25 x 25 (Five Decisions I Made)
Swift decision making is not exactly my forte. I tend to give every decision extensive consideration trying to imagine the potential repercussions far down the line. Ultimately, of course, it is impossible to account for all the effects from a single action. This past year I took a little less time writing out my pros and cons list (I couldn't abandon it altogether) and taken some steps that have, more than anything, showed me that I can.
1) Moved from Boston to Atlanta
Having moved so infrequently in my life, each time I relocate it feels like a momentous occasion. From my small hometown in Arkansas to college was an adjustment but one that happened so quickly I have no distinct memory of being ill at ease. From college to grad school in Boston was less benign but would turn out to be one of my best moves to date. Boston became what I have dubbed my 'soul city'; that is to say the place where I feel most at rest and where I feel like I was growing into the best version of myself. Surprisingly, after three years, I decided a move may be a positive opportunity to experience another place and be closer to my family if my application to be a Peace Corps volunteer was accepted. My older brother and his family had just relocated from Colorado to Atlanta and invited me to join them for a 12-month stint in Georgia. I agreed and packed up my basement apartment in Brookline making my way to ATL in September of 2017. The initial period of transition was buffered by being with family but after a few short weeks I couldn't shake the anxiety and despondency that I felt and I began questioning the wisdom of my decision. It would take another eight months before I began to feel that Atlanta was the place I was meant to be during this time. Beyond the benefit of being close to my family and participating in the lives of my two wonderful nephews, Atlanta has given me exposure to a whole new genre of urban living; a wealth of Black History resources both national and personal, and the motivation to try new things that only comes with being taken out of my comfort zone. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that the airport has great, cheap access all around the country. I couldn't see myself residing here again in the future but I'm glad to have had this past year. It has been formative in unexpected ways. Make a move: Perhaps it's been on your mind; you've thought about moving but you don't know when or where or what you'll do when you get there. Make a plan and take the plunge; you in a new place can open another side of yourself. Elite daily encourages us to move at least 5 times!
2) Applied to the Peace Corps
August 3rd of last year I submitted my application to become a Peace Corps volunteer. This was not in my original life plan as my mapped out next steps involved applying for and starting a Ph.D. program. A sage faculty member at Boston University advised me to work abroad for a few years before embarking on a 5+ year commitment to a research program and project. Reluctantly, at first, then increasingly in agreement with her recommendation, I began scouting out different work abroad options. I considered renewing my interest in Mama Hope's Global Advocate program, the Global Health Corps, and applying for a Kiva fellowship. In the end, the option with the strongest history and reputation as well as the most comprehensive approach was the Peace Corps. Working in Cambridge at the time with four returned Peace Corps volunteers in my office, I took advantage of their combined knowledge and experiences to research and guide my decision. Another factor strongly in favor of the Peace Corps was the ability, added recently, to select a country and service position (this in contrast to an open application going to whichever country the Peace Corps assigns you). Since visiting Rwanda in 2013, I have been looking for an opportunity to return. When a teaching position opened up in Rwanda with the Peace Corps, I applied immediately. Four months later, to my delight, I was accepted. Much of my blog over the next two years will consist of sharing my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer. Do the unexpected. Become a volunteer. That's the tagline for the Peace Corps recruiting ads. If you've thought about it once, dig a little deeper. If you've never thought about it before but you're intrigued, take a first look. You won't be the first. You'll join a family of hundreds of thousands of volunteers past and present.
3) Took a Family Tree road trip
When the remake of Alex Haley's Roots was released in 2016, I was inspired (also, more than a little traumatized) to pursue something I'd been interested in for a little while; doing a DNA test to determine my genetic makeup and begin the process of tracing my family history. I started, informally, asking questions of my Jamaican grandmother and taking notes on my phone. Gradually, I began building a tree on Ancestry and when I tapped into the wealth of resources available online, I was hooked! Since then I've discovered such a treasure trove of information about my ancestors and 'new' relatives who I never knew existed. As convenient as it is to access so many online records, I knew I needed to hit the road (or more accurately, the air) to add more detail and depth to my family story. 2017 took me to Houston to visit a first cousin once-removed where I saw pictures, family bibles, and heirlooms some dating back to the mid 19th century. I trekked down to the Georgia Archives where I discovered a 3x great-grandfather who went from being a slave in Cobb County to a landowner shortly after emancipation. And, in May, I flew to San Diego where I filled in a missing branch from my dad's side of the tree. I've been fortunate that most of my discoveries have endeared me towards those that came before me and I am increasingly in awe of what they accomplished in lives that were wrought with more challenges that I can imagine. However, this journey has also made me question some things that I took for granted and stirred up memories and emotions in others that are not always easy to face. I encourage anyone who is interested to research your family tree but with an awareness that can be painful as well as pleasant. Find Your Family: There are a number of different options for creating a family tree and/or doing DNA testing. This has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life! I highly recommend Ancestry for both testing and family tree building.
4) Quit my job...twice!
Moving to a new city (see #1) meant finding a new job and within five days of transplanting to Atlanta, I brought to bear the full capacity of my formal education in international relations and global development to land a job...at a bakery (didn't see that coming, did you?). I decided I might as well take advantage of transitioning to a new place by getting some training in one of my passions, baking. Fortunately, the general manager was new and looking for new staff so, without any formal training, I was hired and started three days after my interview. I hit the ground running and learned a lot within my first week about how to operate restaurant size equipment and produce hundreds of (mostly) identical cakes, tarts, eclairs, croissants, macarons, and danishes. As fun as it was to spend every day in the kitchen (and as nice as it was to get free salads, soups, and sandwiches from the bistro), I knew after a month the monotony of the work and the lack of intellectual stimulation would not be sustainable. After another month I said farewell to Amélie's and spent November of last year mostly spending time with my nephews and job hunting. December rolled around and I was fortunate to find, interview for, and be hired for a position at a research firm within a week. My first couple of months were a very positive experience with a supervisor I had fun with and work that was both challenging and interesting. When my supervisor left (after 9 years at the firm), everything went careening downhill but I decided to stick it out until I left for the Peace Corps which would have been another seven months. I only made it another three. The decision was this: remain in a job where I was miserable, the commute was abysmal, and the costs outweighed the benefits or seek alternative employment that would give me peace of mind and sufficient time to prepare for my next life experience. I chose the latter. Having never quit a job before, to have done so twice in less than a year was a shock to my system but I learned a lot from those two experiences and now I'm aware of the kind of work environments where I can and cannot thrive. Move on: I would never casually suggest that anyone quit your job and I thought long and hard both times I decided to leave my places of employment and gave ample notice as well. Be thoughtful but don't remain in a job that is crushing your soul! There has to be a better option for you.
5) Started a blog
How many blogs have I started over the past ten years? Too many, probably (*Update, it's eight including this one). I've always had a desire to document, through the written word, and share, via the internet, those thoughts and experiences that combine to make up my life. One of my earliest blogs covered my first year in pageantry, while another served as an outlet for various musings and poetry, and my most recent and almost-successfully-launched baking blog didn't quite make it the finish line. In a way, each of them has been necessary elements to bring me to this blog, here. The combination of my previous attempts, this wonderful platform, and my Peace Corps journey as a focal point for my writing have given me the motivation and the momentum to bring a blog to life...finally! One word: Squarespace.
This is the fourth part of a five-part series documenting my 25 x 25; twenty-five things I read, tried, saw, did, and learned before my 25th birthday. Check out the rest of the series below: