Two years, one month, and fourteen days. Two cashew seasons, two sites. Fifty-one days homeless, seventeen days evacuated, thirty-three days in limbo. One bout of typhoid, one broken foot, three strains of salmonella. Seven hundred and seventy-five days of adventure, happiness, and exploration. One life forever changed.
How do I put into words the way Peace Corps has changed me? Can I sum it up in one word, one sentence, or one story? Can I describe it with one picture? You can see it by the way I walk, the way I use my hands, the way I dance. You can hear it in my voice, the way I speak. You can sense it when my eyes glaze over as I stare outside.
Peace Corps changed the way I dress, my appearance, and ability to withstand heat. It changed the way I eat. It opened my eyes and allowed me to serve. It taught me things about myself, development, happiness, and culture. It taught me how to embrace my body, accept my faults, and grow. And it taught me how to sleep just about anywhere on anything. Can I sum how I’ve changed? No, but I can share with you the valuable lessons I’ve learned.
1. There is a silver lining in every cloud. Hell, there’s a silver lining around the sun too. Everything we do is an opportunity to grow and learn. Yeah, being evacuated from site three times sucks. I could have let all the security threats get to me, but I made the choice to be strong (granted I had weak moments like everyone else). I made the choice to evaluate the situation and determine how could I learn from it? What would I do differently in the future? How could I prevent it from happening again? I solicited feedback regularly from my colleagues on how I could be a better team member, how I could be a better leader. I don’t believe in failure, I believe in learning from your mistakes. I believe all mistakes are opportunities.
2. Patience is more than a virtue it’s an ability. Like all abilities and skills, you can practice it.
3. Life is full of mundane tasks, errands, and necessary evils. Your definition of mundane might seem like a luxury to someone else. Your first world problems, like having to wait 5 minutes at the gas station to fill your $20,000 car with actual fuel, is a dream to some people. Remember that time you complained that the grocery store was out of yoghurt or soy milk? First of all, you’re in a grocery store, how awesome is that? You can do all of your food shopping in one place, indoors, with heat or a/c, and you have options. What a fantastic luxury. Next time you complain about having to go to the grocery store, try walking there in the summer. You can only buy what you can carry. Every thing you have is a gift, a luxury, enjoy it!
4. “Deal with it” is always the answer. Life sucks? Deal with it. Middle seat on the airplane? Deal with it. Clothes are dirty and you don’t have anything to wear? Deal with it. Life is so much easier when you learn to accept this attitude. Plan for what you can, deal with what you can’t.
5. Enjoy the moment. Stop and really appreciate your life as it happens. Don’t view life through your cell phone or a camera, use your eyes to really take in those fantastic moments that surround us everyday.
6. Active listening should be taught in middle school or high school. Along those lines, communication is the root of all problems. Learn to communicate effectively and you’ll be a better friend, worker, leader, and person.
7. Trust your gut, it tells you everything you need to know. For example, that table you’re standing on that doesn’t feel sturdy. Your gut tells you it probably isn’t the best idea to stand on it. Guess what? When that sucker breaks in half and sends you flying, you’re going to be cursing yourself more than the table. Your gut also tells you when you should run to the bathroom. Trust it. Don’t think you can outwit your gut with mind tricks. It backfires every time.
8. Do something fulfilling. Don’t settle for a job that pays well. Decide to take a job that is important to you. Money doesn’t buy happiness. You only have so much time on this earth. Do something with it. Don’t wait until you are 70 to reflect on the things you should have done. You spend most of your life working, do you want to regret most of your life?
9. Be a strong, independent woman. It pisses people off, especially those who can’t handle it. Don’t change just to please the people who can’t accept you for who you are. Be yourself, but learn when to reign yourself in. Part of knowing who you are is, knowing how to carry yourself in a variety of situations.
10. Dirt don’t hurt. Get out there, get dirty, and always be challenging yourself. You never know what you are capable of if you don’t try.
I realize much of this sounds like a barrage of clichés, but these are the lessons I’ve learned. These are the things I took home with me. Well that and a ridiculous amount of local clothes.
Peace Corps changed my life. What will change yours?