The Ever Changing Mind

 Written by Melanie Brown, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving Louisville Grows

Like many people my age, I’m still painfully unsure about what career I want to pursue. Correction: I used to think that this uncertainty was painful. Throughout my university career, I went back and forth countless times on what I wanted to do. I never had a “eureka” moment of self-discovery. In fact, it felt like a seemingly permanent state of aching to find my calling. Within the safely ambiguous limitations of my international studies degree, I bounced back and forth between social work, investigative journalism, ecology, and nonprofit management. It’s safe to say that’s a pretty mixed bag. I also felt compelled to strive for a career in social science research‒specifically linguistic anthropology. I had invested so much energy into my undergraduate thesis and field work, I assumed it was the only rational next step. I felt like it was better to pursue something rather than continue on my unfocused path, though I was never able to invest all of my energy in one subject area. Often times, I felt so lucky to be able to go to college but like I was squandering a precious opportunity. By not knowing exactly how I wanted to use my degree, I felt like I didn’t deserve to work for it. Not only was I discouraged and disenchanted with the importance of my work at school, but I felt an immense amount of guilt.

Then came AmeriCorps VISTA. Like my degree or past internships, I thought this would finally tell me what I wanted in a career rather than what I didn’t. Looking to fill my year before the Peace Corps (or whatever comes next) and get some experience with environmental nonprofits, I jumped on the opportunity available at Louisville Grows. Having served for about three and a half months, I can definitely say that I am no clearer on what I see myself doing long term. That being said, I have gotten a myriad of unexpected and equally valuable benefits from my position including but not limited to:

Time and space to think outside of a purely academic environment
Real world office experience (and the realization of my wants/needs in a workplace)
Universally applicable professional development opportunities
Substantially more botanical/environmental knowledge
Confidence as a working professional
The realization that it’s exciting and an absolute privilege to be able to experiment with so many of my interests all in one place

Not only have these benefits made me realize the value of trying new things, but they have also completely shifted my mindset on this seemingly directionless period of my life. Being a VISTA has exposed me to so many new people and professional experiences in just a few months! I’ve been able to put in perspective how essential self discovery is when it comes to deciding future career goals. Even though I haven’t necessarily had the free time or energy to consistently research every opportunity that I want, I have been able to fine tune more of my interests and reflect on my experiences. I’ve also realized that it’s okay to take time with these huge decisions and that every new step doesn’t have to be my final step. In the words of the great Miley Cyrus, “Ain’t about what what’s waiting on the other side; it’s the climb.”

Angry Music for Happy People, Babyyyyy

 Written by Gabbie Collins, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving Jefferson Memorial Forest.

