Talk, Talk, Talk by Olivia Holstine
When starting in an AmeriCorps position, and as we do our service, we get a lot of really good advice. It’s usually putting it into practice that can be hard – weather, location, resources, time, etc. All manner of things can work against us. And the projects are going to be frustrating. There are moments when I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything, that I have No Idea what I’m doing, and it sucks. Sometimes you serve and it turns out to be helpful, sometimes you read a 118-page report and realize later it’s useless to you. It’s a crap shoot, especially in the beginning. This is frustrating, it’s demoralizing, and it’s all part of the gig.
I find this particularly acute as a VISTA, as opposed to an AmeriCorps direct service member. I’m starting a new project that has no background or pre-existing structure to build on. That means even as I am trying to figure out what the end result should be, chasing leads, and finding virtual workshops, it doesn’t necessarily feel like I’m doing anything useful – as opposed to my AmeriCorps housemate, who can monitor results by how many high schoolers have gotten FAFSA help, tutoring, college acceptance, etc. Not to say that their job is easy, but the feedback is more immediate.
At this point, out of all the advice I’ve been given, both for settling in as a community member and in my capacity as a VISTA, the best has been this: talk to people.
I still have and do struggle to follow my own advice, even though I know I’m starting from a relative advantage: I’m staying in communal housing with two other AmeriCorps/VISTA members who have been able to give me tips and support on the transition, and spend time with me. I also serve at an office with a number of people who have been very welcoming, and can get in contact with other departments with relative ease. I’ve still had to find ways to check myself – joining a couple of college classes, a cookbook club, writing lists of people I should reach out to and how to get in contact with them to keep myself engaged, etc. It doesn’t always work, and winter is still somewhat limiting, but every time I meet someone new I learn about more aspects of my project.
It seems simple, and yet so hard – I live in a town of 700 people, most of whom live miles away. People don’t always answer me back, and in the middle of winter, ‘going outside’ is just not a fun prospect. Even as an extrovert, it can be draining and awkward trying to meet people, especially when you are trying to make friends in a community where everyone knows everyone (and the aunties and grandmas know everyone x3). At my service site it’s easy to get into a mindset of doing ‘background research’ to start getting direction, and forget to actually talk to others in the community who can give you up-to-date, on-the-ground information on what they need. Additionally, it introduces your service to them, and is your best chance of finding new contacts and leads to work with.
So, as the wheel of life turns ever on, take even just a few minutes a week to try to reach out – walk around the office, go to the library, sit in a cafe, or go out to eat. It won’t fix all your problems, but it might just help you over the roadblocks.