Monthly Archives: September 2013

Why Did You Do That?

I’m more likely to think about the meaning of Memorial Day, as opposed to Labor Day, but mostly those holidays exist as bookends to June, July and August. A three day introduction to the summer and a three day wrap up, usually with a sale on school supplies and computers. Even though my adult schedule doesn’t look much different in the summer, I still hear James Taylor in the background singing “Summers Here” when the neighborhood kids get out of school. Who doesn’t love to kick back a little?

The truth is we spend most of our year on the move, conjugating the verbs: to do, to want and to have. But what about to be? Is that relegated to a week’s vacation in the summer? (I’m not even sure, frankly, that one week is enough time to be… it takes a few days to slow down, sleep in and linger over morning coffee. You know, talk to the person in the rocking chair beside you).

But it’s September now, summer is over, and I want to talk about to do.

I know we are all busy, but if someone asked you “Why are you doing this?” what would you say? The “this” can be anything; in fact sometimes it is simply a situation that emerged in which “this” had to be done and somehow you ended up doing it. But if our actions are perpetually dictated by factors external to ourselves, we end up living reactive lives. Action is simply reaction when it does not come from a sense of who we are and what we want to do, but instead is an anxious reading of how others define us and of what the world demands.

When you get a moment, see if you can define yourself apart from what you do. Then do a little math and figure out what percent of your actions are intentional and authentic, and what percent are what you need to do to hold a job, make a living, satisfy the expectations of others, fill your time, or to evade the fact that you don’t know what else to do.

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What about Us?

If you think about it, the mission of our organization is pretty huge. Amazing, but huge. We want to build girls of courage, confidence and character, and that is no small thing. And then, we want them to go out there and make the world a better place. That isn’t a task they finish by the time they age out of the Ambassador program. It’s more like a philosophy to live by, a way of being in the world that shapes their whole life.

What about the women who work and volunteer with our organization? You realize we have to ask ourselves; Are we living courageously? Are we confident? Are we known for our character?

In what ways am I making the world a better place?

We ask girls to learn by making their own decisions, acting on those decisions, and engaging others in the task. Isn’t that what we mean by girl led, learning by doing and cooperative learning? When that process applies to us grown-up girls it’s not uncommon to hear all the reasons why we don’t have the time, money, energy, or support to learn the things we’d like to learn. Or the things we need to learn. Sometimes those stories are shared with others, and sometimes they remain quietly unexamined.

I think there is a link between our commitment to learning and our capacity for risk-taking. If I don’t value the process of learning, and fixate instead on effectiveness or measurable results, I’m less likely to step out with courage or confidence. I’m less likely to risk the necessary failure which happens along a lifetime of developing character. When outcomes are the measure of my being in this world, I will want to control them, and that will limit me to predictable arenas where I know I can succeed. I will only “learn” by doing what I am reasonably sure I can successfully do- the things that yield instantly visible results. But I’m afraid that if we don’t pay attention, we will wake up one morning and realize that we’ve missed the larger, long term character building in our own lives that is needed to make the world a better place.

And the truth is, it’s a much more authentic process to facilitate a girl’s journey when I’m aware of my own journey. We want to model the process of learning, so that our leadership experience validates the program model we use. So that it inspires young women. So that our support is real. So that we’re truly doing our part to make this world a better place.

¡ Poco a Poco !

I just spent ten days in Guatemala working with a small school in a squatter community. There are many adventures on this annual trip, as American volunteers step with me into a new culture and the experience of shanty town living. There is a particular adjustment that is hard for us to make, and I see the struggle every summer with every group. The struggle stems from our cultural preference for efficiency and task completion when we set out to work. We have a plan. So we go to Guatemala to serve, and by golly, we are going to serve according to our plan. The intentionality is certainly good, but that American worldview doesn’t fit neatly into the Guatemalan context. Let me give you an example.

Tourism folks market Guatemala as the Land of Eternal Spring, with warm days and cool nights all year long. May through November is the rainy season, which doesn’t affect the temperature, but makes for a wet afternoon almost every day of our visit. So the construction plan needs to yield to the rainfall. Did I mention the arrival of materials? There isn’t a Home Depot down the street and only one person at the little school has a car. Concrete, paint and drywall comes on a truck. Eventually. So the clash between expectation and reality is often difficult when volunteers plan to work for four days, and really want to work eight hours on all of those four days. At dusk we often have a conversation with the locals that ends a smile and the phrase poco a poco.

“Little by little,” they say, which is as much a philosophy of life as an expression used to ease frustration. In a country with little infrastructure, corrupt government and extreme poverty, poco a poco invites an appreciation for each day’s effort, because any progress is good progress. That is a different perspective from our fast-paced, results oriented view of a good day. But I have come to learn than recognizing progress, at any level, helps to cultivate a sense of gratitude and relieve the tension of struggling with reality. Stress, after all, is mostly a perspective that whatever is happening is not good, or should be different. And in a different culture, or context, it is easier to see how little control we really have over reality.

I can’t help but wonder if the practice of a poco a poco mentality might be the best souvenir that anyone brings back from a visit to our little squatter community.