Here are the top seven life lessons I learned from serving in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic and Panama for 2 years, 11 months and 23 days.
1) Check your ego.
I can use one liter of water to take a shower, kill chickens, pigs and cockroaches, stay in touch with my loved ones across oceans, train community health promoters and work successfully in ambiguous situations. But, I cannot bring about world peace or cure cancer; I am no longer the doe-eyed, self-important, chip-on-my-shoulder liberal arts school graduate who believes I can change the world in three years...but collectively, we need to keep trying.
2) Learn to work for people, not things.
Prioritize people, connections, relationships and friendships over things. I learned to open my heart so damn wide that I didn’t think anyone else could squeeze in, but community members kept showing up and I kept loving. The connections we make our communities will make us whole – jeans, watches, cars and nice cheese alone will not. Optimize for people and let them fill you up!
3) Don’t be afraid to mess up.
Be willing to fail, look like an idiot, laugh at yourself and learn from others – if you don’t, you’ll never learn bachata, to ride a motorcycle or to develop a rural emergency medical system. Give in, lean in and go for it - fail hard, fail fast and keep going.
4) Manage expectations.
I dreamt of living in a wooden shack in the middle of the jungle, yet I ended up living with a family of ten on the border of Haiti. It wasn’t what I expected, but it turned out to be better. Let nothing be a loss, because nothing is. Don’t waste time regretting what could or should have been.
5) Be a good houseguest and an even better host.
It takes minimal effort to be a good houseguest and slightly more effort to be a great host - invest the time and energy into becoming both. As a houseguest: Disengage from your electronics, keep your space tidy, bring chocolate and do the damn dishes. As a host: Sweep your house, clean the toilet, stock up on coffee and encourage your guests to try the local cow foot stew.
6) Find simple joys.
Smile when you milk your first cow for fresh milk, see your first live birth or teach a child to read. Appreciate phone calls with your mother, the laughter of a child, the deliciousness of a home cooked meal, the beauty in human connections and the endless sources of joy in the world. For these precious moments everyday, smile.
7) Live on purpose.
Occupy this world with passion, energy, confidence and purpose. Never stop learning, listening, trying, doing and becoming. Your mind is meant to grow, your body is meant to live. Know when to take care of yourself: when to drink the local spiced rum (or when not to), to stay in pjs and binge on The Good Wife, to say yes to salsa night. Drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen and tend to infected bug bites. Trust that life is leading exactly where you are meant to go.
A very special thanks to Merle and Mike who got me hooked on The Listserve; we have kept in touch cross-country and grown our strong and unique friendship through many of Listserve emails!
San Francisco, California