Here’s some granola* for you.
I’m going to give you a little peek into what I’ve been thinking about this week. I share this because maybe, even if you aren’t serving in the Peace Corps or living on a South Pacific Island, you’ve been feeling similarly? Maybe not. And that’s okay too. When I do a Crunchy Granola Post it doesn’t promise to be the most well-thought out or organized piece of writing I’ve ever penned, rather more of a stream of consciousness and a write-as-I-think-it type thing.
1. Making a difference. Sometimes the question “What am I even doing here?” pops into my head. It occasionally feels like I am just one Peace Corps Volunteer in a great line of many, going through the motions and “getting the job done”. But I want to make a difference and what I’m realizing is that when I go looking to see if what I’m really doing “does make a difference”, it’s difficult to gauge. I can’t tell if I am and then I start to second guess myself. The profession of teaching is a lot like Peace Corps, too. You go into school and you spend your day working with kids, and you wonder if what you’re doing is really helping. You get down on yourself and wonder if what you are doing has any effect. I want to make a difference not because I want compliments and awards. I want to make a difference because I want to help. These kids are amazing and in many ways are a lot like the kids I taught back in America - they have dreams and goals, but sometimes they’re harder to turn into reality than it is for my students back in the U.S. So I put more pressure on myself to make sure that what I'm doing is working and that I'm helping. As soon as I stop worrying about whether or not I am constantly making a difference I am shown that I am. Like this week when I was walking through the village after school and heard 4 of my students singing an English song that I had taught them. It is moments like this that remind me that even though my time here is brief (two years really isn’t that long), that I did make an impact. Even if it was little ways.
2. Forget the comparison game. I was super stressed out at the beginning of the week. On Thursday some of the Peace Corps Staff (from Tonga HQ) were scheduled to come to my village to see how I have been integrating and what work I have done so far in the Peace Corps. Almost immediately after hearing that they were coming I started comparing myself to other Peace Corps Volunteers (past and present) in Tonga and whether what I was doing was good enough. My mind went immediately to thoughts like: Well I’m not as integrated as she is. I can’t speak Tongan as good as him. I’m not ask good of a teacher as she is. I am not constantly walking around the village saying hi to people like he does. This was exhausting to think about. And even though I was crazy nervous, Thursday came anyway and so did the Peace Corps staff. And when I sat down with them to talk about what I have been doing, I realized that I am working really hard and doing a good job. And my work in this village isn’t going to look like the work that’s being done across Tonga (and the world) because it’s unique and it's mine and it’s okay. I’m doing my best and that’s what matters. I don’t know everybody’s name yet, but the relationships that I have formed with people in my village are genuine and deep and I appreciate them a lot. It will come with time.
3. Embracing my abilities. There are things that I am good and others that I may never be. I used to make mental lists of the things that I could be better at (meeting more people, being more assertive, being more creative, being a stronger leader, being more outgoing, being a better public speaker, …) but the more I concentrated on those things, the worse I felt. I’m starting to look at the things that I’m good at and concentrating on those and I’m finding that sometimes, by embracing what I’m good at, it empowers me to work on those things that I want to get better at.
4. Cultivating a healthy environment. Recently, I’ve been so worried about others in my village and staying busy helping them, that I haven’t been taking time to take care of myself. I also noticed that my obsession with root crops was doing nothing to help me stay buff - the kumala and bread fruit that I had been consuming in mass quantities had ever-so-nicely settled in my mid-section. So I’ve been changing habits and moving more (yoga, plyometrics in my tiny house, walking when there are not mean dogs around…) and I’m feeling good. My clothes are fitting better and I feel happier.
5. Let go of your past. I don’t have regrets. I truly believe that every thing that has happened in my life - every experience I’ve had - has brought me to this moment and there is a reason for that. This doesn’t mean that I don’t dwell on the past sometimes though. This last year was rewarding and tough for many reasons. I was very convinced that I had figured out where I wanted to end up and who I wanted to surround myself with. But I think that sometimes the bravest thing we can do is accept that the answers we thought we were given aren't meant to be and trust that everything is still going to work out o.k. in the end. I need to look at my past, learn from it and move on. I was blown away this last year. I was disappointed this last year. Things sometimes turn out drastically different than we plan and it's all for our benefit. I got an email recently that talked about this exact idea and how "our characters are built, our patience is grown, and are hearts are strengthened when these things happen...in ways that they could not have otherwise". And even though I am still super confused, I trust that it's all going to work out. It will.
What have you been thinking about?
P.S. This was me yesterday. I am headed back to America for my sister's wedding soon (3 months!). The bracelets on my wrist are a countdown to my time in America (each bracelet represents one week). Even though I love it in Tonga, I can't wait to see friends and family back home. CannotwaitItellyou.
*I have a few friends back home that call me Granola. I’d like to think that it’s a term of endearment to reference all the times I shift into “Hippy Mandy” mode and go deep in my brain to talk about my feelings and emotions and trying to make sense of my feelings and emotions. The crunchier the granola, the more hippy-dippy I get.