Andy Long * McCook Economic Development Corporation & Cultivate Rural Leaders

In the last two years, I've had a few changes. My wife and I had our third child, I changed jobs, and started a non-profit. After reading Parker Palmer's book, Let Your Life Speak, I was hooked on Parker Palmer and explored options through the Center for Courage and Renewal. I found the Courage to Lead retreat and it looked to be the right fit for me. Going into the program, I didn't know anyone and traveled from McCook, Nebraska, to Kalamazoo, Michigan to participate. The experience was unlike anything I had ever done. The pace was slower and it provided time for reflection. It gave me an opportunity to explore more about myself through community.

Through Courage to Lead, I discovered that I was really good at exceeding others expectations, but not that good at discovering who I am and how I could contribute. This discovery has made me reflect on who I am and what I want to do. Before Courage and Renewal, I was applying and interviewing to be a Community College President, not necessarily because I thought that was what was best, but it was the next step on the expected path. After going through Courage to Lead, I left my job as a Community College Vice President to be the Economic Development Director for McCook. This was a cut in pay and benefits, but when offered the job, I asked for a four day work week and the ability to pursue some leadership development opportunities. The board agreed. This has given me the chance to spend more time with my family and children and be more present when I'm at home. This has also given me the time to start my own non-profit, Cultivate Rural Leaders. Through the non-profit, I'm currently working with two communities of around a 1,000 people by developing and executing their community leadership program.

As a community leader, I'm spending more time in reflection. I now consistently exercise in the morning, read, and journal. I've lost 15 pounds and lowered my cholesterol. In the community and as the economic development director I'm better at leading from who I am, not from who I expect the board wants. This has brought more peace into my leadership.

I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in this program and go back to the material and my journal reflections. I use the Touchstones for creating space with a variety of other groups I lead and participate. With three kids, a full-time job, and a non-profit, life is still incredibly busy, but I feel I'm heading in the right direction.