I tore open the letter that I had been anxiously waiting for. “Welcome the Peace Corps; as you prepare for your service commitment, we ask that you pack no more than two bags for the twenty-seven month volunteer assignment.” I quickly skimmed the letter hoping there would be guidance on how to pack all of my hopes and dreams into just two bags, as well. The excitement and adrenaline rushed through me as well as the "oh no, this is about to get real."  Can I do this?  Will I be able to learn another language? Will I be able to contribute?  What the heck do I know? What could I teach? What do I know at 24 years old? Will my future community ask for a refund or want to return me because I know absolutely nothing? Will I ever be the same?

As the many thoughts raced through my mind, I hoped to bury my worries at the very bottom of my bag - or even better, not pack them at all. I made a commitment to myself to make sure I would leave enough space for my aspirations. On the materialistic front I was enthusiastic to try to live as a minimalist and be challenged to only take what I need.

TakeWhatYouNeed.jpg

As I went through my stuff I had to prioritize the necessities as well as items with sentimental value; handy things, cold weather, hot weather, climbing gear, music, my cassette tapes. Books, jeans, shoes...what else would I need?  

After little thought on how to predict the next two years of my life, I chose:

One pair of running shoes to cover the many miles yet to come…

One pair of Scarpa hiking boots; a gift given to me from my grandparents for getting around the rural communities and the possibility of Andean climbs…

One pair of jeans, three t-shirts, two long sleeve tops and one Goretex jacket that I could wear, wash and repeat with the hopes that no one would notice…

Forty of my favorite Grateful Dead and Phish tape cassettes of live shows; my music was my sanctuary, my therapy, my zen. I knew my tunes would keep me company if I suffered from any homesickness. (Notice the stack of tapes in the photo to the left.) 

In those bags I made room for a positive attitude, I carved out more space for tolerance and patience and I was able to squeeze in flexibility.

I would later learn that I could have packed 10 bags of perseverance and it would still never have been enough.

While packing up my optimism, I noticed I was also throwing in fear, worry, failure, self-sabotage and insecurity. I made a pact with myself to leave it behind, to embrace the unknown, to accept the uncertainty and to trust that the universe had my back. 

By eliminating the fear, I filled up that space with hopes and dreams: 

That I would integrate into whatever community I was shipped off to…

That the people would like me and become my extended family…

 That I would be able to learn…

That I would be able to grow…

That I would learn from my South American neighbors new ways to get the job done from a different perspective...

That I would have compassion…

That I would be able to step outside of my comfort zone...

That I would be able to give back and contribute…

That I would find my footing…

That I would never be the same…

As we made our descent into Quito, Ecuador, I stepped off the flight into the foggy capital city.  I took in my first deep breath at 9,000 feet elevation and I was happy that I chose to travel with a light load considering the lack of oxygen. :)

I found there was enough room to take the essentials as long as I cleared out the materialistic and emotional clutter.

Have you had a journey that you had to clear out the emotional clutter prior to 'take off'?  If so, what was your strategy for burying the fear and packing the aspiration?  I would love to hear, please do share your comments and I promise to write you back!

Abrazos, Dana

PS: Here's where my Scarpa hiking boots wound up...

 

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