Generally, I consider myself an optimist, thriving off phrases like “hunt the good stuff”, “find a silver lining”, and “this too must pass”. In fact, my roommate refers to me as being “relentlessly cheerful”, particularly in the face ofvdefeat. This mindset, while now routine in my head, wasn’t always a reality for me. In fact, like most people in our country—dare I say our world— I was a notorious pessimist. I looked at the world, noticing all the problems with
my country, with my life, with other people’s lives, and chose to complain and revel in the inevitable demise for those that were to follow my generation (I’m dramatic, I am aware). And, honestly, who could blame me? I mean, with a quick overview of world (or even national) events, there was (and still is) plenty to be bothered about.
My negative mindset manifested itself in many ways— frustration, depression, anger, and even anxiety. Reflecting, I realize what impact this had on the people I was close with. I think in many ways it drove most people away from
me, except those who had the same mindset as myself… And thus, I created what I now like to call a “pit of nihilism” (better known as a group of teenagers upset by very real problems in our world, but have no way of dealing with those emotions).
What to do, what to do? Therapy wasn’t in the budget (shout out to middle class insurance #amiright?) and support groups didn’t exist in my small town… But we did have the radio. Better yet, my parents invested in Sirius XM, and honestly, I need to thank them for spending extra money every month on that radio, because for 16 year old Gabbie, the accidental discovery of Sirius XM Octane Channel (a new age hard rock and heavy metal station) saved my life and set me on a path to transforming my mindset.
I remember the day vividly, I was driving from volleyball practice to track practice, stressed out that I wouldn’t get home until 7:30 PM, knowing I still had chores and 3 AP Classes worth of homework and studying to do. Nothing
good was playing on the country stations, so I kept hitting the seek button until I stumbled upon some angry-ass music.
I. Was. Shook.
Every emotion I had been feeling was displayed viscerally in the heavy rhythm of the bass, the scream of the singer, and the shredding of the guitar… And I swear I’d be lying if I said I didn’t crank that volume knob up as high as I could get it, roll both of my windows down (it was January), and speed up to 60 in a 35.
I felt incredible.
And thus, my love of metal music was born. Some people find an outlet for pain in art, others find it in exercise, but I found an outlet for my pain through music that embodied all the emotions I felt, but never knew how to identify or express. The music was angry for me, and having this mechanism to rage allowed me to think clearly and critically about situations I found myself in, or how to best react to real world issues that I could not solve. I stressed and worried less, and I smiled more.
SO, I guess what I’m trying to say is, maybe not that everyone needs to rage a little bit more (although I’m all for #MakingAmericaRageAgain), but that everyone needs to create an outlet for themselves, specifically an outlet for
anger. There’s an activity to expose, embrace, and let go of all those negative, angry, and hateful emotions that we bottle up inside ourselves, because society says that it’s wrong to feel angry (particularly since we live in the
“richest country” in the world… How fortunate are we to be American?). Releasing anger in a controlled environment, for a set period, allows space for other emotions to dominate (i.e., Happiness, Calmness, and Peacefulness), and by creating that space one can heal.

Career Change Can Be Rewarding

 Written by Jerry Englehart, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Americana World Community Center.

Realizing the path you are on is not fulfilling can be a daunting realization to process. It might happen when you are freshly out of college or when you have worked up the ladder towards managing a store for a corporate business. But, that is where I found myself in my previous career. I was never home nor fully present when there. And, all the while guiding a team in ticking all the correct performance metrics that showed my bosses how great our store was to corporate.

Let’s just say pats on the back weren’t helping to stave off the bleakness of that career. So along came VISTA at Americana, but not without some heavy considerations.

These are a couple podcasts that could help with clarity on why changing careers can be scary, but also exciting:

Dear Harvard Business Review Podcast – Career Crossroads https://hbr.org/podcast/2019/07/career-crossroads
Dear Harvard Business Review Podcast – Nonprofit Workplace https://hbr.org/podcast/2019/06/nonprofit-workplaces

And these were a few aspects to consider:

Can my wife and I pay our bills with her income and the VISTA’s poverty level pay?
What can we or I absolutely not cut out of the monthly spending?
What can we or I absolutely do without for the next year?
What do job prospects look like in the not-for-profit environment?
And most importantly, will this new VISTA commitment make ME happy?

The first question is part of the bigger picture of sustainability of your finances over the next year. For my wife and I, it culminated into creating a budget based on what we would be making combined month-to-month after we discussed the career change. Then looking back on how that fit our spending over the previous year. Luckily, I have found in my first 4 months at Americana my wife and I are cooking more meals together at home and not only is this keeping us within our food budget. But, it is creating more time for us and friends.

Secondly, taking stock of your wants like subscriptions, memberships, trips, coffee, et cetera will be something to consider when planning for the year. These are wants that can be good if you’ve had a stressful day. Yet, they could create their own budget restraints if your VISTA organization doesn’t have free/low-cost housing.

For potential jobs you can use any of these numerous jobs boards if you are not tied to staying in Louisville for a job: https://www.foundationlist.org/news/list-of-nonporift-job-boards-made-for-the-nonprofit-sector/

Or, under your LinkedIn account you can set job alerts for the non-profit sector here and afar.

