The two years that I served with AmeriCorps*NCCC were two of the best years of my life so far.
A lot of people can point to a year or an experience that changed their life. It could be a loss or a life event. It could be a certain job, or going to college. It could be a year abroad, or meeting someone special who helps you to change your perspective.
My years of AmeriCorps service were life-changing – they changed the way I look at the world. Those two years helped me to really figure out who I am and what I value. Before that, I was a city kid. I had no great love of the outdoors or of working on projects by hand. By the time I was halfway through my first year of AmeriCorps service, I had learned more about myself than I had in three years of college.
My AmeriFriend, Squid, came to visit this weekend, and we reminisced about our AmeriCorps projects. Squid and I had similar pre-AmeriCorps likes, dislikes, and lives. We each had joined AmeriCorps*NCCC with limited experience with physical labor. We each expected that our favorite projects would be people-centered – working as summer camp counselors, doing taxes for low-income families – and we were each surprised to find that our favorite projects were more physical and solitary – trail-building in the woods of Ohio, removing invasive species in the Smoky Mountains, etc.
I find the outdoors and physical work incredibly soothing and enriching. At the end of a day on the trail, I would feel great. I’d be exhausted, but my body would feel capable and strong and useful. The repetition of a basic task – digging or smoothing or pickaxing – was meditative. I’d feel calm and serene in a way that is difficult for me to obtain via other methods.
During my first few years of working after finishing AmeriCorps, I missed this feeling a lot. I started teaching at a school for kids with special needs, and I adored the children – but I craved that feeling of having spent a day at physical labor, and I missed being outdoors. Eventually, that feeling was what led me to take a job as an outdoor educator, where I met Tee; we worked as team-building facilitators on a farm-slash-outdoor-learning-center in northern Baltimore County. That job was a pretty good fit for me – but I really missed working with kids with special needs, and I felt that my true calling was to be a social worker.
Now, looking at The Big Picture, I feel like I have a perfect blend of the outdoors, children, physical labor, and mental/emotional tasks. My Big Picture Balance includes my day job, helping little kids who need help – which is a lot of #heart and #mind food – and my side job, as (ahem) Assistant Farm Manager, which gives me the #body and #soul food that I learned to love through AmeriCorps.
That kind of balance feels pretty wonderful.