Pheng Thao

Pheng Thao
Learning Log

Pheng Thao

Report date
January 2019
Fellowship term
24 months
Learning log 1

The prospective fellowship process had already gotten me thinking about what is or are those things that I need as a leader to be more effective and have greater impact. Through the application and interview process I learned that I had to focus on my growth and that my growth meant the growth of the work that I was currently doing. I also found out that why I kept doing so many things and saying “yes” often to others and to projects was because I did not feel like what I did was gonna ever be “good enough”. These two light bulb moments helped me realized that I was missing something in my leadership skills and efforts -- that if I got a chance to get the Bush Fellowship I would take a deeper dive into what it meant to grow intentionally as a leader by investing in my leadership with the support of others and coming to terms with what my strengths are already and build upon them instead of constantly chasing this invisible notion and idea of not being “good enough”.

As I began the journey I had some ideas of what I wanted to do with my fellowship -- learn about the gender history of my community; learn from other indigenous groups about gender equity; and learn from the few matrilineal societies throughout the world. This is all in relation to my work on gender justice and queer justice but I was aware that these plans could change because it had for previous fellows as they began their journeys.

The months prior to starting the fellowship journey, I was able to take the opportunity to reflect about what it meant to invest in my leadership with the support of the Bush Fellow. This was something that was actually going to happen since I have not had very many opportunities to actually invest in my own leadership but often held spaces and commitment to investing in others leadership. It was both joyous and unsureness more in the realm of confusion -- not sure where to begin or what to do even though I had this great plan laid out. I did not let this unsureness block my vision from what I wanted to achieve too but also did not know where the beginning point was. I thought of it as a process, which had a begin and end date. The fellowship has the begin and end date but as the first few months settled in and the more I practiced being in my full leadership and reflecting on my strengths more it settled into me deeper that it was ok to not have a beginning point and end point. I had to learn to let go of that linear growth to leadership; trust the journey itself; and be open to exploring and practicing. Exploring what might and could potentially unfold. The concept of practicing leadership was something that was shared with my fellow Bush colleagues and I, by Alfonso Wenker. He so eloquently put that leadership was about practicing -- it was about trial and error and that it was not about a beginning point or endpoint to investing in ones’ leadership but rather it was about this more circular movement of skill building. As months past this practicing and exploring began to settle in more and allowed me to feel more comfortable in the discomfort. I knew that there were specific things I could do to expand my growth as a leader -- placing myself into spaces I normally would not; learning to hone down more on my task oriented skills; and learning to accept my strengths.

So as a new fellow, I have been practicing accepting my strengths -- giving myself credit and learning to accept appreciation from others. I learned to be humble a long time ago and it was largely influenced by my community settings as well too. I learned to not put too much spotlight on my leadership assets but made sure that others would get the spotlight too. It was too uncomfortable to take in all the credits by myself because it appeared selfish and unnatural. Now I am learning that it is ok to acknowledge the strengths that I have gained over the years and continue to fine tune those strengths. I am practicing being ok with the applause and complements others give me for the gifts I can share with others. I begin to see the value in my leadership that others have seen all along with more clarity. I share this because as someone who have often invested in community and other people’s leadership I have often said that anyone can do what I was doing to help even the playing field and normalize folks finding their own powers. Until I began this journey I did not realize that what I do takes so much intention, like conscious effort to be mindful, transparent and thoughtful. This requires tons of energy and being critical on my end about my behaviors, thoughts, feelings and how they impact others around me. I have learned that the skills and thoughts I had were not just dropped down to me from the sky. That when people wanted me to function in certain roles or facilitate certain conversations it was because I had something to offer but again I did not see that in the past because of my humbleness in not wanting to draw attention to solely crediting myself. I am learning that it is okay to acknowledge all of the efforts and energy that I have gained over the years developing intention. Intention that is aware, tactful, transparent, mindful, and cautious. I am practicing fully accepting my leadership skills, especially the strengths that I already have gained. This has been the journey so far for me and I am not sure what revelations will lay next or besides these ones but am learning to practice accepting my leadership skills and role.