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Life and Plans Are Like Oil And Water, They Don't Mix.

There is power in accepting that plans and life are rarely aligned. Life is unpredictable, and things don't always go according to plan. However, that doesn't mean that we should give up on our dreams. Instead we should choose to believe in hope and let go of expectations. When we do this, we open ourselves up to the infinite possibilities of who we can become.

Llotenango, Quiché, Guatemala. July, 2023.

Let The New Journey Begin By Letting Go Of The Old One

I am writing this post after finishing my first month of Peace Corps service here in Guatemala. I never thought I would be here at this moment. I thought I would still be in Chasquitambo, Ancash, Peru living out my plan to its perfect ideal.

However, things didn't work out that way. Life had other plans for me, a path that I didn't see coming. Thankfully, it has brought me some of the greatest insights about life, who I am, and who I want to be. Not all of it was pretty or enjoyable, but it was necessary to evolve into the person I love today.

Unexpected change is rarely a fun thing. For me, that statement rings true when I think about my transition from Peru to this new journey here in Guatemala. The feeling of regret has undoubtedly accompanied me as I have stepped into this new journey. There have been several times where I wonder if I made the right decision, and I questioned why my plan failed.

But it didn't, it just changed.

Therein lies a great lesson about life and plans in accordance to this post, that the overall control of our lives cloaked in what we call "plans" is an illusion.

What I have come to find from this pivot along with other past experiences of unexpected change is the importance of how we deal with the shattering of the illusion. I think that it is critical in those moments when we are let down, confused, and often deeply saddened by plans not working out that we develop healthy self-talk. Because when we engage with ourselves in a negative way about the past we let fear get in the way of the beautiful creation of being present in the moment. We must remind ourselves that forging a new path forward is uncomfortable, and that it is natural to look back on our experiences and try to make sense of them. Yet, we should not dwell on them because that can turn into a dangerous journey into the nostalgic world of what could have been. When the reality is that things change, some doors open as others close, and we have to let go of the old and walk through the new if we want to move forward.

In my case, I had faith that if I followed my intuition and chased the feeling of novelty, then I would come out on the other end with a deeper sense of what it means to be alive.

Lemoa, Quiché, Guatemala, June, 2023

So, here I am in Santa Cruz Del Quiché, Guatemala digging deep into the philosophical nature of who I am so that I can put into words how grateful it feels to have walked through those doors into a new beginning. The person that I am in at this moment is the best version of me that I have ever been. Betting on hope and taking a leap of faith brought me to this gorgeous place that I know call home, and it also brought me a renewed sense of purpose. It is here in Guatemala with my new host family, a fresh group of volunteers, and an amazing group of work partners with whom I feel the traction of good fortune unfolding in a way that will bring sustainable change to my host community.

Sant Cruz Del Quiché, Guatemala, July, 2023.

In terms of my formal work, I think it is important to start off with mentioning that I work with the most dedicated folks here in Quiché who are focused on uplifting their community to not just survive but to thrive. My job is primarily focused on working with Ministerio de Agricultura Ganadería y Alimentación (MAGA) as a Rural Extension volunteer. The work ranges from creating training materials of all kinds to doing impromptu "charlas" (small meetings) with a group of women about breast feeding, hand washing, and creating a family gardens. The goal of my work is to help bridge the gap of malnutrition in rural Quiché by working hand in hand with community leaders to increase the capacity of families to grow and gain access to their own source of nutritious foods.

Everyday is something different. The job reiterates the lesson of letting go of expectations. My work never goes according to schedule, there is always a need for some kind of audible, and the job demands consistent flexibility. The mental agility that a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) builds overtime should never be overrated, it the secret sauce to integration, relationship building, and a successful service (whatever that may be defined as...). Anyways, I love the work we are doing here, it feeds my soul to have my hands in the dirt and to be immersed into the culture and communities of rural Guatemala. Being in a place that is so rich in ancestral agricultural knowledge while at the same time suffering from such a lack of resources to translate that knowledge into sustainable means to feed their children is a juxtaposition that teaches me something new everyday.

Pamesebal, Quiché, Guatemala, June, 2023.

Beyond the formal work, there is the nuance of the informal side of being a PCV that is really where the experience is made whole. Being a family member and community member is the greatest leadership role as a PCV. I have three siblings that I live with in my family 18, 15, and 8 years old. Their curiosity and desires to know about my experiences in the world, the way they look up to me, and how they open the door for me to get to know them and support them in their daily activities is the treasure of a lifetime. My host parents are an absolute joy, we share so many good laughs and stories around the dinner table. Many of our conversations are around religion, philosophy, and the history of Guatemala- and we always share a good laugh no matter the context. Becoming a part of their family, sharing meals with them, attending community activities with them, and simply sharing small interactions of daily life in the house with each one of them is easily one of the best parts of my time as a PCV.

Outside of the house, when I am walking on the streets it is obvious that I am not from here and several people will look at me intently. Yet again, another wonderful opportunity to turn the suspicion of my community members into "confianza" (trust) with a smile and an "hola!" There really is not a better feeling than turning a timid moment with a community member into a friendship with a smile and a small chat about who I am and why I am here in Quiché. It is incredible how much a small act of vulnerable kindness can bring someone into the fold of becoming a local. The simple things like showing up, being present, and remaining open to the curiosities of community members who are likely to probe with several questions are what bring about full integration into the community. For me, as a person who has never met a stranger, getting to socialize with community members as my job is a dream come true.

Ruinas de Gumarkaaj, Quiché, Guatemala, June, 2023.

