As this year’s Health and Agriculture Pre-Service Training comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on my service thus far. A very short year ago, I found myself in the same position as these new trainees. That fact is incredibly strange. How much has changed, developed, grown, and altered in the past year? Well, the answer to that question is: so much. I have learned an unwritten, minority language in West Africa, made a home for myself in a village, grown to know and love 30+ new, non-English speaking family members. My counterparts and I have been able to put on countless programs, workshops and trainings. I have been able to teach and learn invaluable lessons. It has been amazing to watch myself and my fellow cohort members adapt. Adapting is something that consistently blows my mind. Subconsciously, we just do it.
After one year, I do feel like I have done at least a little something. So, why do I question if I should be proud of myself? Content? Why is it always a question of what is immediately next, what I could be doing that is more meaningful, better, or more than what I am doing right now? Where did the idea come from that it is so wrong or prideful to give yourself credit for what you work hard for? Is this constant push for “better” always a positive push? I would say, to some extent, it is a good thing. Keeping busy or making progress keeps us humble, striving, progressive. However, I also see a danger to this mindset. It raises the question for me, “When did ‘good enough’ become just not good enough?”
I would absolutely argue that growing up in the United Sates has a tendency to automatically program us to strive for bigger, better, smarter, newer. We see on social media that dissatisfaction is the norm, and what we are doing right now could probably be done better. When one chapter of life even begins to close, we are already salivating for the taste of the next thing and planning for the next month, year…5 years. Ask me about my 5-year plan again. I would love to bore you with my philosophy about living presently. For another day, hey?
So, let’s just acknowledge one of the biggest dissatisfactions in our culture as an example. Take your body, for instance. Since your legs are so short, you need to buy pants to elongate them. If you cant have it, you really should give the illusion. Your hair is too thin or short to pull off that whimsical boho “natural” look that is so in. (Is that in right now? I may be a year too late…) Anyway, THANK THE LORD for extensions, right? My cheekbones are pretty much nonexistent, because I have been cursed with a round “baby face”. I, of course, have makeup to fix that. Oh, and men, make sure you bulk up this winter for the summer season, because if you don’t have abs…do you really have anything at all?
Of course, I am playing devils advocate here. I still wear makeup, and I wouldn’t mind a few more inches added to my height, but when did bettering ourselves turn into becoming obsessed with ourselves? Obsessed with perfection. Obsessed with more. In this situation, when did my body and your body and his body not qualify to become the body?
“Ok, Stephanie. What does this have to do with Peace Corps the Gambia?” Eyoooo, I am glad you asked.
Well, I have spent the last two months actively observing and assisting a large group of fresh new faces begin a pretty amazing journey. I’ve heard frustration after frustration, worry after worry and judgement after judgement about language, program planning and what others are or aren’t doing. Let me just reiterate. IT HAS BEEN TWO MONTHS, and group after group beats themselves up about not being fluent. Everyone is gaining and losing weight due to diet change and stress. Everyone is speculating on who has traveled where, who has the most experience, what projects are more important than others. I’ll be the first one to say- I have been there. I’ve cried tears over how poor my language has been or how small my works seems. By whose standards, thoughl? Why do we kill ourselves over these things? I have one thing to say to all of this.
In the states, my dissatisfaction often came from my physical appearance, my education, my diet, my career choices, my goals, my achievements (or lack of). Why were my friends fitter than me? Why is so and so doing so much better than me in this class? Why haven’t I backpacked through the alps like she did? Here, I do the same damn thing. Why is that volunteer so much better at language than me? That person has traveled so much…they much know so much more than me. Why is she able to stay so fit here and all I do is eat and eat and eat?? Can someone pu-leeeaaseeee tell me, WHY DO WE DO THIS?!
I do have to say, these insecurities have changed drastically since a year ago. Why? I think that the time that I have been here has made me realize that I really am good enough. Not for other people, either. I am good enough for myself. So what if I fumble my language sometimes? I try so hard, every day! So what if I eat a lot of carbs some days? I have great nutrition, a working body and a community that loves me for eating their food. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I let the most miniscule things spoil the whole picture. How much more freeing is it to just love yourself, your unique experiences, and acknowledge with a smile where you are right now. The Gambia has given me the gift (and somehow curse) of slowing down and relishing in the day to day small victories. I often wonder why it has taken this experience to get me to this mental place after 23 years.
So, today, if you are feeling not good enough, I am here to tell you:
You ARE good enough.
You ARE working hard.
You ARE moving in a direction that is unique to you.
What you are doing right now is where you are meant to be in this moment for better or for worse. Your next steps will determine what happens. Keep striving, but remember, your soul is one of a kind and every day, you ARE good enough.
These days, I’ve been striving for things that make me a better human. Things that fill up my heart. I find these things in Galatians 5:22-23… “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control…”
Today is your day. This month is your month. This year is your year.