With every new job or responsibility that I take on I make a personal vow to fully commit myself to that one experience. During the school year the challenges that I have faced trying to balance all of my obligations has likely influenced this now habitual behavior of intention setting. However, when reflecting on my experiences over the past 7 weeks of this summer fellowship I think goal setting is important for another reason.
The excitement that taking on a new role brings me is unmatched. Sitting in the Carriage House with the other fellows for orientation the first day I was energized, impassioned and ready to go. Before, my fear of losing this “steam” was what motivated me to make those additional personal commitments. Now, looking back on this summer I know that a steady sense of drive and a growing commitment to the work that I am now a part of at NSI is what has kept me going. But I have to be honest. I would be boldface lying if I said that I have never left work this summer feeling physically or emotionally drained. Take last Tuesday for example, after NSI’s monthly Produce Market–I had to swallow my pride and accept the $15 cancelation fee for a yoga class because I couldn’t bear the thought of getting off of the couch let alone getting into a downward dog.
I have never before fully understood why it is that every time a public servant speaks on a panel to a group of student leaders who aspire to join them in the trenches in the fight for social justice they warn us: this work we do, it’s hard work. I do know that these leaders have not been imparting knowledge about the dangers of signing up for binding yoga memberships while in this line of work (though that advice would have been nice too 🙂 Truly, I have such deep appreciation for mentors who exhibit this candor because it has given me the validation I need after hard days. Like the day when a mother came into the pantry after receiving custody of her nieces and nephews to learn that only a week prior her SNAP benefits would be cut, or the day when more neighbors than we could count inquired about utility assistance–all fearful that they would loose power or have to choose between paying the bills or paying for food later that month when the 7 day supply we provide them ran out–only for us to learn that all of our usual agency contacts had gone through their funds as well, and lastly, the day I began doing the analysis for survey respondents’ demographics–to only relearn what I knew: both race and geography matter for access to opportunity is not equally distributed.
Unfortunately, I have learned that in this work I will be reminded at every turn that our systems are failing our neighbors. Surely, that’s one reason why this work we do is hard. Fighting systemic inequality in the hopes of creating a more just and equitable society is not going to be easy and it cannot be done alone. I used to make personal commitments when assuming a new role or responsibility. I thought about things as though they had an expiration date or a fixed amount of time for which I would be able to make meaningful contributions. It’s week 7 and I honestly am only now beginning to fully grasp the true interconnections between the work I am doing this summer as a summer fellow with NSI, the work I will do as a 2018 Teach For America Core Member in Chicago, Illinois and the work I will choose do after that for years to come. I can now see clearly that those personal commitments are collectively my call to action–a continual reminder of why I feel compelled to do this work.