Learning to Take Control

Lily Shaffer - Ecuador


February 14, 2011

Recently I’ve been able to identify just what it is about my experience that has been making this last month so difficult. I’ve been in a sort of uninspired slump, dragging my feet through the daily routine. My job doesn’t put me in contact with anyone my age, and my siblings go to university in Quito. I adore my co-workers and the kids I teach—but being best friends with a two year old just hasn’t been giving me the support I need.

During some peer-to-peer coaching during our monthly Training Seminar, I started to figure out just what it is that’s slowing me down and how to address it.

  1. I don’t feel like I have anything that’s my own. My room is really my sister’s old room—the drawers still have her clothes, the posters don’t reflect my taste, and the photos are of her friends. Half my stuff is still in my suitcase, and it sometimes feels like my journal and camera are all I’ve got.
  2. I don’t feel secure. This is simply a fact of being abroad. I don’t really miss home, but I miss that sense of security—familiar smells and sounds, daily hugs, speaking English.  It’s a homesickness for the comforts I took for granted.
  3. I don’t feel like I have control of my life. Ecuadorians can be very last minute. For this reason, I always have to be up for anything. Whether it’s an all day meeting at work, a trip to the mountains, lunch at my aunt’s, a cancelled lunch at my aunts—I’m always on my toes. I go to work, I come home, I eat what’s given to me…where’s the excitement and spontaneity? Where are the choices I make over what I do?

How do I regain control of my life? How to start feeling secure and take ownership over my things? I guess step one is recognizing the issue, but I wasn’t sure how to go about addressing it.

On our way back from the mid-year Training Seminar in the Amazon, we met with Tyler Gage, President and Co-Founder of Runa Tea Company, a social enterprise based out of Tena. As are all of the social entrepreneurs we get to meet in GCY, Tyler was especially inspiring. Only a few years older than we are, he has created a wonderfully successful business with a vision and mission, combining business, non-profits, cultural perseveration, organic farming, fair trade, and a good heart and spirit.  He took time out of college to pursue his desire to travel and embark on a road of self-discovery.  A funny, open-hearted, energetic and confident person, Tyler was a very encouraging role model.

As we drove from a plant nursery to the Runa office, we came to a bridge over the Rio Napa.  Tyler shouted out of the window to those of us riding in the back of the pickup.

“Guys, wanna jump off the bridge?”

“Sure!” several of us responded instantaneously. As he put the car in reverse, we started taking off our clothes and hopped out. The bridge was high and I’m not exactly great with heights. As the four of us who decided to jump climbed over the railing, I was overcome with vertigo, fear, and a Lily, this is a terrible idea feeling.   Tyler and his friend jumped without hesitation. Next went Caroline, then Cammie and Pete. I decided I wasn’t going to jump. As much as I wanted to, my head had control.  They were all specks in the river below—I’m terrified to jump off the storm wall at home in Gloucester, and this had to be four times the height.

“Okay,” Shannah said, “last call. We have some learning to do.”

I started to climb down, and then had a final burst of energy. I stepped back over the guard rail, shouted, “I’m going in,” counted to three, and leapt.

As I resurfaced, I was energized. I just jumped off of a crazy bridge into the Napo River in the Amazon. Cool.

As we sped through the jungle in the back of the truck, the sweet heat drying our hair, I realized that only I had control over my decision—jump or don´t jump. It´s as simple as that. I do have control over my life here—what I do and when I do it. I don’t need “things” to own—I own my decisions and my work.  I choose to spend extra time in the Centro Infantil and be a positive role model for the kids there. I can take pride in my daily activities and the Capstone Projects I’m beginning to put into motion.  If I can be at ease with those realizations, I can start to feel secure in my mind.

Since the jump, I’ve started doing more things to take control. I swim at the Olympic pool before work and I’m seeking out a classical guitar teacher.  I’m checking off boxes in my to-do list faster than ever. I’m cooking for my family and for myself, and I’ve started a fruit stash so I can feel healthier than when I just eat fried foods.

Feeling out of control is an opportunity to regain control, to realize that only I made the decision to come here, that I can jump off a bridge, that I can walk or take the bus and that I have ownership over my work. I control how I respond to people, my patience, how I satiate my own wanderlust and curiosity.  In fact, no one has more control over my life than I do.

Lily Shaffer