Up by twelve in the first game of the Copa de Leova basketball tournament, the blue team (our team) was cruising. Making excellent cuts to the basket, sharing the ball, hitting open jump shots, and by playing great team defense we were on our way to victory and were gaining serious momentum for the championship game. I was very excited about our team’s energy and chemistry and was ready to help our team close out the first game. Until, it happened. A three point shot fired up by the opposition hit the back iron and sprung up into the open air. Establishing position for the rebound, I pushed my hips back into my opponent and sprung upwards toward the ball. I leaped in the air and grasped it. Coming down, I felt the weight of my opponent push against my back. As I landed, the right foot came down safely but the left one was not as fortunate. Landing on the side of my left heel, my opponent’s force drove my leg directly into the ground… POP!! Collapsing to the ground I felt a rush of heat storm up my left leg as I instantly lost the ball to clutch my left ankle. Writhing in pain, the first thought that came to mind was not “Damn that frickin’ hurt, F*** you World!!” but “6 weeks”. I knew from that moment on full recovery would be in the distance. To say that I was bummed out would be an understatement. This was the third time that I had severely sprained my left ankle. The two prior ankle injuries came from the same game that I love so much. I curse in the name of basketball but I cannot help loving her. It is like that partner that you continually break up with time and time again, yet just cannot seem to close the door on permanently.
A few days later sitting up in what looked like a psych ward, when in reality is the Peace Corps medical wing named TDY, I began reading a book called “Reposition Yourself” by T.D. Jakes. In need of a pick me up after discovering that I had tore the medial collateral ligament in my left ankle I picked up the self-discovery book in order to provoke the mind. Naturally, I feel down when I am sick or injured but this time around I felt differently. Reading upright in my bed I felt happy and thankful that nothing worse had happened. Coming back from Paris, France I felt I would kickstart the new year back at the business incubator and go out more often in my community, but life threw me a curveball and halted me in my tracks. Being stopped physically is one thing, but mentally or emotionally is another. Reading through the book, there were many chapters that involved asking the reader to take a moment and think of the ways in which they can improve themselves and their work lives starting in this very moment. Without a pen or piece of paper in my room I was not thinking of crutching my way through the labyrinth that is the Peace Corps headquarters. Instead I kept a list of sections that I wanted to write out mentally. I gathered a list of headers that I wanted to draw out on a piece paper in order to organize my thoughts and eventual goals for 2013 and the years ahead. Up until reading this book, I always kept the general idea of where I wanted to go in this life pent up. I now realized that maybe it is time to detail my interests and motivations to gain a clearer picture of my direction.
The categories include: personal interests, end goals, and immediate goals for the upcoming year. Without further ado, I will now share the list of hobbies that I created and explain why I deem them important to build upon. Enjoy this first part of my self-discovery:
I decided to write out my personal interests in order to pinpoint the reasons I get out of bed each morning. Perhaps creating a list of what I love to do will help me understand which path to take when I find myself at the fork in the road once again.
1) Language Acquisition
The first hobby actually manifested in 2012. After enrolling in a semester of intensive Spanish courses at Tec de Monterrey in Guadalajara, Mexico I realized not only how challenging learning a new language is, but also how rewarding the results are when you are able to use it. I feel as an American we are instantly labeled as dumb or culturally apathetic in the eyes of foreigners. By speaking or at the very least attempting to speak another language you show that you care. You care to communicate with natives, you care to put the effort in, and you ultimately care to try something new. This gesture is appreciated and guess what? It also makes life a hell of a lot more interesting. The struggle and battle of learning a language is daunting, but each step towards understanding becomes a small celebration. After arriving to an intermediate level in Spanish, where I could have conversations and understand people speaking with one another I was forced to make the change to Romanian when I moved to Moldova for the Peace Corps. The greatest discovery that I realized was that once you gain proficiency in one language you are able to move to another one more fluidly. Acquiring Romanian actually became easier to learn than Spanish because I gained the base of understanding how to learn a language with Spanish. You have to research and understand the most important verbs and their tenses first, then move to vocabulary thereafter. Most importantly though is that you cannot be afraid to talk and make fun of yourself in the process. I do not want to come off sounding like a snob because I still have miles to go in Romanian, but I am most definitely proud of the level I have achieved in Romanian in 7 months. I am well past the level I established for myself in Spanish and it feels great.
