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7 Things I Took Away From Volunteering in a Developing Country

7 Things I Took Away From Volunteering in a Developing Country

“Our lives are frittered away by detail. Simplify. Simplify.” – Thoreau

In January of 2014 I left my home in Seattle to travel to Peru to volunteer for four months with at risk children. I hopped on a plane with my rusty Spanish skills and expected smooth sailing from there. I was not prepared for what was to come, but that is why it worked out perfectly. Honestly, if I had known I would be speaking fully in Spanish, planning and managing a summer camp for 40 kids, teaching math and science in a foreign language and working ten hour days, I probably would not have gone.

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It was through being challenged everyday, and questioning if I would make it through my volunteer commitment that I was able to grow and take so much away from my time.

I was constantly humbled, frustrated, and exhausted, but full of joy. As I left Seattle, I was nervous about what my volunteering experience would be in Peru. And as I left Peru, I was full of excitement to be going home, but that same nervous feeling came back to me. I was going back to a familiar place, but I felt different. My life had not been changed in any drastic way, but there were small things I had taken away from my time in Peru that I wanted to incorporate into my life at home.

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In the big scheme of things, four months is a blink of an eye. It is nowhere near the over two-year commitment that Peace Corp volunteers make or what some other volunteer programs require. But those four months allowed me to step out of the life I had led for 22 years and gain important perspective.

The main theme that stood out to me was simplicity. We can get by with so little. This does not mean we need to deny ourselves what brings us joy, but it does mean that we are obligated to be conscious of what we consume and how the choices we make affect not only ourselves, but the world we share with other humans and other creatures.

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    The children that welcomed me into their lives. They challenged and inspired me- and also gave me about five hugs a day.

    Before I left Peru, I wrote seven things in my journal that I planned to hold myself accountable to as I jumped back into where I had left off in the USA.

    1. Do what you want!
      • Do not worry about other people because chances are they are too busy thinking about themselves to care
      • When you are happy you make others happy- so do what makes you happy!
      • Life is too short to do things out of guilt or feelings of obligation. Only do what is genuine and you can give yourself to 100%
    2. Nothing is easy, nothing is black and white.
    3. Celebrate the uniqueness of humanity.
    4. If you make yourself proud then NEVER apologize for who you are.
    5. A simply life is a happy life.
      • This one is important. Remember when you had a backpack full of clothes for four months? You never needed anything more. Remember when you are in Seattle that you do not need anything. Identify and organize your wants- what makes you truly happy?
    6. Be patient! Everything takes time.
    7. 3 month rule: almost all big adjustments take 3 months- before that it is unfair to make any adjustment or decisions.

    Two years later, I have sat down to revisit these observations. Have I held to them as much as I wish? Yes, surprisingly, I have. There was no overnight change when I returned to the USA, I still love shopping too much, but little by little simplicity has come into my life. This is the key, my friends. Nothing happens overnight. It is through time that a little becomes a lot.

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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