Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Train Wreck of Opportunity

Sometimes I doubt if I am carpe diem-ing (i.e., seizing the day) to the extent that I should be. There's a part of me that immensely enjoys the comfort of routine and familiarity; heading to my favorite bar every Monday evening for live jazz, grocery shopping for sales on Tuesday with acquainted cashiers, half days of work on Friday so I can be up early to build on Saturday, and so on. The adventures are not as significant, but punctuated in between to keep things interesting. My nearly six completed months of (pseudo) independent living in the Berkshires has opened unexpected connections and experiences, and it seems like I've been here longer.

Another part of me is constantly restless and skeptical of feeling too settled in. What am I missing? What else is out there? What more could I be doing? These revolving wonders have always been part of my mind. It's a love and hate relationship, because for all my dreams, I often wish I could just be satisfied with what is. Even more, change wrecks me when it occurs because I so easily fall in love with places and people, yet I thrive on the endless possibilities of what could be next.

I'm truly thankful that my first professional work experience relates to my ethical commitments: social advocacy, community development, and creating human connections. It's fulfilling to be part of a larger mission to serve others. Yet as I reach the half-way point of my AmeriCorps VISTA term, these tough decisions are being laid on the table; I'll have to decide if I'm going to renew my contract after August. Perhaps I won't leave the Berkshires, but I can't deny my lofty aspirations of being in New York City, D.C., out on the West Coast, or maybe abroad again! Nonetheless, that kind of relocation would be contingent on a salaried job. Even after this year, will I have enough experience under my belt to qualify against others?

There's another deck to lay on the table: graduate school. Going into my senior year of undergrad, I was too starry-eyed from China and slightly burned from classes to directly continue my education. However, I knew it wouldn't be long before I was eager to research again and return to the realm of academia. I become enthralled when I collect facts, clips, data and suddenly see a narrative to share with others. This is something I will want to return to in the next few years.

I understand that I can't dive into grad school recklessly; a masters or doctorate program should be intentional and a catalyst into another professional level. As for the fields of study, at the moment I'm feeling passionate about a masters in journalism (investigative or international), public policy (focus on food policy), or a PhD in cultural studies (the curve ball, I know!). With these types of degrees, I envision myself with capabilities and qualifications to influence the world around me, but I can't influence everything, so I need to focus on one area. There's conflict here between conventional vs. abstract modes of influence, meaning I can't decide if I believe in working more with people and words on the individual micro-level, or if I can crusade into abstract policy and cause change on the institutional macro-level. Another question I need hashed out is if it's in my advantage to pick that special interest area and become an expert first, and then venture into journalism/policy/research, or do I pursue the general degree and specify from there? Unsurprisingly, my indecisiveness and unwillingness to be another $100,000 in debt will hold me up for a bit. Oh, and I need to take my GRE (the SAT-equivalent for graduate school) ... which I'm hoping to tackle before the summer!

So here I just attempted to unpack my convoluted thinking, the pending train wreck of potential opportunities that I have to navigate. This is why I have a hard time talking about these decisions, but at least you have it in writing. To continue with the train metaphor, the matter for me now is to see if I can align the tracks. There must be a way that merges pragmatic considerations (financial obligations, professional development, human relation logistics) and self-fulfillment (moral considerations, intellectual stimulation, emotional stability). Honestly, this is entirely dizzying to consider! I'm going to drop it now.

Now, to the fun stuff I normally blog about!!!

Like I said, working with Habitat has been a blast. We definitely have our daily disasters, but it always amazes me how much we accomplish. I just posted a blog on our website about a holiday party from the beginning of the month. We invited all of our different volunteers to a lavish house that was donated to the organization, and celebrated our work with delicious food and booze.  I whipped up a batch of coconut macaroons that could make any day feel like a celebration, so check it out! And here are some snazzy photos from the party (mainly of my friends and I, the rest of the photos are on the Central Berkshire Habitat Facebook page):

Team Habitat in the Berkshires!

As the Volunteer Engagement Coordinator, building with volunteers keeps me out of the office and busy. It's also freezing this time of year and we are very close to wrapping up our outdoor projects. I really appreciate the commitment of our builders to join me in the cold every weekend! I had a wonderful time this past Monday on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service when we partnered with the City of Pittsfield and Berkshire Community College. We had our first volunteers tear up the interior of a house that we're rehabilitating for a new Habitat family. I finally bought a pair of women's construction gloves that fit, so tomorrow will be the first test run for those!

This is the same ramp from the previous post. It's covered in snow but still needs a hand rail and skirting around the bottom. If only the weather would cooperate!
For the rehab, we tore out filthy carpets, broken counter tops and appliances, and cracked away at rotting tile floor like this. We're going back to the house tomorrow to move all the debris to the dump (should be interesting).

My holiday in Florida -- across Christmas and New Year's with my parents and my brother Chris's family -- seems ages ago already. I find Florida quite bizarre and I can't stand humidity, but there is something to be said for a beach, sunshine, and sandals all year! Nevertheless, I willingly venture outdoors to meander, hike, and ski. As long as I dress warmly.

[Note: Western Massachusetts. Not Florida.]

As much as I drive myself insane with these scintillating thoughts, I acknowledge my privilege of simply being able to make these types of decisions, in a world that is so riddled with injustice and inequality. And I'm endlessly thankful for having people that support me whichever way I go.

Listening: New England Public Radio (NEPR) jazz programming. Having a radio with quality speakers (thanks Tom!) is the best.

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