Greatness and Roots

I find that often my frustration lies not in what is happening, but in my own inability to react to it properly. This could mean my perspective, or more often my management of projects and activities. I want to be a kind and effective person, engaged in healthy and meaningful work. This means avoiding the easy trap of doing what is urgent but not valuable, or immediate but not lasting.

Before Peace Corps, all the way back to high school, my friends knew me to carry around my planner all the time. It changed shape over the years, but always accompanied me so I would be on task. I was effective at what I did in large part because of the amount of time I put into planning, organizing and prioritizing things. However over the course of my service here I've had the chance to live in a culture much more lenient about time, and this has been a great opportunity for me to learn about the differences between greatness and effectiveness.

If effectiveness is doing things right, greatness is doing the right things. It requires value judgment, vision and having a clear idea of why you do what you do. It requires that you ask yourself what the ultimate reason is behind it all? How does your life purpose live out through doing this thing? It might seem unreasonable at first, to ask yourself how buying this thing or filing out this form or sealing this deal helps you live out your life purpose, but I submit that it is of utmost importance to consider it. Either that or get to the end of your life and wonder what the point of it all was.

One of the greatest things I've learned here in Mongolia has been that, between all of the pleasure and the pain, we are all after a deep happiness in life. We pursue it through our relationships, our professions, our projects, and most of all through our day-to-day interactions with the people we bump into. It's beautiful in a small town to see people helping each other and truly not leaving anyone out in the cold. I have never heard of a homeless shelter, orphanage or retirement home in our province. They don't need them. People open their homes to their siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents and relatives year after year. It's very likely, in fact, that we 5 Peace Corps Volunteer are the only people living alone in this population of 50,000 people.

When speaking about my life in Peace Corps, I have often said to my friends and family that I spend most of my time just trying to be a good person. I try to treat every interaction, every choice, every moment, as a chance to make a good decision. This is a lot harder than I thought it would be. At first, I thought it meant showing up to work at exactly 9am and leaving at exactly 6pm. It doesn't. Then I thought it meant working really hard on projects and getting lots of money for proposals and seminars. That wasn't it either. That was my efficient mind trying to quantify what I am going through. When my mind opened up to the idea of quality instead, the whole situation changed. I have often thought about what Thoreau, "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." The difference between an effective project and a great project, or an effective person and a great person, is the difference between roots and branches.

It's still a daily challenge to do well and do good, but I think I'm getting better.