And, maybe most importantly, when looking into the next career after VISTA, try as much as you can to network in-person through organizations similar to the Young Professionals Association of Louisville, volunteering at other nonprofit organizations events, attending free professional development workshops/webinars, or any social networking events. These can all be great ways of finding positions that aren’t necessarily posted online yet or at all.

A more in-depth view of how a nonprofit works and functions can be learned through a free online course offered by Northwestern University Kellogg’s Center for Nonprofit Management Program: https://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/executive-education/individual-programs/nonprofit-programs/online-nonprofit-management-essentials.aspx

Considering a VISTA position can happen for numerous reasons, but first and foremost it should come from a place of empathy and curiosity. As a VISTA you are embarking on a year long journey that will present you with struggles as much as it will reward you with successes. And, hopefully a new career path after your VISTA term(s)!

Learning to Unlearn

 

 Written by Mariama Minteh, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Kentucky Refugee Ministries

Three months felt like three years, because in the past three months I have learned and grown in so many unimaginable ways. I am an immigrant who is very well aware of the fact that the immigrant experience isn’t singular, it is as diverse as diversity can get. Yet I sometimes caught myself in what Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche calls “the danger of a single story” .

As someone who has some experience with the U.S immigration system, I have always prided myself on being very knowledgeable in what’s like working with the system,but I quickly realized that I still have a long way to go. As an immigrant who works with other immigrants, refugees in particular, I have learned that my story is similar yet very different from most of the people I work with. I have come to find myself using my experience to assess what the people I serve need, and this is something I believe a lot of volunteers and nonprofits fall in the trap of doing.

I am sometimes so consumed by my experiences and single stories that I look at the different stories and challenges brought in by our clients in just that one perspective. This makes sense because our social locations and experiences affect the way we navigate the world. Then how do we avoid being trapped in this idea of a single story, of overgeneralizations? I found it was by constant reflection. In reflecting and consciously striving to unlearn certain ideas of how the world operates, we give ourselves room to grow and learn. Unlearning isn’t easy and it’s something we have to be constantly doing

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for the rest of our lives. In as much as we are excited to learn new things, I hope as VISTAs we are constantly striving to reflect on and unlearn the things we already are familiar with.

“ No! No different. Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.” Master Yoda

VISTA and Grad School

Written by Erin Wallace, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Americana World Community Center

Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to become a VISTA is the opportunity to receive the education award. I know some of us may use this toward undergraduate loans, but others may be looking at using the funds for graduate school. Currently, I am attending school full-time to complete my Masters of Public Administration (MPA) and Certificate of Emergency Management through Northern Kentucky University. At the most recent monthly meeting, the MPA was mentioned, so I thought that writing about how an MPA (regardless of the school you attend) pairs with the work we do as VISTAs.

I began my MPA journey about 6 months before I became a VISTA. Over this past year, I have found that the MPA is an extremely practical, well-rounded degree, that can be used in many types of public settings. The classes range from management and HR to budgeting and data analysis. Beyond general courses, many schools offer areas of concentration like Nonprofit Management, Emergency Management, Local Government, etc. If you decide on pursuing an MPA, I would definitely recommend thinking about which concentrations are offered and what you are most interested in with regard to your career. Also, look around at various schools. Each program has many similarities, but may have differences in concentrations and whether classes are taught online, in-person, or both. Regardless of your concentration, know that the courses in any MPA program will only enhance your experiences and skills gained during your VISTA year(s) that much stronger.

On a personal note, I was really nervous about going back to school. I graduated from Murray State in May 2018, had a baby 3 months later, and knew that I would be looking for a job sometime in 2019. I was not quite sure that it would be possible to juggle school with all of my other responsibilities, but here I am almost halfway done with the program. I say this to encourage any of you all who are on the fence about going back to school. It is not always easy, but it is possible. If you are thinking about using your education award for graduate school, be intentional about the programs you are looking at and try to find one that aligns with your skills, experiences, and goals. Don’t shy away from grad school because of the time it takes or the fear of difficulty. If you’re looking to stay in the realm of public service, then this is definitely a path you may want to bear in mind.