These two parts of the PCV experience together, the formal work in my role as a volunteer with my "socios" (work partners) and the informal work of a family and community member, can often be challenging to maintain. Such a balance of these two things to make sure that I am doing my best to lead with hope and a positive attitude often falls in line with being open to the changing of plans.

Therefore, something that I have come to understand from unexpected changes on my journey is that in between plans and chaos is where the art of life thrives. What I mean is that having some structure in our lives such as goals or milestones that we want to achieve is important, but we must not subject ourselves into believing that there is only one way to reach our destination. Likewise, we shouldn't go through life aimless and not setting any benchmarks for ourselves because living in either extreme of over-structure or complete chaos leaves the soul overworked and undernourished. Fluctuating between the two with intention is what brings us homeostasis which makes us better to field the ever-changing landscape of our lives. It is kind of like bouncing back and forth between oil and water. They might not mix, but they are both essential ingredients to creating a life of purpose.

The Stoic Peace Corps Volunteer

To be a Peace Corps volunteer is to be a stoic. We are, and yes I am generalizing, people who are looking for work in which we can actively live a life of virtue abroad. Speaking about virtue and how it intersects with my work as a PCV and the faulty nature of plans, I think it is important to share how I see Stoicism as a northern star for how to deal with unexpected changes in life plans.

Drawing on the underpinnings of stoic philosophy, life is all about reaching a state of "eudaimonia." Generally, this Greek word is understood as "happiness" but I tend to enjoy Aristotle's definition as it being "An activity of the soul in accordance with virtue" (Nicomachean Ethics 1098a17). Virtue in terms of this realm of philosophical thought is believed to vary but historically consist of four main virtues: temperance, prudence, courage, and justice.

Pamesebal, Quiché, Guatemala, June 2023.

In relation to the topic of life and plans I think it is often the case that when we try to over plan our lives we disregard virtue and do not live a life in accordance with nature. Living in accordance with nature was called "prohairesis," by ancient Greek stoics. For me, living a life of prohairesis means not letting plans rule my life, because elaborate plans aren't natural and thus are not fertile ground for living a life of virtue. This philosophy helps me in times when I become consumed by trying to plan out my life. I realize that it is unnatural to be locked into one singular idea of who we are, who we should become, and how to get there. Life is too expansive, too dynamic, and too full of surprises to be so prescriptive. It is better to let the chaos of nature occur and use our time in the present moment to shape a life bringing us closer to the future people we desire to be.

Being a PCV is almost synonymous with the idea of living a life consumed in the virtuous waves of Stoicism. Our job is basically to be as adaptable and open-minded as possible to become a well situated and dynamic volunteer who is integral in the change of communities all over the world. This means being okay with plans basically never going according to plan, being skilled in improvisation, and always finding the silver lining in last minute changes. We are typically people who are deeply interested in seeking justice in the world through the development of communities in cooperative ways, we are courageous in our endeavor to be representatives of United States diplomacy in healthy ways around the world, and we are trained to be temper minded as we immerse ourselves into new cultures and languages.

Santa Cruz Del Quiché, Quiché, Guatemala, July 2023.

Trying to live a life of virtue is hard, and often not attainable. I am consistently guilty of not reaching the benchmark of Stoicism ideals of living a natural life committed to the four traditional virtues. But the important thing is to strive for them, to use them as my northern star in those moments when I feel like my plans, ideas, and path forward are not working out how I envisioned them.

I am bias, but there is no better job to actively explore the application of such philosophy in life more than being a PCV. The job is literally about finding out how to adapt, how to meet the moment with all you have, and to manage the reality that almost always there is a curveball coming. For me, the opportunity to be in this role at this time in my life is bringing me challenges of constant changes in my plans that keep my spirit alive and my mind sharp.

Plant A Seed And Let It Grow

In short, I am thriving here in Guatemala. I have the sense that I have found my home, a place where there is fertile ground for me to plant roots for me to grow in ways I never even imagined possible.

Choacamán, Quiché, Guatemala, July 2023.

The person I am today is the best version of me that I have ever been. Coming back into my service after a long travel waiting for my start date here in Guatemala, I feel refreshed. I feel like I made the right decision to say "yes" to some adventure before resettling into a new community for the next two years. I am here and I am inspired to write, to dive deep into my work, and to fully immerse myself into this community day in and day out. There is this profound sense of clarity I feel about who I am that I can't shake, and I love it. I am speaking Spanish everyday and learning Quiché (the indigenous Mayan language in my region), I am living with an incredible host family who embraced me into their home with open arms, and I am uncovering once again the things I love the most about who I am that got lost along the way. I am right where I am supposed to be.

I hope these words, my story, speak to you. It is my intention that those who read this feel a sense of hope that they can shed the expectations of planning and open their hearts to letting virtue guide them into a life of accepting the nature of unexpected change. The fact is that life changes in ways no one can plan for, and the only way to be ready to embrace change is to recognize that when something doesn't work it is okay. There is often something greater in purpose and more meaningful that is revealed itself to us following the fracturing of plans. The question is are you going to be nice enough to yourself to realize that life goes on past uncompleted plans? I hope so. Because I can tell you from experience beating ourselves up over what could have been is like tripping on a stone that is behind us. We must not put imaginary obstacles in front of our dreams, or between ourselves and our future self. The stone is behind you, the plans are done, let them lie in their grave in the past and rise from the ashes to become whole once again.

To close out this post, I want to say thank you for following my journey. We are all on our own unique travel through this world. On that note, I think it is powerful to find commonality in the reality that we all suffer from plans and life and their oil and water effect on us. I write this piece in dedication to choosing hope, to believing that we will all find our way.

Choacamán, Quiché, Guatemala, July 2023.


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