My journey began as degree-seeking, and so I was ready for new learning experiences. Each month was filled with coursework, studying, and reflection. I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and valuable leadership skills through my Doctorate program and the Bush Fellowship.
One thing that stands out the most is the concept of self-care. At the beginning of my fellowship, I thought I knew what self-care was and I was sure that I did well in that area. A large part of my growth throughout this journey has been taking the time to put myself first.
Before the fellowship, I thought I was pretty good at self-care. I have since realized self-care is more than just taking care of the physical body. I have become more aware of what I put into my body not only in the form of drinking and eating but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The key is to maintain a balance physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. To remain in balance, it takes daily effort and mindfulness.
I have grown to understand how important and essential self-care is in the development of personal and professional growth. I have made a lot of little changes that have added up to make significant differences in my life. Being afforded opportunities and time for self-reflection has enabled cultivation of my self-growth.
With plenty of time for reflection, I have learned to think of self-care in a new way. In my culture and upbringing, we are taught that you must take care of yourself first. If you cannot take care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of anyone else effectively. We believe that when we are healthy and strong ourselves, we can take better care of others in a good way. Through lots of reflection, I have gained an understanding of what I want and do not want in my life. A powerful insight I have learned is that self-care helps to maintain focus. I am happy to say that I am focused, grounded, and ready to go back into the world as a more confident leader. In the future when work and life start to weigh heavy, I will take the time for self-care, reflection, and remain focused on the things that matter most in my life.
Throughout this journey, I have also experienced many losses. I made a difficult decision to leave my place of work, where I envisioned working until I was ready for retirement. People close to me have left this world. The most significant loss has been that of my Father. I have seen true humility and faith in my Father as he battled with his illness. I have been reminded of the fragility of life and to not take anyone or anything for granted. After my Father's passing, I was going through his journal. In this journal, he kept notes on different things, bills, phone numbers, granddaughter's number, etc. I found he had written two passages in the back of his journal. The first one was, "Don't cry for me. Don't cry for me, I will be okay. Heaven is my home now, and this is where I'll stay." The second one, "Gift of prayer, gift of sharing, gift of crying to wash away pain, gift of laughter. If you are able to do these four things, it is said you are on a healing journey”. I believe my Father left those profound statements to help us in our time of grieving and to find healing. It is through personal self-reflection that I can move forward on this journey in a good way.
During my fellowship, I was able to do a lot of traveling. One of the highlights of my Bush Fellowship was the optional experience to the National Memorial on Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. The trip to Montgomery will always be an impressive and emotional memory. The National Memorial is the first of its kind in America. It is dedicated to people who were terrorized by enslavement, lynching, and who suffered humiliation by racial segregation. The Memorial is also dedicated to people of color who receive unfair and unjust treatment and are faced with police violence. The Memorial identifies over 4000 African men, women, and children who were lynched between 1877 and 1950. The Memorial is built on 6 acres and is masterfully crafted. The legacy museum is built on a site of a former warehouse that housed people who were enslaved. In the museum, there is a room that has pictures of activists that fought for equality and justice. Among the photographs are two Native Americans, Geronimo and Sitting Bull. I found the pictures to be encouraging that the founders thought enough of the plight of Native Americans to include them in the display. I would highly encourage a visit to this place of passion and truth. It is my opinion that The National Memorial on Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum should be national treasures.
The visit to the Memorial and the Legacy Museum was personal and emotional for me. Growing up in North Dakota, on an Indian reservation, I have many negative experiences of racism. More importantly, I also have beautiful, culturally significant experiences that outweigh the negative. My thinking and behavior have changed from being defensive and fighting to more teaching and sharing. Although the defensive and fighting spirit is still within me, I have found better ways to release that energy. I want to dispel some of the negative, false perceptions that seem to persist and share the truths of my people. I have made it a practice to be around people that are positive and have a growth mindset.
To make a difference in your world, you have to be ready to accept and make changes. With change comes sacrifice. Change and growth can be difficult, but it can also be beautiful. To grow and change you have to be able to let go of some things. Especially those things that are not adding to positive growth. When we let go, we make room for new growth. Letting go and letting things flow naturally have become a part of my journey.