What a Journey it Was
It came to my attention that this past week marked four years since I made the decision to uproot from Ohio and move south to Guatemala. Safe to say, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in that move, the lessons I would learn, or the personal growth that would take place. But, here I sit today, and I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for the journey then, I wouldn’t be in the midst of an incredible journey now.
At 24 years old, I was seeking a little bit more fulfillment than what I was actually receiving from working three jobs and hardly generating an income. So, with a little money to my name, a couple bags of clothes, I boarded a plane heading for Central America. With a one way ticket in hand, I knew that I would be challenged from the onset, and throughout the months to follow until I returned to the US a year later.
In doing my best to prepare, I had spent countless hours in the weeks prior studying and trying to learn the Spanish language. If I was to stand confident in a new country, I knew that having the communication skills would be vital to making the most of my time abroad. I understood the language, and could blurt out a few sentences, but could hardly speak it fluently. Luckily, my first two weeks in country would be spent at a full immersion Spanish school with a host family.
However, my language skills were challenged within 30 minutes of landing in Guatemala. After working my way through customs, I stood by the luggage carousel for some time. As the people waiting for their suitcases slowly made their way, only I remained as I watched the carousel a few more times, desperately waiting for my bags to show up.
And, they never did.
Trying to remember the Spanish words for ‘my, luggage, and not here’, I approached a baggage claim representative and blurted out, “Mi equipaje no esta aqui” (my luggage is not here). She quickly, and I mean quickly, responded with something that I don’t recall. Then, she realized she needed a bi-lingual agent to assist me.
My luggage eventually showed up the next day, and upon its arrival I quickly learned what to expect out of the next year. This lesson, is still one of the greatest lessons I put into practice today. It’s one that there isn’t a rule book for, a check list, or any device to help you navigate. Though, it is one that requires courage, desire, vulnerability, and effort. It’s a lesson called ‘figuring it out’.
Sometimes You Just Have to ‘Figure it Out’
During those couple of hours at La Guardia Airport, I realized that I was being tested. How would I react? What would I do? Would I let my emotions display? Would I be agitated, nervous, or scared? Would I shutter, or would I stand with confidence and say, “Damnit, I’m going to figure this out regardless of how difficult it might be”?
Because I didn’t recognize it then, I can look back now and see the series of events that challenged me in difficult situations, and I can recognize the pattern of arriving at a solution.
Holding a stable conversation in Spanish with a local, understanding public transportation for a 6 hour trip that requires three bus changes, asking directions in a new city, bargaining for cheap prices at the market for food, teaching physical education to children with special needs, opening up an in-country bank account. The examples roll through my memory, and I can vividly remember the outcome of these situations.
Without a ‘perfect’ plan of action for these scenarios, I usually had to figure it out. Some way, somehow, no matter what, I was going to work through these challenges. As I sit here today, my thoughts are guided towards the idea that this is what life requires a lot of times – figuring it out.
Again, I look back at different challenges I’ve faced since returning from Guatemala – re-integrating into a consuming culture, gaining employment, learning a completely new industry, struggling with the ‘little things’, and even moving half-way across the country to a new state. In all of these events, I needed to ‘figure it out’.
We’ve all had these moments in our lives when we found ourselves saying ‘what in the hell do I do now’. There’s two ways of looking at this statement:
- Throw in the towel and walk away. As a result missing out on an opportunity to learn and grow.
- Try, and try again.
I think about what bits of advice, or ‘nuggets’ of information that can be useful when you arrive at one of these situations, and what you can do to prevent reverting to option number one.
- Remember that you likely aren’t the first person to go through a similar experience, or a similar one for that matter. There are plenty of others who got through it, and so too can you. Rely on your instincts and what you do know in order to make it through.
- Trust your gut instinct. There will be times when things just don’t feel right, and you need to walk away. At other times, you will be forced to choose between one option and the other – choose the one that feels best to you. It’s okay to have doubts, but don’t doubt yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to make a mistake (in your eyes or the eyes of others). Being timid will most certainly hold you back, and as a result, making it difficult to learn and grown to your full potential. It seems as though people spend their time worrying about how others will react when a decision is made for ourselves. Only you know what is best for you, so don’t be afraid to actually do it.
Is the result always going to turn out exactly how you envisioned? Not always. Are you always going to be satisfied with what actually occurs? Perhaps. Best case scenario is that you figure it out every time you are asked to. However, life doesn’t always work that way.
The best result is that you learn the process and understand how to manage and handle difficult situations.
The Long Term Results
Sure, the long term results are that you learn and grow as an outcome of your previous actions. You learn how to manage different situations that life will throw in your direction from time to time.
However, I think that the most important long term result is the memories that are to be gained. For it is without these memories that we have nothing to look back on to provide us the encouragement needed to take on the next challenging task.
I spent some time re-visiting all of my photographs from my time in Guatemala. Without hesitation, many of these photos represent the triumphs that were the result of being challenged to ‘figure it out’. These are the same memories that have provided me the encouragement to tackle similar life events in the past three years, and they are the same memories from which I will remember in future trials.
It’s this funny thing that challenges you and then has the opportunity to reward you. It doesn’t give you a manual to follow – only the understanding that it is what you make of it. When it challenges you, you have two choices: you can throw in the towel, or you can try.
I know what my decision is. What’s yours?