Embracing the Slump

At the start of every new adventure, we expect to be a bit nervous. We give ourselves time and space to learn how to do a new job, fit into a new social circle, survive a new city. But what happens when the adventure is no longer brand new, and we still feel a little…off?

November 11th marks the 2 month anniversary of my move to rural Jharkhand. These past two months have been wonderful, scary, enlightening, and challenging. I have seen and done things I never even dreamed of, and I’ve met people who fill my days with laughter and joy. But there’s something else I’m feeling, something less welcome and more complicated- that 7 week slump.

I can only speak for myself here, but it seems that whenever I embark on a new journey, I hit a wall around 7 weeks in. 7 weeks seems to be just the right amount of time for the newness of my adventure to wear off, for the real work to start, and, somehow, for me to still feel like I’m struggling with simple tasks. Living in a rural setting is challenging in that no matter how much I learn about social norms and expectations, I still feel like I’m struggling to grasp some very basic ideas. Who do I shake hands with? Who do I avoid making eye contact with? Can I go to the market with a male coworker, or will this generate more gossip about the strange white girl? I feel similarly about my job here at Yuwa. The first few weeks of teaching English were exciting, and I cut myself some slack when I felt like my lessons didn’t really go so well. I was brand new at teaching, and I had assumed I would take a few weeks to really get the whole process down. But now, I’m 2 months into teaching, and some days I feel like I’m a total failure as an educator.

7 weeks is the perfect amount of time to feel like you’ve got a lot of things figured out, and nothing figured out. I feel like I am finally contributing to my organization, but I also feel totally useless sometimes. I’m in a strange limbo between being new enough to not know what I’m doing, and not new enough to be this confused.

So what’s a girl to do when the 7 week slump hits? So far the only thing that has helped me is remembering that, in the grand scheme of things, 7 weeks is not a long time. Yes, 2 months feels like more than enough time to figure out how to do things properly, but I have 8 more months of this fellowship adventure. I have time to really learn how to do things well, how to contribute as much as possible, and how to make a real impact. I even have enough time to pick up enough Hindi to not embarrass myself at the local market, but that goal remains a distant hope. Instead of letting the slump get me down, I’ve come to embrace it for what it is- an opportunity to continue to learn and grow. With 2 months under my belt, I can take a step back and evaluate how I’ve been doing so far. I can see where I need to improve and, importantly, acknowledge what I’ve already accomplished. Rather than feel defeated by the slump, I can look back to my first day at Yuwa and recognize that I really have learned a lot, even though it sometimes feels like I will never get the hang of some things. For example, on that first day here, I had no idea how to get to and from Ranchi, the closest city, by myself. Now I can navigate the often frustrating shared-auto system with relative ease and a little bit of confidence. Take that, slump!

So to any other fellows feeling less than capable after 2 months at your post- don’t shy away from those feelings. Embrace them, take them for what they are, and counter them with the reality of your situation. Your adventure is no longer brand new and you may not feel like you’ve come very far in the past 7 or 8 weeks, but trust me, you’ve learned more and accomplished more than you realize. Think back to your first day at your post. Did you feel totally overwhelmed by a task that now feels pretty easy?

Take comfort in the things you have learned, and stay motivated by the things that have yet to become easy. After all, we have 8 more months to be challenged, to fail, to learn, and to succeed. Embrace the slump and then move on to the next learning experience!

Kayalyn has spent the past few years working in the field of reproductive health rights and education in the U.S. and abroad. She is particularly interested in sexual health rights for refugee, internally displaced, and marginalized communities. During her time as an undergraduate student, she studied International Development and Women's Studies. In her senior year, she wrote an honors thesis titled "The Effective Access to Reproductive Health Services Index: A Multidimensional Approach to Measuring Successful Reproductive Health Programs in Peru and Vietnam", in which she constructed an economic index to map how, and how often, women in developing countries access reproductive health services. Kayalyn recently spent six months living in Bangalore, where she worked with INK Talks, an Indian conference and idea-sharing organization.

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