Catherine Lawrence, G14, Peace Corps Volunteer/Georgia
I am a planner. Ask anyone, especially my son who will tell you I have list upon list of "To Do" so that not much is left to chance. I routinely formulate one and five year plans and daily plans (identified as goals). I am a firm believer in the fact that "Nothing happens without a Plan!" When I travel I make a daily agenda; which may seem silly to some but my agenda avoids the "What should I do next conversation when traveling" -- especially if I am traveling with others. I do not always complete my agenda; however, most of what I want to accomplish is complete. So, with my way of being as "planner" firmly in place I cannot tell you how surprised I was at a recent "non-planned" experience I had here in Georgia.
The Peace Corps tells us over and over that flexibility is very important as we take on living in another country and culture. I really do make every effort; but, my training as a planner runs long and deep and I struggle with this notion of flexibility. However, after the experience I will now recount I can tell you that I have jumped not only the hurdle of being resistant to flexibility; but also, I know that I can manage without all the trappings of planning.
I left my home on a Thursday afternoon and returned home on Monday evening. Now, that may seem very reasonable to anyone reading my story; however, what I have not said is that when I left on Thursday I had my backpack, toothbrush & toothpaste, something to sleep in and one pair of clean underwear. You see, I was planning to return home the following day, which was Friday. I left with the clothes on my back as I thought I would wear them again the next day to travel home. I thought "How dirty could I get in one day, really." Honestly, closer to the truth was that I really didn't want to carry any more than I had. Here in Georgia I do a lot of walking and the backpack gets really heavy; so, traveling light is always a plus.
Well, as my story continues".As I was preparing to leave to return home on Friday I received a lovely invitation to visit the summer home of a good friend here in Georgia. I'd heard about her summer place over and over and was so excited that she was asking me to come for the weekend. I knew I could communicate with my host family and Peace Corps Office to let them know I was not coming directly back to site; however, my hesitation was that I was not prepared to be away all that time! Heavens, I had the clothes on my back and nothing to change into. I thought immediately that I could not do this. I needed to have a prior plan and more clean socks and clothes etc., etc., etc.. Initially I said, No!
I knew my friend wanted to spend time with me and also show me her summer home. She was very proud and yet here I was only thinking about not being prepared rather than thinking about the wonderful opportunity that was being given to me. So, I went back and forth in my head. My friend just smiled and watched me go around and around fighting with myself (mentally) about the possibility of doing something on the spur of the moment and without a plan! This was painful for me as questions kept surfacing like; "if I go I will be wearing the same clothes for five days." I knew I could take a shower at her place; but, yee gads -- wearing the same clothes. What will people say seeing me wear the same outfit day-after-day? But, more than all that, as my friend didn't care if I had the same clothes on day-after-day; was my core inability to think that I could do this without having planned and without having what I thought I needed.
This was a real wake-up call for me as I began to realize how concrete and rigid I was being in my thinking. Here I was being coached over and over by the Peace Corps about being flexible and yet I was being anything but. I began to realize that other than clean clothes (for five days -- that does still give me pause) I really had everything I needed and could go and spend time with my friend and enjoy a new experience.
Needless to say, the weekend was wonderful. Her summer place was just fabulous and we had the gift of "Time" to talk and share happenings in our lives (and we could do it in a relaxed atmosphere). Good food and wine was had in front of the crackling wood stove. I would have missed out on a lot if I had missed this opportunity.
I returned home and immediately changed clothes! That in and of itself felt terrific; however, what felt more terrific was the fact that I had grown in a way that was unexpected when I left my home five days prior. I had not only survived my own linear and limiting thinking of what should be in place before jumping in and taking advantage of new opportunities. My stomach does not constrict when flexibility is required (well not as much) and I can see that at times:
"In life, Real life happens when you are making plans to do something else"