Finding Myself Through My Fellowship

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Blog written by: Caitlin Pollard

I first learned about the Eagle Leader Fellowship while attending the 2016 Northeast Yoga Camp. Attending the camp changed my life in a period of just two days; it made me want to delve deeper into what type of leader I was and become the leader I knew I could be. I was in a rut prior to the camp, constantly upset and frustrated, but not doing anything to change the situation. Attending camp was a turning point for me–while I had been a member of Team RWB for over two years at that point, and on the leadership team for the Oswego, NY chapter for almost a year, I hadn’t been as involved as I could be or wanted to be. I kept myself at the edge of fully committing to the team, unsure if I was willing to be vulnerable, put myself out there, and show my authentic self. One weekend with other Eagle Leaders and I found myself all in! I was voluntarily opening up in our discussions and wanted more of that experience. I felt at home with the team and realized that I was holding back with my chapter and outside of Team RWB. I knew that the fellowship was one way to develop myself as a better leader and to continue working on being more open and authentic. I also didn’t think I had any chance at being selected. As I submitted the application, I was already preparing myself for the disappointment of rejection. I had created a backup plan for when I wasn’t selected; I was so sure that I would have to pursue leadership opportunities on my own that I began creating a plan for my own ‘mini-fellowship’.

When I received the email from Joe Quinn saying I was chosen, I was floored. I didn’t feel I deserved to be selected. I’m a civilian and I had only just started the Eagle Leader journey. I was experiencing major imposter syndrome. But I was honored that I was selected and determined to prove that I was the right choice, both to Team RWB and to myself. I knew that if I wanted to do the things I said I wanted to do in my application, I needed to work on myself. A lot. So I decided to use this fellowship to do just that. I’ve spent 2017 working on improving myself and building my confidence as a leader both through the fellowship and on my own. I’ve done this through yoga teacher training, a non-fiction writing class through Stanford, the Brene Brown Daring Leadership course, a class on character strengths through VIA, and more. I’ve pushed myself well outside of my comfort zone and I look forward to finishing out the year with Peer Support Training, Midwest Storytelling Camp, and Mike Erwin’s Character and Leadership Center seminar. Each training, camp, and class I’ve chosen to do had a specific reason behind it; I didn’t want to sign up for something that wouldn’t have a direct purpose to me. I didn’t want to waste the funds or go into something half-hearted. I wanted to make sure that I was giving it my all in every single component of my fellowship.

As I started planning out my year as an ELF, I was sure the yoga teacher training would be the highlight of my fellowship. I would be certified in yoga and come full circle from that camp experience. While the training was certainly a highlight, it wasn’t just because I received my certification to teach. It was because of much, much more than just the physical yoga practice. I did my training through an intensive program with Grace and Glory Yoga in Northfield, NJ and found that the physical practice was just a start. While the training is in Baptiste Power Yoga, owner Allie Nunzi focuses on leadership and the whole self throughout the program. It’s not just about the yoga! There were videos from Brene Brown and exercises meant to help us work on the ‘tough shit’ – the things that hold us back in life. It felt like I was back at an RWB camp and I felt right at home. I committed myself fully to the experience and realized that I was holding myself back quite a bit; to move into the person I needed to become I needed to own my experiences and the role I played in them. The Yoga Teacher Leader Development Program was easily the toughest experience I’ve had, both physically and mentally, but I was so proud of myself and my new family when we finished that first intensive week. One of my classmates said at the end that she was surprised how quickly everyone had bonded, and that she didn’t think she’d feel this close to people she had known for such a short time. I remember thinking how lucky I was to have these experiences over and over again with Team RWB.

Another highlight of my fellowship was helping plan and execute our Eagle Leader Academies. In both academies I was given a chance to step up and do something that pushed me. In Lake George, I led an optional, early-morning hike. For something I was so familiar doing, I was incredibly nervous. I wasn’t sure if anyone would wake up early after such a full previous day. To my surprise, every single attendee came on the hike, including one leader who had never hiked before. Seeing him push himself showed me the impact that we as leaders can have on others. At our Philadelphia academy I was given the opportunity to share my story. I’ve always been comfortable presenting, but I’ve never had to present about myself! I expected to be terrified, but found instead that I was confident. I never would have expected to feel that way; if I had had to share this time last year, I likely would have walked out. Being an ELF has pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but also has given me the tools to succeed and the support to know that if I did fail, it would be okay.IMG_20170520_073158

What I’ve loved most about this fellowship is the flexibility; you get out of it what you put into it, but you also can choose your own path throughout. We had guidance from our regional directors and program managers, but really it was about what we wanted to do in the end. Some of the things that I’ve seen the others in my cohort do have been absolutely amazing, and so different than my path. I found myself committing to a lot with the fellowship, both in educational opportunities and with helping with regional projects, like data management and planning regional leadership experiences, but I was able to work it around commitments in my personal and professional life. I work for a college and travel a good amount during the academic year, so for me it meant doing a lot for my fellowship over the summer. At one point in July I found myself on an overseas work trip while in two online classes, starting my yoga teacher training program, and helping prep for our Philadelphia Eagle Leader Academy. It was definitely hectic, but I thrive under pressure and found that I’ve been able to accomplish everything I had hoped for this year and more, thanks to the support of the other fellows and RWB staff.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from the classes, trainings, and ELAs is to lean into the uncertainty of trying new things. Sign up for yoga training in a different state, reach out to a chapter when traveling and see if you can join them, agree to a Trail Ragnar 36 hours before it starts (ok, that one may not have been my brightest idea). If it’s going to make you happy, stop doubting and overthinking and just do it! I’ve always been more cautious and an over planner, but I’m learning to give things a try and not let the story in my mind of how things should or might go get in the way of truly experiencing life.

As I head into the final few months of my fellowship, I’m sad that the year is coming to an end, but excited to start bringing some more of what I learned back to my chapter and continue to support my region. I encourage everyone to apply for next year’s Fellow class — the education and travel are amazing, but beyond the funds you’ll get a unique experience to see how much goes into keeping the organization moving forward. For those of you who are chosen for the 004 Class: Take advantage of it. Explore all the different opportunities and do what you need to do to get the most out of this program. There will be challenging days, but you won’t get this experience again.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a 003 ELF. The fellowship has completely changed my life path and I can’t wait to continue my personal development beyond this year.