The Job that Sticks With You
For the past couple of months I had the honor of standing in as EarthCorps’ Program Coordinator Assistant while the real Program Coordinator was on maternity leave. There are a lot of amazing things I loved about my job, but interviewing and selecting the 2017 corps members might be my favorite responsibility. Elizabeth, the Corps Operation Manager, and I worked on perfecting our interviewing techniques (more accurately Elizabeth dusted hers off and I built mine up). We practiced almost daily as we interviewed prospective corps members. I grew bolder, more comfortable with clarifying answers that I didn’t understand and asking follow up questions to needle out more information. Eventually the interviews went smoothly and I felt that I was along for the ride, intrigued by trying to figure out who these candidates are, fascinated by their answers, and at the end of the interview often challenged by their questions.
One day someone asked: What are the most common lessons that people learn at EarthCorps, either professionally or personally?
Great question. Elizabeth, who was part of EarthCorps’ recent Alumni Study, launched into an incredible answer. As she was providing a variety of lessons learned and advantages gained, I was considering what I could bring to the table. So, what anecdotes did I have this time, what lessons had I learned? The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t think of one, it was that I had too many. The first one that popped into my head was this: there is no such thing as a natural leader.
EarthCorps never directly told us, “there is no such thing as a natural leader,” instead this was a realization I had come to on my own. All my life I had been told that I was a natural leader. The reason people told me this is because I am outgoing, comfortable delegating, and vocally opinionated. I have since learned that these three things do not make a leader.
At EarthCorps I discovered the idea of servant leadership. I realized for the first time there were many different ways to lead, many different techniques, and many different avenues. All my life I had been utilizing a hard intense exterior to gain respect because I thought that was the way it was done. For the first time I realized that I could let my softer parts shine through, that I could focus on the relationships around me and encourage them through support and empathy. That self-acceptance was one of the most special gifts I have ever been given and I continue to explore all of my own leadership possibilities with bright eyes. I thought through this answer but Elizabeth was still talking so my brain continued to stray down other paths EarthCorps has taken me.
EarthCorps gave me words and images for the idea that life is best lived on the edge of your comfort zone.
My next thought was about a recent lesson I have learned. I have realized how valuable it is to be able to say, “You know, let me think about that” and take a moment or a day or a week away before answering. Why, for so many years, did I think I needed to answer every question, every issue, solve every conflict on the spot? I recognize now how important it is to be able to collect yourself, your thoughts, your emotions before dealing with the world around you, especially if you want to be an effective and thoughtful leader. This is something I am still struggling with, still learning how to do and implement in my own life, and of course, attempting not to take too far, all the way to inaction and inability to respond. But it is a new freedom that I have given myself and it feels so good to have created space in my process to think and consider.
EarthCorps taught me about team building, and transitions, and coaching, and so much more, the list goes on. I thought through all of these but the one learning I ended up going with, the answer I ended up giving to this potential future corps member was that EarthCorps gave me something very powerful: a life mantra.
EarthCorps gave me words and images for the idea that life is best lived on the edge of your comfort zone. During a workshop day we discussed the idea that every person lives in a bubble, and that inside the bubble exists everything, every experience, every action, every idea that we are comfortable with. Outside the bubble are all the things that scare us, with less scary ones existing close to our bubble’s edge and really scary things existing far far away. In order to grow our bubble we slowly expand, trying new things that are right outside of our comfort zone, and effectively growing our bubbles edge. EarthCorps proposed that living on your growing edge and pushing for continual personal growth was the most fulfilling way to live and I sat listening, nodding my head enthusiastically. The truth is I was living this way before EarthCorps told me about it. I had recently hiked the Appalachian Trail for this very reason, because I wanted to actively test my own boundaries and I knew after finishing that hike that I hadn’t found them yet.
But while I had been inadvertently tending towards the edge of my comfort zone already, the power of the growing edge image, words for the idea, catapulted me into action. It made me realize that I could really take my fulfillment and my happiness by the horns and that I could create growing edges for myself.
When EarthCorps ended and I no longer had an organization pushing me to think and grow and test myself I knew that my first opportunity to try out my new mantra had come. So I picked something that terrified me and I signed up for a five month long mountaineering course. And it was hard and I cried regularly out of fear and when we were out on climbs I often swore to myself I would be sick the next weekend. But slowly I started to learn and to grow and to take in fears and become more comfortable with them. On our final grad climb I summited Mount Baker, walking over crevasses and kicking steps up steep slopes and fear never managed to grip my heart. I felt alive and fulfilled and so much bigger than I had a couple of months before. I cried out of pure joy and I knew that I had EarthCorps to thank.
That was the story I shared with our interviewee, hoping to help them see the power of the EarthCorps program, hoping to let them know how this program sticks with you even after you’re done. They thanked us for our thoughtful answers and we moved on to logistics. But what this lesson drives home for me is something I know is true for so many EarthCorps alumni, we never quite move on. The things we learned here at EarthCorps continue to impact us for years. We learn these lessons over and over again and we use our knowledge in so many different facets of our lives. That is the true power of this program, it continues to push you to the edge of your comfort zone, even after you are gone.
Lindsey worked at EarthCorps in 2014 as a Crew Leader and returned in 2016 as a the stand in Corps Program Coordinator Assistant. She is an avid backpacker and mountaineer. You can read more about her adventures and her growth at tandemtrekking.com