How has your understanding of your own leadership changed through the Fellowship to date? How has focusing on your own leadership changed the way you lead in your work? How do you now view the role of self-care in sustaining your ability to lead?
This Learning Log is coming in the middle of a several major transformations for me. First, I’m moving to a new home that includes a major remodel. The purchase of this home has given me financial security not only for myself, but for my family. Secondly, I am weeks away from completion of my college degree, the end to a 35-year project. The lack of this degree has caused me to lose many job opportunities. When I was in my 20’s, it was fine to move up an organization’s ladder with an AA and lots of work experience. Today, it is a completely different scenario. Having a degree allows me to cement my credentials and creates professional opportunity. And, lastly, I am about to embark on a new career path that incorporates all the leadership skills I have developed over the past year. All of this is happening around me; swirling and yet, I remain calm and focused.
One of the areas I have been heavily focused on has been the direction of career. With the completion of my degree, this one obstacle is gone. It truly held me back and instead of addressing the issue, I just worked harder to ignore it. This time, this gift from the Bush Foundation, has given me the freedom to overcome this hurdle and clear the path to my future goals.
I started my community advocacy over 20 years ago. I created dozens of programs that focused on the disability community. I led networking groups, organized community discussions, developed an annual event that focused on recreational opportunities, and an annual college preparation conference. Additionally, I attended all Dakota County Human Services meetings and solicited support from business and community leaders to promote new programs that could provide solutions to issues that affect people with disabilities. When I was called upon, I was a family advocate. I aided families to obtain services through school-based Special Education service and their child’s Individualized Education Plan and assisted them when they needed county and state services. I did all of this as a volunteer and I exhausted myself.
I was successful though, and it prompted me to run for office. I was elected and worked very hard for my community. I was able to pass bills and I am still reminded of those every day. I passed a bill to allow for 4-hour parking for people with disabilities at metered parking spaces. This bill was very controversial, but it was worth the fight. Another bill I am so proud of was an update to the data privacy statute to allow the Ombudsman Office to be able to take photocopies of records for investigations. This bill provided the gateway to the Jensen settlement; which created the Olmstead Plan for Minnesota. There were many other things I wanted to focus on but my time there was limited.
When I left the political field, I thought that my leadership was not valued. That was my own self-assessment, not reality. I did not have the good self-care skills I needed to replenish my own soul. Through this journey of the past year, I realize what I could have done better and how I could have rolled those accomplishments into a new role for myself. Unfortunately, at the time, I was exhausted, dejected, and lacked vision. I was unable to continue in the roles I had identified for myself.
I did maintain my connection with the community through my work with the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living where I have been a board member for 9 years. My work with this agency has given me an opportunity to stay involved and advise. This limited connection has been good for me, but it is time to move into a more active role.
So, over the past few months, I have made it a priority to meet with other leaders in the non-profit disability world about where my skills would be best suited. They overwhelmingly expressed great satisfaction that I am coming back into a leadership role. After the elections, there is much work to do. People with disabilities have been marginalized for so long and for those of us who can lead and speak with authenticity we must lead. I am more prepared than ever to do the heavy lifting needed to address the issues that suppress the civil rights of nearly 28 percent of the population. There is an urgency that we’ve never seen before this time. My ability to convene and support these conversations is desperately needed and my role has been identified.
With the knowledge of the work that must be done, I am using my leadership training over the past year to be sure that I focus on my need to self-preserve. By doing so, I will be a more effective leader and the strength I need to continue the work will be sustained. I can see clearly where I can provide leadership and where I can guide others to do the work with me. No need for me to be a superhero, I only need to be the leader that I can best be.
It is so interesting that at first, I fought the need for self-care and replenishment. I saw that as selfish when so much work was needed and so many people depended on me. How could I take time to read a full book for enjoyment when there were dozens of statute changes that were being passed by the legislature that I had to become proficient with? How could I take a day off when the deadlines loomed every day? When was I supposed to take a class or learn a new skill? Afterall, my way seemed to be working. I met deadlines, was conversant on dozens of topics, and I was awake and present for my duties. I thought my old ways were working just fine but what I have learned is, they weren’t. I left behind great work because I was too exhausted to pick it up again and move forward. My greatest regret is that I left unfinished business on the table, I left my passion to serve there as well.
What a difference a year of self-discovery makes! I’ve incorporated new routines that give me time to reflect and adjust. I am not rigid on the goals I must achieve; I can see new directions and opportunities and not see those old bypasses as failures. I can be open and not see a challenge to my leadership as my lack of personal ability to do the job. I can see new ways to incorporate new people in the plan, so I am able to guide and lead with strength in numbers. I can also see that I have value that is monetary. I did so much for so many for so little. That is not leadership, that is martyrdom. I kept waiting for accolades and now I see that I was getting them; people where benefiting from my work without producing a monetary reward. Everyone I worked with were receiving pay for their time with me, but I never asked for pay from those who I served. I never saw that connection until this past year when I began to soul search as to why I left the work so disappointed. Money is not the goal but it is a valuable way to replenish and preserve my spirit.
Without this time given to me from the Fellowship, I would have remained silent and frustrated. I would have continued to blame others for their lack of effort when it is clear that I need to be at the table. I also would have waited for others to invite me, just as I had hoped before. To be a leader, I have learned, you must be willing to put your expertise on the table and allow others to see it. Keeping it hidden, hoping that you will be seen as the leader you want to be is not the way to lead. You are a follower at that point. During my many years of volunteering, I created and led but I allowed myself to follow. That is what caused my demise.
Those days are gone and with every interaction I have, people have noticed. These changes to my demeanor are evident to those I speak with; both past and new acquaintances. There is a calmness about me, a new confidence if you will. As I’ve reintroduced myself back to the community, I have a focused vision of what I am capable of without overreaching. I am also strongly aware of my limits. I say, I am sorry I am unable to make a commitment to that function or role without fear of never being asked again. I would have never had the courage to do that before. My schedule includes time to reflect and replenish and I don’t see that as selfish anymore.
So, as the new year is looming, for the first time in a very long time, I feel invigorated! I am ready to take the challenges on with a fresh perspective that will keep me energized through to completion of the goals I have set for myself. My ability to be the leader I want to be are evident, my future is secure because I’ve created opportunities for me to be able to follow my passion and lead without fear. I can’t wait for 2019!