If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
–Max Ehrmann, from Desiderata (1924)
I’m all about informational interviewing & mentoring, and a firm believer that life experience is the most powerful of teachers. Therefore, sucking out as much wisdom as possible from people who have gone before me is something I am intrinsically drawn to. Over these first months in Nicaragua I’ve taken every chance possible to talk with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers about their experiences here in country. Heck, even before leaving the U.S. I had already talked with a handful of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), including a TEFL RPCV that served in Nicaragua from 2011-2013.
I’ve loved these conversations, but once Emily and I were thrust from the neatly structured nest of Pre-Service Training I started noticing that these conversations had taken on a more emotionally charged quality. In the uncomfortable space of wondering if I’m doing this Peace Corps Volunteer thing right, I noticed the power that the responses of my colleagues had over me. For example, a volunteer in a previous group told Emily and I that, due to specific circumstances at her site, she didn’t go to school during her first three months. Instead she focused on learning how to cook, walking around the community, and enjoying some down time. This made me feel great! I thought, “Dang, I’ve been observing classes and going to the school at least twice a week! I’m doing awesomely!”
But then we met up, over breakfast, with a TEFL volunteer in our group, and as she tells us about her weekly meetings with the English teachers in her area, the youth group she has started, the co-teaching she is already doing, and her relationship with her host family, I can feel the self-critical questions rebounding against my skull, “What have you been doing here these past few weeks, Andrew? You thought that cooking guiso de pipian counted as integration, but look at what you should’ve been spending your time doing!”
Thank goodness for tea and Emily. We’ve spent some wonderful Sunday mornings drinking tea, and discussing (in Spanish) personal and professional expectations that we each have for this time in Nicaragua. Taking that time to slow down and process our myriad of thoughts and feelings throughout these early days of our service has been so helpful. Our situation is completely unique here in Estelí, and we will continually do the best we can at any given point in time. Every Peace Corps experience is different.
I can’t help but want to learn from the experiences of others, and since I’m human I’ll likely find myself making comparisons. I think the lesson here is to take everything into perspective, and realize that each PCV brings different skills, experiences, and knowledge to their service. Likewise, each site has unique opportunities and challenges that will affect all volunteers in different ways. Now, instead of feeling crummy when I hear something awesome that a volunteer has done, I keep in mind those aspects and try to use their experience to inspire and motivate me to make a bigger impact, meet another neighbor, or pause and savor this experience that I am living in Nicaragua.
Beyond a wholesome discipline be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have the right to be here.
– Max Ehrmann, from Desiderata (1924)
We would love to hear what you think about this guidepost:
+ What ways are you comparing yourself to others?
+ How can you cultivate authentic creativity in your own life?
Read/join the discussion here.