Birthdays have always been a big deal in my family, so it only felt right for Tess and me to travel home to celebrate together, something we were unable to do last year because of our obligations in the Peace Corps. And, as many of you know, when it comes to our birthdays, Tess and I are quite inseparable as we’ve been celebrating our birthdays side by side since Tess was born seven years and one day after me.
Being home together this time around felt extra special for me not only because of the fact that we live so far apart and aren’t able to see each other as frequently as we have in the past, but also because I felt an even stronger feeling of gratitude and appreciation for the little things that I took for granted before moving abroad to live in a developing country.
With another year of life under my belt (am I really 34?!?), I can’t help but look back on this last incredible year and reflect on all of the highs and lows that I experienced and the lessons learned that I am carrying with me into this next year. So, why has this last year been extra special for me? Well, first and foremost, it was the first time that I’ve lived outside of the U.S. It was the first time that I’ve spoken more Spanish than I have English. And it was a year that brought with it the opportunity to stretch and grow in ways that I never imagined. I have strengthened and cultivated a clearer understanding of my values and what matters most to me. My perspective on life and what’s important has shifted so much. I look at situations with more open curiosity and less judgement. And I feel a stronger sense of humility than ever before. Having grown up privileged in many ways, it’s been quite humbling to live a simpler life with a lot less than what I’m used to. It’s encouraged me to reprioritize what’s important to me. I’m also more present in the moment and have an immense appreciation for the beauty around me whether that’s in nature or in the love that people share with one another. And most importantly for me, I feel so much more grounded in my sense of self.
As I was beginning my service last year, I was told by someone that serving in the Peace Corps is like a self-growth boot camp. Here, we are challenged in many unexpected ways which lead to the discovery of new aspects of ourselves at a pace and in ways that many never experience in their lifetime. So, I went in knowing that there would be many highs and lows that would impact me in more ways than one. But, it wasn’t until I hit my one year of service and celebrated my birthday that I really slowed down and reflected on what this last year has meant to me. While the majority of my experience has been rather positive, I’ve caught myself, at times, falling into the compare and despair mode where I compare myself to where my friends or other acquaintances are in their lives. There’s a notion of feeling “behind” in some ways. At times, I catch myself bothered by the cultural pressures I’ve received here in Nicaragua to settle down and start a family because I’m technically “old.” “You’re not married? You don’t have kids? Do you want to marry and have kids?” are the questions I constantly get asked when I meet many Nicaraguans. Sometimes it gets to me and I question where I’m at. But then, I check and right-size myself and realize that I’m exactly where I need to be, where I’m supposed to be. And I remind myself that we all have our own path and journey – there’s no one right way. I’ve tried to “follow society’s rules” of what a “successful” woman should accomplish by the time she’s 30 — graduate college, find a great job, marry and have kids — but it didn’t work for me. I’ve always felt a calling to be adventurous and to live my life in an unconventional way, and now I’m doing just that. So, with that said, I’m going to follow that feeling and see where it takes me.
This next year, while I’m working on expanding my projects and developing deeper connections within my local community, I also hope to work on improving parts of myself. I have an incredible opportunity to continue building amazing connections with others, to live life with spontaneity, to continue to discover where my passions lie and determine what makes me feel the most alive. I have a real opportunity to repaint my own picture.