Here we are, at the end of the Bush Fellowship journey and at the same time at the beginning of a new adventure. It feels like jumping off a cliff with the only parachute being our newly minted leadership skills. Will the parachute open when I need it to? Will the rip cord work or will I fail to properly use it? Will I gently glide to the ground or fall with a thud? So many questions with few answers.
A few years ago, on a whim I jumped out of an airplane. When I did it, I was given basic instructions and up in the air we went. I was advised to try to relax and enjoy the journey back to land. However, I was so frightened that I found myself worrying about the ending instead of the feeling of freedom and enjoying the lovely scenery of the fall. I felt so disappointed and not elated.
What did I learn from that experience? It was to stop and enjoy rides coming my way, like this fellowship. I kept an eye on the ground but enjoyed the scenery since I realized that I’ll never see it from this perspective again. I participated actively in redesigning my life and accepting things like the way the sun shines, the way the rain feeds the grass instead of making mud and learning that I was wrong and making purposeful decisions to do things right. Not easy most days but I tried to be sure that regrets would be few. I do believe that I managed that.
In the beginning, I thought I had all the answers already. Quickly, I realized things were off balance. Like the book, Leadership on the Line states, “Habits, values, and attitudes, even dysfunctional ones, are part of one’s identity. To change the way people see and do things is to challenge how they define themselves.”
So, here I am trying to redefine myself. All my parts were open to a rewrite and with each monthly reflection I found myself going deeper into my own assessment of my strengths and my faults. Viewing each with a new eye. Tony Robbins says in the book, Awaken the Giant Within, “The leader’s path is one of balance. He notes the weeds with a smile upon his face, knowing that the weeds’ visit to the garden is all but over – because he’s spotted them, he can and will immediately act to remove them.”
Now, I understand that new balance idea. I must be vigilant because old patterns come back to the surface, but I see them quickly and I can correct course. This new approach is becoming more familiar to me every day.
My first Learning Log was about my gratitude for the fellowship, the time given to me to reflect on my personal growth and to get going on my goal of finishing my degree. I spent time thinking about the future alliances I would make and the changes I would be making. That feeling of appreciation for the time was almost overwhelming.
The second Learning Log was better. It focused more on my growth to date. I realized that self-care and personal balance were important, just as important as air. I realized that I had more learning to do to fix the things that bubbled up during my deep reflections. I admitted to having deficits that needed addressing. That was a big step and by doing so, I was finally free to say I needed help. My cohort was there to help, and I am grateful for their friendship. Like Christopher Robin said to his best friend Winnie the Pooh when he was frightened, “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” I realized I was those things.
The third Learning Log felt different. I was incorporating my skills and they made me a better leader for my family, my community and myself. New habits take time to take hold, for me I did not realize that I had done the work until I saw the success jumping off the page. I removed obstacles, embraced a new optimism that provided me with enthusiasm. I had energy I had not had for many years. What was I to do next?
So, here I am on my final Learning Log, and I’m trying to figure out exactly what to highlight. I’ve had an experience that I never expected to have. I pulled anchor and sailed to new seas. I’m exploring new leadership roles and acquainting myself with other leaders who can help me to get to the next step in my career. I speak openly about my learning experiences. I realize that there is so much more for me than I ever thought before. And, most importantly, I do not see self-care as selfish anymore. When I need rest, I take rest. When I need a break to collect my thoughts, I take it. I don’t feel that I need to respond to an ambush. Taking the time to make a good decision that will inspire others is more important than just coming up with a quick response.
I also defined leadership in a new way – “I am not a manager; I am a leader.” In one of the conferences I attended on leadership development, that quote was repeated over and over again. The speaker said that a manager has people who work for her and she is in a sandwich role. Managers manage – period. Leaders ask others to join them in a vision, inspiring them to step out into the unknown with confidence that they will be rewarded – even in failure – is true leadership. I was always trying to do both and that is why I felt I failed so many times.
Failures will come and go but my ability to lead through them will not fade. I am a different person after this experience. My goals are clear, my path is lit with promise of success. This fellowship has given me what I needed most to pick up not where I left off but where I need to get to where I want to go. This clarity of purpose is so amazing, and I can’t wait to see what I can do next.
I wish I had known that the journey was the goal of the program. It was not to develop something but to develop me and to just truly accept that. Nothing to prove, nothing to proclaim. Just taking time to reflect, replenish and grow. Like the jump from the airplane, I focused too much time on the end and missed some beautiful scenery initially. I don’t have regrets though; I was able to change course quickly enough and now, I see everything and be the person I wanted to be for so long. Amy Tan wrote a book called Where the Past Begins, A Writer’s Memoir and in it she talks about how every day our past begins to be written. I now understand that idea so much more. Today is my yesterday tomorrow. There is peace and gratitude to know that I was conscious of the moments that took up today. Tomorrow I will know that my past reflects good decisions made with a clear mind full of purpose. That is what I learned on this fellowship journey.