It’s been seven months of the Fellowship, seven months with my host organization, and some other changes in my life. I started giving a lot more thought about what I’ve accomplished these past months, and about what changed since I started this Fellowship. It’s time for a deeper reflection.
I honestly can’t believe it’s been seven months. It felt like time passed by SO fast. Maybe I missed some opportunities, maybe I could have done some things differently.
When I got selected for the Fellowship, there were so many new things in such a short time. New experience, new role, new workmates, new supervisor. New e-mail account, new IT tools. Some new activities, new routine, new colleagues. New everyday language, new expressions.
And it all came together with some rounds of introductions. In the first months of the Fellowship (a.k.a. “90 days of success” in the Atlas Corps language), as in any new experience, I heard and answered a lot of questions like “who are you”, “what are your goals”, “what is your dream”, “what do you expect to take from this experience”, “why did you apply for this program”.
It wasn’t the first time I had to answer those questions. And each time, it’s a new challenge, I feel butterflies in the stomach when I’m asked these types of questions. The more I delve into these, the less I know. Except that I know my answers could change from time to time, I know there’ll be some changes.
Last month, while joining the sessions of another Global Leadership Lab Immersion, this time about Developing Others, I had some moments of self-appreciation. As I heard the speakers – and even had the incredible opportunity to moderate a Leadership Journey session with Roshan Paul, co-founder of Amani Institute – and other Fellows, the more I thought about what “developing others” meant for me. It wasn’t the first time I heard about “developing others” as part of the changemaker journey.
Developing self. Developing others. Developing the community.
It’s a clear sentence, a clear path. Except it is not. You don’t go/evolve from one to the other.
But to go to develop others, one must know about her/himself, right? We consciously develop others when we actually and intentionally develop ourselves. The message is clearer when it’s from inside to outside (and from outside to inside, in a two-way, symbiotic relationship).
And it also takes self-knowledge to be able to look at the self to recognize what are the privileges in the surroundings of one’s experiences. The privileges, the opportunities, the room and the willingness to change.
For some people, it’s easier to answer the “who are you?”, “what are your goals?” type of question. For me, it hasn’t been super easier or smooth. ‘Who I am’ is a much wider question, which doesn’t suffice with the initial answer. I could say my name and last name, my age, my gender, my race, my sexual orientation, my studies, my interests. But all these are part of another wider aspect of context, history, and experiences that turned into who I am. And we, or at least me, do not always take all these aspects into consideration or appreciation.
I remember a workshop about life design that I attended, where the public was asked, “what do you want to do in your life?”, and “what are some of the challenges you face?”, “what is holding you back?”. At a point, all the participants agreed to have heard “you’re late” in life.
As a woman, immigrant descendant, with insecurities, personal traits, and other backgrounds and perspectives that I am now more recognizant of, I heard that sentence a lot.
Most of the time, from myself. It was me telling myself that I was late. It was me, comparing my journey to the journeys of others: colleagues, friends, family members, and people I admire. It was me telling myself that I wanted to go further, that I should be further. But the further was just an idea I developed from what I heard in the past as if I would only be happy, and successful if I ever get there. As if “the ends justify the means” but the means are not important.
And that’s when I heard:
“You are not late, you are where you need to be.”
That sentence gave me comfort. It was like a warm hug. (Note: I’m not taking for granted that some of these “positive statements” don’t address the much deeper picture of social inequalities that put minorities or socially marginalized groups in a position where they are indeed late when in comparison to other privileged groups.) It helped me reframe how I sometimes looked at my journey, with depreciation for some of my accomplishments and experiences, or the lack of some, or with judgment for some of the trails that my life has taken – like, taking a career break, or ending up on a job that wasn’t the best choice or fit.
And I know sometimes, especially at the early stage of the career, we hear that we won’t succeed unless we are at the top. But we don’t really talk about what it means to succeed, nor to achieve the top, or where is the top, nor what are all the possible ways we can achieve success. I think success is something with a deeper level of personal understanding that deserves another space for discussion.
Developing the self is not a one-time, singular, or linear process. I know that I don’t always need to have those answers ready at the tip of my tongue, or to have them at all, and I’m taking it easier on myself for not having those answers to be on a constant or the evolution level of growth.
I know where I’m heading to, what is important and valuable to me as a person and a professional, and I am being more mindful of where I am. I am also being more mindful and intentional about who is around me, the effect of my actions on me, my surrounding, and the imprint they leave behind.
And where to go next? I don’t think there’s a single path or step I should take.
I’m embracing everything that’s coming. That’s my leadership journey.
Hero image by Karsten Würth Unsplash