2) Gaining Cultural Knowledge
This goes hand in hand with language acquisition, but understanding and experiencing other cultures is again a thrill. In 2012, I had the opportunity to live in Mexico and now I currently live in Moldova. Both countries are incredibly different and both experiences have been incredibly rewarding. In Mexico, I had the opportunity to visit many historical sites in multiple cities, eat traditional dishes, and spend time with locals. Most importantly was living with a crazy host-mom Tocaya, who welcomed my classmates and I into her home and made it outrageous on a daily basis with her very crude humor and abrasively loving personality. To go from there to Moldova has been yet another adventure. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to assist in the process of making pork with my host family in Cricova. It was an eye opening experience into how many Moldovans prepare their own food. On top of that, making house wine with my business partner and going to my first Moldovan wedding with my former host mom were also invaluable experiences that provided me with insight into the country and culture I am currently serving. The thing I love about cultural exploration is that the social norms vary country to country. It truly is a game or puzzle that is unique to its own people. Learning that slapping your hands together indicates that you want to have sex or that whistling in your house brings on the omen of losing all your money are hysterical and humbling when you are called out for violating these rules. It is a challenge that I thoroughly enjoy partaking in and will continue to dive further into.
If I am not working or out with friends, you can probably find me playing basketball or refreshing my fantasy football and baseball pages every 5 minutes. I am a turbo nerd when it comes to sports statistics, players, and the games themselves. A passion that began when my dad put the wiffle ball bat in my hands and a ball on the tee, manifested into stealing the Chicago Tribune every Sunday to scour through the box scores from the day before’s games. That same obsession sticks with me today and is my greatest release from life’s daily rigors. If not for sports, specifically basketball, my ankle might be 100% but my soul would not be complete without the rock in my hands and my butt on the hardwood. The ability to compete in something I fully enjoy, motivates me to stay healthy and fit, allows me to demonstrate my leadership abilities, and brings me closer to the people I share the game with.
4) Small Business/Entrepreneurship
Sports were my first vehicle for competing and then I was introduced to the business world. Now, working at what is a warehouse of startup companies I feel the competitive juices coursing through my veins once more. Achieving success with these businesses is not only an external competition but more importantly an internal one, amongst the business owners and myself. It takes drive and dedication, reading and discovering hidden secrets, and just applying what you know on a daily basis to help others push forward. I love my job at the business incubator because I feel empowered and know that positive results are not immediate. The results come from inching forward every day and celebrating the small successes, such as giving a great presentation to university students, making a flyer for a business owner, assisting speakers in delivering an effective seminar, and so forth. There are many obstacles still facing our firm, namely financing and mentorship, but we are communicating with as many people in Moldova as possible and are continuing our fight to succeed.
5) Communicating, Speaking, and Voicing my Opinion
For those that know me well, they know that I cannot shut up and will not shut up. I like to be part of the conversation and to let my voice and opinion be heard. That is not to say that I create air pollution. I know my limits when speaking, especially when the subject is not something I am educated about. In the process of talking, I love to listen and learn as well. I like when people offer me fresh perspectives or information in which I was otherwise oblivious. Everyone knows something. I try not to underestimate one due to their education or socioeconomic status because everyone can provide a solution, story, or new piece of information to help cement the cracks in my own understanding. I like to hear them and I like to be around people as much as I can. The journey set forth with the Peace Corps is a 24/7 learning process and job. It has taught me many great lessons thus far by listening and speaking with others and it will continue to help me develop on a personal level.
What’s nuts is that although I could always babble in an informal environment with confidence, public speaking was always a mountain for me to climb. I remember botching a huge presentation my senior year at DePaul University in Chicago where I lost all train of thought and needed my colleague to cover my part for me because my mind went blank. It was not only embarrassing, but incredibly detrimental to my openness to giving more speeches in the future. However, with a lot of practice and multiple opportunities I have gained a ton of confidence. I have given numerous speeches in the Peace Corps (i.e. the Small Enterprise Development Commencement speech and speeches at universities about our business incubators) and through this have shaken my fears of speaking to large groups. A piece of advice I will offer is that you need to fully understand what you are talking about in your presentation and believe in what you say. If you believe it, others will in return. I am glad that I can now speak in any setting and enjoy standing in front of others to allow myself be heard. I am not always spot on, but the most important thing is that I have developed the ability to laugh at myself and I do not take each presentation so seriously. So, let the errors roll off your shoulders and have fun with what you are presenting!
Outside of work one of my favorite things to do is very simple. I love going out to coffee/tea or grabbing a beer (in special circumstances hookah) with someone and just talk. Talk about our lives, our experiences, our struggles, our goals, share funny stories, and build that one-on-one connection. Nothing beats that in my book, especially when your counterpart is an excellent human being strong enough to be candid with you.
Conclusion to Part I of Self Discovery
After listing out my hobbies, I was able to take the next step in my self-discovery by documenting the things that I would like to accomplish and incorporate in my life as I move forward, step-by-step. Stay tuned for my next post which will be titled “Self Discovery Part II” as I will share my end goals and the reasoning behind them.