One thing that I have learned over the years is that you should only stress over the things you can control. Which let’s be honest, are very few things in life.
Control for many of us is a security blanket, it helps us feel safe. When we can control our environments, what we eat, our bodies, our friends, our communities etc. Then we can live the illusion that we are happy and secure. The biggest growth opportunities come from when we are out of our comfort zones and have very little “control” of our physical environment. That is when you really realize how “secure” you are in your own sense of self.
For me, this unintended personal growth opportunity came to me when I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal in the mid-1990s. I was in my early twenties and thought I was a self-confident young woman. I believed I was going to make a huge difference in Nepal. When in reality, I went through a major melt down and Nepal had a much bigger impact on myself personally than what I did for the Nepali people.
About a year into my service, I became obsessed with my body. I had very limited diet of rice, lentils and vegetables, and ironically I was gaining weight. This is very common with a high carb diet for women vs the men were losing weight and being sent canisters of peanut butter to supplement their diets.
In America, we are obsessed with our bodies, especially women. I know that today, there is more of an emphasis on “healthy” eating, but this can be taken to extremes with the primary motivation being to maintain a certain body and weight. In Nepal, being bigger and robust was a sign of wealth and bigger women were actually considered beautiful. Many times people would compliment me, by saying I was so “moto” which means “fat” in Nepali. Obviously that sentence did not bode well for my American raised brain.
I realized… that I was a confident woman when I could control my environment and weight. Suddenly, in a place where I had very little control I was self-loathing and depressed. Essentially crying everyday wondering why I was so obsessed with my weight in a third world country that I had come to help.
This was a HUGE wake up call. It was ultimately the best thing that happened in my life, as I reflect back today.
What got me through this, you wonder? It was a visit from my family. My entire immediate family came to visit me in Nepal. While I was trying my hardest to put on a smile, because I didn’t want to let my family know that I was vulnerable, sad and depressed. My father completely saw through it. As I was walking with him one day through a field of grasses, he stopped and faced me and started crying. He started shedding the tears that I had been shedding since I arrived in Nepal.
Just to understand the magnitude of this, I had only seen my father cry twice before this: when my grandmother passed away and then later when my grandfather passed. My father rarely showed emotions. For him to “feel” my pain, and for me to make him cry, was a profound experience for me. I am not sure if it was the love he showed towards me, or the realization that we are all interconnected on this Earth. Suddenly, I got out of my own way. Realizing that I was inflicting pain on my father, gave me a deeper sense of self, it took me out of my own self-obsessed thoughts and instead gave me more compassion for myself. It gave me the strength and courage to finish my service in Nepal and then to travel to India by myself for 2 months. My obsession with my weight and body was replaced by a deep love of who I was at my core. I gained a new respect for my body, no matter what the weight, shape or color.
I am huge advocate of the Peace Corps Service. Know that if you do join, you will come back a changed person, for the good. Peace Corps is good for America and Americans.
Few lessons I learned from my Peace Corps service:
- Life is too short and precious to waste your life energy on things that don’t serve you.
- Trust that everything happens for a reason.
- Don’t stress out about things you cannot control, especially other people’s actions.
- Do focus your energies on moving things that you are passionate about forwards.
- Volunteer your time and energy… it helps you get out of your own head when you help others.
What things do you need to let go of?