Creating a Healthy, Productive Headspace

Written by Taylor Bryant, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Americana World Community Center

I, along with my two office-mates, had the true pleasure of attending the VISTA In-Service Training, in Oak Brook, Illinois. I went in with an open mind and an eagerness to learn and I was NOT let down. We gained so much knowledge and insight from extremely intelligent educators, met many like-minded, driven individuals, and learned about several amazing organizations that our fellow VISTAs served at. It was a busy four days, jam-packed full of information, breakout sessions, networking, and great food!

Over the course of the four days, there were six sessions that all VISTAs were to attend. Each of the required sessions focused on an important aspect of VISTAship. They were “Making the Most of Your Year of Service,” “Capacity Building: The Heart of VISTA,” “Using Storytelling in Your Marketing and Outreach,” “Navigating the VISTA Member-Supervisor Relationship,” “VISTA Exchange,” and “Empowering the Community.” In addition, each VISTA got to choose four additional breakout sessions that caught their interest. Personally, my favorite elective session was “Serve and Thrive: Building Resilience as a VISTA.”

Just like eating right, exercising, and flossing, we KNOW that we’re supposed to practice self-care. But how many of us actually do it? I know I don’t, even as a huge mental health awareness advocate. Creating a healthy, productive headspace can be hard if we don’t take the proper and necessary steps. If you refer to Nathan’s previous post, he discussed ways to leave work at work and the importance of making time for yourself. That is definitely a huge aspect of self-care. I am going to expand on that and provide “10 Ways to Build Resilience,” as provided by the VISTA In-Service Training Workbook, as well as 10 ways to practice self-care.

10 Ways to Build Resilience
1) Make connections.
2) Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
3) Accept that change is part of living.
4) Move toward your goals.
5) Take decisive actions.
6) Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
7) Nurture a positive view for yourself.
8) Keep things in perspective.
9) Maintain a hopeful outlook.
10) Take care of yourself.

Which resilience building practices of these do you do well? Which ones do you need to work on? Personally, I need to work on nurturing a positive view of myself while maintaining a hopeful outlook. I am good at making connections and can hopefully use those connections to move towards my goals.

10 Self-Care Practices
1) Get enough sleep!!! Sleep effects all aspects of your life.
2) Arrange your workplace so it is comfortable. Keep self-care items at your desk (stress ball, color book, playdough, candle).
3) Take time to eat lunch. Give your brain a rest in the middle of the day.
4) Identify and seek out comforting people, activities, and places.
5) Make time for traditional medical care and psychological medical care
6) Exercise. Go immerse yourself in nature. Go to the gym. Go where you’re comfortable.
7) Set limits with clients and colleagues. Don’t give more of yourself than you feel comfortable.
8) Celebrate your milestones, accomplishments, and achievements!!
9) Advocate and negotiate for your needs.
10) Find things that make you laugh.

Leaving Work at Work

Written by Nathan Hawes, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Backside Learning Center

Sometimes work just follows you back home, and time off work is sacred. It is the best time, but it is easy to get your brain wrapped up with work once you start to unwind. There are a few things you can do to stop this.

Leave work when you are supposed to leave work.
You don’t have to work more than your scheduled time. For me every minute I work past my originally scheduled time makes me angrier. If you are in the middle of a project, just leave it until tomorrow. It will still be there.

Turn off your email notifications.
If you have your work email on your phone, turn off the notifications. The last thing you want is to be enjoying your day and then seeing something that reminds you of all the things you must do.

Create a habit at the end of the workday.
Listen to music, take a walk, read something, play video games, etc. Do something you enjoy that has nothing to do with work as soon as you get off. This makes the transition into “you time” easier.

Have a space that is your own.
If you live with someone else, try to carve out an area that is entirely for you. If this isn’t possible find somewhere outside of your home that you can make your own. It could be a favorite park, café, the gym. Find somewhere where you can be selfish.

Remind yourself that you do not owe your work more than your scheduled time. They pay you to work certain hours. If you work more than that, they will win.