something I wrote a bit about in my first learning log.
True learning makes you uncomfortable because it moves you away from the known and the secure. A lot of the learning I’ve done this past year has produced more questions than answers, and it becomes very easy to doubt yourself when all you feel like you’re doing is falling deeper and deeper into the unknown. Moving away from the safety of the known also has made me rethink previous beliefs and see my actions in a different, unflattering (to say the least) light that highlights my shortcomings. The “surprise” in this Fellowship journey isn’t that I’ve made mistakes (trust me, i was very aware of this fact before), but rather how often this discovery has been happening and the sometimes public nature of it.
In closing, a common question that a lot of people have asked me after getting the Fellowship is, “Is it just the most amazing thing you’ve ever done?” Of course the expected answer that I’m supposed to spit out exuberantly is, “Yes!” But the truth is a lot more nuanced and sometimes ambivalent, because while amazing and wonderful, it has also challenged me in ways that I never expected and sometimes am not comfortable with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful I was chosen as a Fellow last year. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’m still pinching myself about. But I’m also grateful that I’m not done with it yet, because I still have a long way to go as the above “standouts” and “surprises” indicate.