Chesapeake Environmental Leadership Fellowship: Let the journey continue…

A little history about this blog: I started writing this blog, when I received my Archibald Bush Leadership Fellowship back in 2011.  We were asked to report amongst our peers and larger network in some mode, and I chose a monthly blog.

A quick browse through my posts will reveal a mixture of writings about leadership development, building self-awareness, notes on self-care and balance, as well as articles I’ve written about community-based social marketing and understanding behavioral nudges in order to advance sustainability.

Looking back, it was all pretty abstract to me.  I understood the concepts of effective leadership, I could explain how different strategies and practices might work and why they were effective, but I did not know them myself.

photoToday marks 3 years since I arrived in Washington, D.C.  I can’t say it’s been the easiest experience.  These last three years have challenged me in ways I could not have expected – some of my experiences out here in DC have left me deeply disappointed, and even hurt.  I’ve questioned my own abilities (and had them questioned publicly), I’ve had to re-affirm my interests and passions, and more than once, I’ve put myself out there only to be beaten back.  I wouldn’t wish these experiences on anyone else, but they have made me stronger and I have grown in unexpected ways from them.

Today, I am challenged, inspired, and feel supported in so many ways.  Montgomery County is such a wonderful place to be working in energy policy. My current work moves rapidly, is evolving every week – it seems a new challenge and opportunity presents itself on a monthly basis, requiring me to re-calibrate my expectations of my time, my abilities, and my goals.  It is both exciting and exhausting.  I also have the pleasure of working with very talented and passionate colleagues and am blessed to have the time and flexibility to also focus on my own health

The lessons I learned through my mentors and my Bush Fellowship have given me tools  to survive (when the challenge is threatening), thrive, navigate, and dig deep.   I have come to know and understand that leadership is indeed a practice and it is one meant to sustain the work, grow the work by engaging others, and take care of myself for that work.  

My MoCo teammates and me at a tree planting

My MoCo teammates and me at a tree planting

Out of these last three years, in both the inspiring and challenging times, I’ve experienced great reward and richness. I’ve met amazing friends, inspiring mentors, found new things to love, ended up at an amazing job, and learned so much about myself and what I am capable of adapting to. I must say, I am GRATEFUL for it all.

Which is why I’m very excited to announce the next iteration in my leadership path: I’ve been accepted into the Chesapeake Regional Environmental Leadership Program.  Over the next 7 months, I’ll be working with 19 others in small groups, meeting over the course of 3 retreats, to strengthen and hone my skills, vision, and path as a leader (in my own small way) to advance sustainability and environmental issues.  I am excited to have this unique opportunity to learn and (hopefully) grow in new ways, to find new connections in my work and how I conduct my work.

elplogoAnd I am especially excited to take another step to further integrate myself in my new home.  The mid-atlantic/Chesapeake Bay region is still a strange place to me, but I’m looking forward to learning more about the larger environmental community that is at work here, and to learn from them about their vision, and how I might fit into it all.

Thank you to Montgomery County DEP for providing me this opportunity, to my chief/supervisor for his support in this and daily endeavors, to my Bush Fellowship cohort members and mentors, and my Minnesota colleagues (CERTSies!), and family for inspiring, supporting, and still cheering me on.

Like with my Bush Fellowship, I will endeavor to post some updates about my experience.

Let the journey continue…

My sustainability failure story, and why to tell yours

Working on behavior change is hard – “yada yada yada”, we’ve all heard this before.  But how hard?  Do you even know?  Before trying to find stats on last years’ resolution-makers, check in with your own life.

There’s something so captivating about failure – more than just the bloopers of a feature film, stories of what didn’t work maybe engage us at our most core selves.  Failure conveys vulnerability, weakness, some inherent hypocrisy, but most importantly one’s humanity.  I guess this is why I was advised to begin any behavior change presentation with a story about a behavior that I had tried and failed.

It was an effective way to share something about myself – introduced the personal nature of behavior change, placed myself as a victim of the influences I was about to describe, and showing the magnitude of the challenge of what we, as practitioners, are trying to do.

