The edge of the cliff is daunting, but it leads to a shining sea.
When I share with someone that I’ve chosen to join the Peace Corps and am about to spend the next 27 months living in Africa, I get one of two reactions:
1. “OHMYGOD, isn’t that like TWO YEARS of your life? Why would you do that?” This exclamation is often accompanied by a look best described as shock mixed with uncertainty about the stability of my mental state.
2. “Oh wow, that is so cool! I’m really excited/I really admire that you’re doing that.” This exclamation is usually accompanied by a hug, a gasp of delight, and pleasant shock.
When I applied to the Peace Corps, I always thought the hardest part would be giving up any meaningful income, saying goodbye to loved ones, pooping in a hole for two years…stuff like that. Turns out, it’s also pretty hard to describe why you applied in the first place.
In June of 2013, I received my invitation to serve. I was to be a rural aquaculture volunteer in Zambia. At first I was really excited, and then lurking worry and fears of the unknown started to sneak their way into my subconscious, manifesting themselves as procrastination in progressing through the application process (learn more about it here: www.peacecorps.gov). Why am I trying to move to Africa? Who in their right mind gives up two years of post-college income? Why would I leave everything I love behind?
You should know – I’m a small town Alaskan gal. I love the cold. I love the snow. I love the northern seas and woodstoves and cold beers in a sauna. I do not love heat. I burn like a steamed lobster in the sun and wilt like an unwatered daisy in anything over 75°F. So what am I doing leaving my winter wonderland?
Peace Corps, or not to Peace Corps? That was my question. So I did what I always do in situations like this one, and I asked my mom. And then I asked my friend’s moms. And I came to learn something important: People who are old enough to look back on those moments in their lives where they had to choose a path to follow nearly always recommend the path less traveled. They say, “Don’t worry about money. It’ll be there to earn when you get home.” They say, “Choose adventure. Choose uncertainty. You’re young, and you’re only young once.” They say, “Don’t worry, things will work out.” I would listen carefully to all this advice and think, “But how do you KNOW?”
And the truth is, they don’t. Only I can decide how my future will turn out, mixed with equal parts good luck and good people. But, I find it generally works out to listen to my elders, and so I decided to take that leap. I finished my application process and am now awaiting departure to Zambia in February. I know I’m in for two and a half years of hard lessons, of new and foreign (and not a little bit scary) experiences, and, yes, of pooping in a hole. I will not make any money, but I will make friends. I will miss every moment of beautiful Alaskan winters, but I think I will come to love African sunrises in their place. In short, I am choosing the unknown path, but I hear it’s a pretty good road.
So now when I tell someone I’m joining the Peace Corps, I don’t really care which reaction I get. Whether it be shock and disgust or shock and a smile, I am excited to pursue the service of the Peace Corps and see how my little part in the world may play into a bigger picture.
But there’s one thing I still hear, “Oh wow, the Peace Corps? I could never do that.”
Stop right there. Yes, you could! There are few things I dislike more than hearing people downplaying or undermining their own ability to adapt, change, and remain resilient against the unknown. Ladies, if you are reading this blog and contemplating your own application to the Peace Corps, I would urge you to dismiss outright those fears of what is unknown or unfamiliar. Do not be chained by your own trepidations or shy away from discomfort. If the Peace Corps (or anything in life) is something you feel calling to you, whispering in your ears with an unheard voice of temptation, then take those reins! Seek that far horizon, and do not stop until you find whatever it is that drives you.
For me, the Peace Corps is the hand that will open many doors I could never have opened or perhaps even dreamt of myself. Yes, I feel fear, and, yes, I feel anxiety. But everything that may ever be gained by stepping into the chasm that is the unseen future is worth the immense challenge it is to rise above those concerns. It is a process. It will take time and thought and your utmost concentration. It will require you to confront all that is frightening in your life and stare it down until it withers at your feet like a poisonous vine, ripped from the ground. But you can do it, and when you land on that new shore, I will see you there.