Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hump Month Blog #4: Note to self: a beloved community doesn’t have to be perfect

This is our fourth and final post in our Hump Month blog series! All month, our 2014-15 VISTAs shared their thoughts at the half-way point of their 12-month service commitment.

Please note: Any opinions expressed on the VISTA VIEW blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or policies of North Carolina Campus Compact, the AmeriCorps VISTA program or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

By Hannah Paek
AmeriCorps VISTA at East Carolina University 

Hannah with the volunteers on
Make a Difference Day
Ever since I got the email from Perdita asking for a Hump Month blog post, I had been racking my brains on what to write about. At first, I was worried that I would have nothing to write about. But now I realize that that might have been an “easier” problem – I could have made something up, for all anyone would know. The actual problem, though, is that there are too many blog-worthy topics. Do I write about this crazy period of transition that both endlessly frustrates me but also humbles me? Should I write about my wonderful co-workers and supervisor who have helped me (and are still helping me) get through these transitions, and discover and unpack my self-identity? Do I focus on my work in my office at East Carolina University, or should I share more about the sense of community that I feel in “West” Greenville? 

I decided to try to incorporate all of the above into one blog post – so bear with me, it might get messy.

Exactly one week before MLK Day of Service, everything that could go wrong, went wrong – some were my mistakes, others were things that were out of my control. Whoever’s fault it was, I was the one that had to rectify all of those mistakes. I thought that because Make a Difference Day went pretty smoothly (some bumps here and there), MLK Day would go just as smoothly, if not more. Nope. Having everything blow up in my face a week before D-day really freaked me out. All the way up until the day of service, I was nervous. This was going to be bigger than Make a Difference Day; this was a day celebrating Dr. King; this was an entire day that I organized. If it was a bad day, I would be R U I N E D.

Not really.

ECU Students Volunteering
on MLK Day
The day went as smoothly as any day of service could go. We had a solid kick-off with breakfast, speeches, and a brief pre-service reflection activity. Students went off to their service sites, then participated in a post-service reflection activity. This activity involved them drawing out their own vision for a “Beloved Community” and coming up with 3-5 ways that they wanted to live out this vision. Students came back for a closing ceremony where they had an opportunity to share their illustrations and their commitments.

Numbers-wise, it was a successful day – we nearly doubled Make a Difference Day’s numbers and last year’s MLK Day. But what made this day particularly memorable for me was the blow-up from the week before and the post-service reflection activity.

This day of service wasn’t about me. It was about the students, it was about community. The theme for this day of service was “Beloved Community.” I wanted the day to be about envisioning this and living this out. Yet there I was, a week before the day of service, crying with frustration because of everything that went wrong and thinking up all the ways that this day of service could go even more wrong.

I almost let the logistics and the administrative details make me forget about the meaning of this day. I almost let my desire for a perfect day tear me away from why I’m in this field to begin with.

At the closing ceremony, a few students from each project site shared about their experience. Hearing them make their own connections from their project to Dr. King’s vision for the “Beloved Community,” and listening to them talk about what “Beloved Community” means and looks like – this! This is why I love what I do and this is what inspires me.

2015 MLK Day of
Service at ECU
You know how in interviews, the employer asks the potential employee “What’s one of your weaknesses?” and one of the clichéd responses is “I’m a perfectionist.”? (*rolls eyes*) Well, that’s me. (*rolls eyes again*) I don’t think I truly realized why that’s a weakness until I sat down with my supervisor, post-blow-up, to unpack this.

As a young professional, I think it’s easy to let perfectionism get the best of you – especially if you’ve been a perfectionist for the past 20+ years. You want things to go well, you want to get recognized, you don’t want to be known as THAT woman/man that messed up, etc. But what I’ve been realizing is that sometimes those mistakes and those “failures” (for lack of a better word) are very much necessary to sober you up and keep you focused. In this field of work, especially, where education, children, social justice, and community involvement intermingle; it’s important for you not to get caught up in the numbers or the attention.

I am here to serve. I am not here to teach, to help, or to advise – because that would imply that I’m better in some way. I’m not. I’m here to grow and learn alongside everyone else through what I do – and that’s service. Individuals and communities always make mistakes. But it’s how you respond to those mistakes that determines what kind of individual and community you build. So embrace those imperfections instead of being critical of yourself and others because of those flaws. Embrace them to raise yourself and others up into a stronger community.