Fighting Poverty with Passion
I’m currently writing this blog post with only a few weeks left in my service year as a Tulane VISTA Fellow. It is a very odd feeling when you realize that you have been doing something for half of a year, let alone twelve months! Since it is nearly the end of my year, and since I never really do it enough, I’d like to take a little time to reflect, share a little bit of my own story, and hopefully offer up some tips to my readers and hopefully the incoming cohort of Tulane VISTAs.
Just last summer, I was traveling around on the West Coast after graduating from Tulane in the spring. I visited some friends of mine in San Francisco and was able to visit Yosemite National Park for a few days with a good family friend. If you’ve never been to San Francisco, I completely understand, because I spent the farm while I was there. However, it is probably one of America’s most breathtaking and comfortable (weather wise) cities. It has a very diverse population, features an unbelievable landscape with breathtaking views, is close to some of the finest higher education institutions in the country, has delicious food all around town, and only a short drive to some of our country’s most scenic, serene, natural destinations. It was also the first time that I had ever visited Yosemite National Park, which I could go on about for days. I will be succinct by saying that it is a place every person should try and visit at least a couple times in their lifetime, as each season brings the park entirely different weather, views, flora, fauna, and opportunities for life altering photographs. Unfortunately, my trip was cut short because I became sick. However there were a couple of things I discovered about myself while I was there.
Being surrounded by an amazing natural landscape with bountiful opportunities for one to hike, swim, fish, camp, backpack, mountain climb, cycle, practice your photography skills, or even do some yoga or Tai Chi with some epic views all made me realize how some of my favorite pastimes, most of which are the aforementioned activities, are not available to me in the part of the country where I live. As someone who was born and raised in Texas, and then attended college in New Orleans, I’ve pretty much had to make long drives my entire life in order to try and experience any of those opportunities on the weekends or during any breaks I might have. If there is one thing that my VISTA term and attending a competitive university has taught me, it is that you need to work hard to have balance in your life, or else you will face the consequences. This means that if you are someone who desires or feeds off of hard work and average to long hours on the job, then you need to have equal time to yourself to exercise and practice those activities in your private time that give you energy. While New Orleans has undoubtedly one of the country’s greatest opportunities for leisurely activities and ‘adult recreation’, I am unfortunately not someone who craves restaurant and bar hopping, endless parties and galas, and many nights during the week out on the town. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy parties, exploring cool restaurants and bars, or going to shows and festivals with my friends, but I realized that I simply don’t enjoy it as much as I thought I did. I’ve spent a lot of my life sincerely longing to be in a natural environment more than I am, as I think that is where I can ‘recharge’ and reflect on what I’ve learned and struggle with, as well as explore the outdoors. It’s something I used to do all the time when I was younger, and I crave it now more than ever.
In the end, what this probably means more than anything is that I need to eventually find a career in a part of the world where I can have these experiences more readily available to me without having to spend multiple days in a car or plane trying to go from the urban jungle to the, well, literal jungle. As most of my professional and scholarly interests seem to align with the urban environment, this is going to be something I have to work hard to prioritize. But at least now I know that I need to make it a priority, so that at least when I’m on the job, I can feel rested, energized, and excited to tackle my professional goals and aspirations.
Additionally during the past year, I have faced some personal struggles that have, for often months at a time, made it very difficult for me to focus on maintaining not only my personal physical and mental health, but also my current work as a VISTA. Something that I have come to understand from dealing with it is that part of how you can measure the character of another person is in large part based upon their ‘resilience’ factor. This means putting much more attention focused upon how a person is able to not only deal with or manage their lives during a time of great stress, hardship, or change, but how they adapt to this moment, identify their individual struggles, work to grow and overcome these challenges, and eventually ‘bounce back’ from them.
I read an interesting article recently in which the author interviewed scientists and researchers whom study ‘resilience’ across our society. The scientists have worked with returned war veterans, victims of sexual assault, people who have lived through natural disasters, members of families dealing with personal loss, as well as patients with illnesses. Two of the researchers in particular, Dr. Steven Southwick of the Yale School of Medicine and Dr. Dennis Charney of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, were interviewed for their work. Their study of the ‘science of bouncing back’ was very fascinating, and I’m currently reading their book (which is to be updated later this year). In addition, I’d like to share 10 Expert Tips For Resilience, which I am currently trying to take on:
1. Develop a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake
2. Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened
3. Try to maintain a positive outlook
4. Take cues from someone who is especially resilient
5. Don’t run from things that scare you: Face Them
6. Be quick to reach for support when things go haywire
7. Learn new things as often as you can
8. Find an exercise regimen you’ll stick to (toughie)
9. Don’t beat yourself up or dwell on the past
10. Recognize what makes you uniquely strong – and own it
I hope that all of you read the article above (It’s really interesting) even if you don’t think you personally struggle with resiliency. I also hope some of my reflections might help you in your own personal journey to be a better employee, VISTA, family member, or friend. See ya next month!