Over the past (nearly) two years since I began this fellowship journey, I think my understanding of my leadership has gone through a few phases. The first phase, let’s call it the “Who me?” phase, downplayed the power I had and my role as a leader. I was almost ashamed that I had gotten the fellowship, I was still in shock that it had happened, and I used self-deprecating humor as a shield while I positioned myself as someone who was just trying to learn. This wasn’t a facade that I was putting on - I really was trying to be humble, listening, asking questions in an effort to understand, and seeking out people and experiences that gave me the opportunity to soak up new knowledge and wisdom. But it was also a way for me to temporarily step out of the the pressures of leadership where people expect answers and vision and direction and drive. I didn’t have the answers. I wasn’t entirely clear where I was going. And I didn’t have to motivate myself to meet some external, arbitrary goal. It felt good to take that load off and immerse myself in learning. But it also felt slightly disingenuous if I’m being honest because in a lot of the meetings I had there were expectations people would put on me and their excitement of the “great things” I would do with this fellowship. I wasn’t entirely sure how to deal with these expectations and while I felt very comfortable in this learning stage, I knew I couldn’t stay there for long.
The second phase of this journey can probably be called, “Well, I didn’t see that coming” or the, “Everyone falls the first time” phase. At around the year mark, I began transitioning from the purely learning phase to applying this new knowledge, insights and network. It also happened to coincide with our oldest child beginning to ride a bike with pedals. Turns out both things came with some scrapes. Change is hard because it is often messy, unpredictable and there is inevitably a stage where things actually are going worse than before. And unless you really believe that where you’re headed is worth it, it’s tempting to just bag it. Call it good and go home. And navigating change while in a leadership position was even more painful for me because it felt exposed and public. I don’t like making mistakes. It’s even worse when those mistakes have an audience.
This bring me to the current phase in my leadership journey. Let’s call this one, “This way to the balcony.” To be honest, I don’t think there is much difference in how my leadership shows up publicly. I still make mistakes as I’m trying to create change, I’m still learning from those mistakes and adjusting. But the shift is internal around how I deal with the disappointment of falling short or the joy of success. Unlike before, I’m more detached from the external outcomes and have a greater inner sense of peace and self-worth that isn’t as dominated by what others think of me as before. This phase is definitely a work in progress, and I slip back into old, well-worn habits easily, but I’m getting to a place where I understand the concept of getting “up on the balcony” and can see situations through more points of view, understand the complex dynamics better, and synthesize this in order to understand where best to go next.
How these changes in my leadership manifests itself in my work is a hard question for me to respond to. It feels like this is something others around me could better answer and, frankly, have recently done so in a 360 evaluation. On the positive side, people who responded to the 360 evaluation said that I tend to show up with empathy, integrity and listen to others. I also seek to make connections that benefit the whole community, not just my own self-interests. Certainly, expanding my network and ability to influence change through it has been a focus during this fellowship and it is affirming to see this growth in these comments. In terms of areas I could improve upon, the most consistent one was around communicating a compelling vision and being an energetic advocate. I agree with this assessment. I think I still have a lot of room for growth in communicating a clear vision - mostly because I’m still not 100% clear what my vision is. As someone who easily sees many options in every scenario, I think it might always be more of a struggle for me to articulate a clear vision to others, but I’m committed to working on this.
In terms of the last question regarding self care and its importance in my leadership practice, this has been a focus of mine since the start of my fellowship journey. One of the first things I did when I was selected was reach out to a handful of people I knew who were former Bush Fellows. Independently and unprompted, four of the five people I spoke with talked about how their health and well-being had gotten worse during the fellowship because of pressure they felt to achieve and perform. It blew me away to hear people, whom I admire, talk about how wonderful the fellowship experience had been but also how difficult it was. This potential shadow side of the fellowship made me acutely aware that I needed to prioritize my self care and also find ways to continue those practices when the fellowship eventually ended.
In practice, I have viewed self care broadly over these past two years. It certainly has involved getting exercise for my physical well-being. One of the first things I spent fellowship funds on were cross-country skis and have committed to learning how to skate ski (which I could write a whole other learning log about how humbling it is to learn a new sport in your 40’s and how painful - literally and figuratively - it can be). I’ve also made it a point to schedule time on my fellowship days to get exercise (what’s the point of getting exercise equipment if you never take the time to use it?). Additionally, I’ve been more mindful about my diet and the where and with whom I eat. I think this is something I did fairly well before, but as our boys have gotten older, the importance growing, preparing and eating of foods as a family has grown, and in this capacity I think the fellowship has affected everyone’s health in our family.
There’s also self care related to my mental health. I wrote in an earlier learning log that I have struggled with self-doubt throughout this process, but a more accurate description is that I’ve struggled with anxiety. While I’ve been able to keep things, at worst, in a manageable place for many years, for a variety of reasons, including the added pressure I felt with the fellowship, my anxiety reached new depths and was impacting those relationships that are most important to me this past year. While having the backing of the fellowship played a role in worsening my anxiety, it also provided the means to seek out help, put the time needed toward getting better, and has resulted in my being in an improved state of mind, which I greatly appreciate.
While not always an easy journey, I do feel like the fellowship has been a good thing overall for my physical and mental well-being. However, now in the final weeks of this fellowship experience, I’ve been thinking more about how to maintain this. One thing I hope to continue going forward is to make time for things that promote my own health. There is never a shortage of things to occupy my time - this was true before the fellowship, it was true during it, and it will continue to be true for the foreseeable future - but I do have more control over my time and how I prioritize things that promote health and well-being. Of course, it isn’t always possible to get a run in, schedule a therapy appointment, or time with those people who are most important to me. But with intention, I do believe that I will continue to make these things a priority and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to make my personal well-being and the well-being of those I love a central part of my life going forward.