My colleagues gave me a good luck card when I left The National Archives for six months to complete a Clore fellowship in cultural leadership. On the front is a picture of a man jumping out of an aeroplane, in the unnerving moments before his parachute has opened. He’s suspended in space, with nothing but clouds visible beneath him.
While I’ve never done a parachute jump myself, I think this image of free fall is a pretty good metaphor for what it’s like to be a Clore fellow. You usually leave your job; you may also leave your home, family and friends. Plunged into new surroundings, you quickly lose your bearings and see your work and life from entirely different perspectives. Strange things become familiar, and familiar things strange. Rationally you know you’ll probably be OK – after all, you have a trusty parachute in the form of the Clore team and your super-supportive cohort of fellows – but jumping into the unknown still feels like a risk.
A week away from the end of the fellowship, I’m taking stock of what I’ve learned. It’s clear to me that although I’m on the verge of returning to my old role at The National Archives, in many other respects I’m in a different place. Summing up my learning in a single blog entry feels like a challenge, but I’ll do my best.
Firstly, my self-knowledge has deepened. I’ve discovered that I’m stronger than I thought I was, I’ve gained in confidence, and I’ve been told I’m speaking more loudly than before. I’m less hard on myself, and more in touch with my fun side. Finding my voice has been a big theme for me: I’m better able to articulate what I want, I’m more willing to say what I think, and I’ve found out all over again how much I love to write.
One of the ways I’ve learned about myself is by becoming much better connected across the arts and cultural sector. This isn’t simply a case of having met lots of influential people, or knowing who to contact if I have a question. More importantly, it’s about having a powerful support network and understanding that what I have to offer professionally stems from my personal qualities and values.
Secondly, my knowledge of sector-wide issues is incomparably greater than before I started Clore. I’ve had the chance to work in two performing arts organisations, Battersea Arts Centre and Sage Gateshead. During these placements and on various training courses I’ve developed many of the leadership skills I’ll need in the future, from influencing and making an impact to coaching and facilitation.