My learning journey with the Bush Fellowship started two years ago, when I applied for the first time. It was actually a fortunate happenstance that I did not move to the next round of applicants, as upon reflection I definitely was not ready for the opportunity at that time in my life. All of my focus was on ensuring the success of my students and how the organization could most effectively serve and connect the community. In a way it was akin to being a mother and housewife, wherein my priorities were so focused on the well being and goings-on of the family and household (the school and the community), that my contributions to the achievements of the family--or even my own personal accomplishments--were framed to deemphasize the part that I played and highlight everyone else as much as possible to take the spotlight off of myself.
The second time around, I actually started to think a bit more about myself. What were MY contributions to the successes of my organization? What about my leadership? What was about me that I was not talking about? I can tell you with great confidence that “Impostor Syndrome” was well and alive within me. I had to do a hard reflection about how I had been crucial in the many projects that I have led. Yes, it was a team effort. It also was a success due to my leadership and initiative.
Applying to be a Bush Fellow seems to be a simple process, until you realize that what they are really asking about is yourself. As leader of an organization, I was so used to talking about my community or projects. In each part of the process I became more eloquent about my vision, about what I wanted to go back to school and why. What changes will I see in myself to know that I am a better leader for my community? As the process moved on, I also became more confident in what at first was just a “think big” to this “big thing” is going to happen.
By the time I had to do my budget I felt in my heart and in my mind that I had everything lined up. I had all my T’s crossed and I’s dotted. But then life happens. I didn’t realize how burnt out I was at my current job. The fellowship coach helped me realize what changes truly had to take place to make the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I had to get out of my comfort zone while simultaneously focus on my self-care.
My predecessors were never concerned with self-care, that was some en vogue, new age notion that had no place in “real” work. That being said, their lives outside of work were typically taken care of by their wives. This fellowship has not only encouraged me to truly look inward and reflect, but also pushed me to challenged my preconceived notions of self-care and think much more deeply about what it means to put oneself first and take care of my needs so I can be the best version of myself, which will in turn grow my personal capacity to bring these even bigger hopes and dreams into reality.
Going back to school is a scary thought. Even though I work in education, I have not been in school as a student in the last seventeen years. While I will be attending school with people half my age! I am ready for the challenge and I am hungry to learn. The Bush Fellowship is helping me to fulfill that thirst for knowledge that has gone unsatiated for so long.It is easy to be a big fish in a small pond. Without the Fellowship I would not have dared to go back to school, let alone in another state. I would have played safe and I would have gone to school here in Minnesota where people already know me and I have been invited to their classes to speak. That pathway would not have challenged me and would not have helped me to learn and grow.
I will be in the south, in a very diverse environment with different challenges. I am excited about attending school with a diverse group of scholars and professors. Most graduate programs have asked me: “What can we teach you?” They ask because I have been a speaker in their classes and I have served as a panelist at their forums. I need to expand my horizons in an institution outside of Minnesota, outside of my comfort zone. What I hope to gain by being at a cutting-edge institution where I can learn from nationally and internationally known experts in the field of education is personal and academic growth.
In education, unless you are superintendent or researcher, you are invisible. The Bush Fellowship has made me visible to people that I would have never expected. People speak to me differently, I am often invited to be part of larger systemic convenings and conversations that were never accessible to me previously. It has opened doors that had never crossed my mind as a possibility.
If I was in the shoes of a new fellow, I would tell them, “Prepare yourself to be seen.”