I share the story on this blog now, because I’m simultaneously writing a story about some successful behavior changes (sustainable and healthy) I’ve recently made.  Here is my failure story – please enjoy, revel even…and consider sharing your own next time you want to convey the difficulty of realizing the behavior change you’re working toward:

When I worked at CERTs, we often had lunch together at a central table. A couple years ago, we were having one of these lunches and Katie, a new member to our team, interrupted us to ask, “Why don’t you compost? You’re all trying to be sustainable, right? You could be composting your lunch food waste.” We were confused – compost? Here? In our office? She said we could do vermiculture composting, to which we replied: Isn’t that worms? Since Katie was new, we told her “we simply don’t do that, it’s dirty, it could be smelly, it could be hard to maintain, the janitors wouldn’t understand, and it’s probably breaking some very important office hygiene rule” (I don’t remember all of the reasons we came up with, but the list became extensive). Katie was adamant that we tried it though and we gave in under the condition that she’d take full responsibility for it.
Soon after, Katie brought it a small red bin and placed it next to our garbage, and recycling, and instructed us to simply place our food waste on the top of the soil inside. For a month or two, Katie took care of the compost bin, and it didn’t create a stench or mess. Soon, I became curious and asked Katie to show me what she was doing to take care of the compost. We got down on our knees and Katie showed me how she buried the food with the big serving spoon we kept nearby, and she explained how turning it regulated the dryness or wetness of the compost bin. Soon after, I was taking care of the worms in our office.  Before I knew it, the worms were multiplying, and she invited me to take some worms home to begin composting on my own!
For months, even after Katie left for her Fulbright (this is how smart she is), our office and I continued composting. The CERTs office still composts (though they now can take advantage of organic collection on campus). I, on the other hand, have stopped. I moved to a new apartment, and maybe it was the stress of the move, the new roommate or the new kitchen, but I stopped and gave my worms away. I could have started composting outside at my new place – there was a patio and backyard, but didn’t know how and didn’t take the time to figure it out.
After all the work and support I had to compost, I failed to re-apply those lessons and knowledge to continue this sustainable practice. I stopped composting and haven’t started again. To the individual advocating for greater organic composting, I have failed.

At this point in the presentation, I switch modes to show how even the most curated behavior can still fail due to a number of unpredictable factors.  If I, someone motivated, knowledgeable, and even invested in sustainability professionally, can’t do it – think of the magnitude of the challenge for the average person.  This is why it’s important to tell your failure story.  

Behavior change isn’t a wand to wave over a problem, it’s something with which we all struggle…we’re all in it together.  Once we realize that, we can approach our initiatives with a fresh understanding of the challenge, open ourselves to any barriers that could exist, and practice the empathy that is necessary to design a program that reaches us where we need it.  Tell your story, realize that you’re part of it too…and you’ll find that’s precisely where you need to be to nudge that change.

Coming soon…my success story…!

Mindfulness: If you want to dig in, you’ve got to let go.

With such an emphasis on mindfulness throughout my Bush Fellowship, I thought I would check out some of the opportunities at Common Ground Meditation Center.  Earlier this January, I attended a 1/2-day retreat with Mark Nunberg, their Guiding Teacher, and began to see how mindfulness isn’t a state, but a practice…a constant practice.  

Continue reading

The Power of Vulnerability – Cultivating courage, compassion, and connection

Pollen is a networking group and a networking newsletter for professionals written by Lars Leafblad (Bush Fellow) of KeyStone Search, an executive search firm in Minneapolis. A Pollen member posted a TED Talk by Brene Brown on their LinkedIn group site.

My curiosity got the best of me, and I found it very relevant and applicable to my fellowship experience.

Brene Brown is a “storyteller researcher” who talks about the role of vulnerability in our lives, and how it is both a source of shame and fear, but that it is also the central characteristic of those that feel a sense of worthiness and love and belonging.   Continue reading

“The rechargeable batteries within us”: Bush Fellows Leadership Development Seminars Pt. 2 (of 8)

Last week, I had the privilege of again spending two full days with my Bush Fellows cohort, Martha, and our “guides”, Val and Ann.  As my fellows and I venture deeper into our work and understanding what that work is, many of us arrived feeling like we’re balancing 6 spinning plates at once, wondering how those plates got their, and at least I was a bit concerned about how I could keep them all spinning.  We designated the two days as many different things, but for one, it was a chance to recharge our batteries. Continue reading