We rarely embark upon new journeys with the explicit intention of exposing ourselves to difficult things. More often than not, people begin work exchange Hawaii as a trip, break, or excursion. Sure, people seek out new experiences that they know might broaden their perspectives. But rare is the case in which an individual joins a community for the sole purpose of personal growth.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that work exchange Hawaii is an inherently grueling process, or a hardship one must overcome for the sake of personal advancement. That is hardly the case. In my experience with work exchange Hawaii, I’ve had a lot of fun making new friends, relaxing on the beach, trying new foods, and working new jobs. The experience has been simultaneously exhilarating and soothing, challenging and healing, restorative and motivating. But I have also been exposed to situations that have forced me to confront some hard realities that I had been ignoring. Today I’ll be exploring a few of the lessons I’ve learned through work exchange Hawaii.
Being Hard on Yourself is Counterintuitive
Gingerhill has been my favorite work exchange Hawaii experience, but it certainly wasn’t my first. My very first experience was in Maui. I used to have a strong type-A personality, and I cared more about the outcome of my work than the way that I felt while completing it. But at that job I realized that my obsession with pleasing other people was simultaneously draining me and hurting my performance.
Focusing on pleasing other people affected me in a few ways. First and foremost, it was impeding my performance. I would spend so much time worrying about doing the right thing that I would become distracted, scatter-brained, and easily disturbed. When I had to make decisions, I felt unconfident and paralyzed. Diffusing my attention meant diluting it, thus damaging my productivity.
Being too hard on myself also drove unhealthy egocentricity. I was always focused on my own performance and comparing myself to people, and left little mental energy to devote to others around me. When you’re living in community, as I was in Maui, it is important to devote energy to nurturing the relationships you possess in the community, which you cannot do if all you can think about is yourself and your work.
Additionally, I began to realize that in trying to please my superiors I was actually trying to bolster my own ego. It wasn’t truly about making my superiors happy, although I did care about that. It was that achieving their affirmation of my positive qualities made me feel worthy. I have since learned that active self-definition and self-confidence are key to strong work ethic, solid performance, and peace of mind.
Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
“Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable” is a phrase that I first heard a long time ago. It was a frequent topic of conversation throughout my training to be an outdoor education leader in college. My experience with work exchange Hawaii has only reinforced the significance of this message.
When you remove yourself from what you know and travel to a new social and ecological environment, a lot of things will change. Your body might respond to foods differently, or react in ways that you aren’t expecting. It is very common to experience fatigue and physical disturbance when changing your environment so drastically. You may not be used to drying your clothes on a line, sharing space with others, or hearing nature’s creatures sing at night.
Differences in Social Norms are Impactful
You might also find that even small nuances in social norms can significantly impact your headspace. Maybe you come from a messy home and your community members are very clean. For some people, hugging, frequent conversation, structure, and social time are stabilizing. Others require a lot of physical space, quiet introspection, and flexibility. For some of us, these norms are such a given in our home environment that we don’t even expect that they might be different elsewhere.
There are a lot of things that will make you uncomfortable when you begin a work exchange program. The key is not to work to numb yourself to the discomfort, or to avoid it. Instead, try to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. To be able to find peace in relinquishing control is actually incredibly empowering. To passively accept your discomfort actually creates more internal and external stability than worrying and manipulating. However, all of us are only capable of doing so in our own ways and on our own timelines. It is still important to respect other people’s boundaries and needs.
Your Behavior Has Significant Impact
Living in community, I’ve come to see more and more that small things have big impacts. This is especially true in a farm community like Gingerhill, where community shares in work, meals, and social time. If you don’t show up on time for a garden project, it might not get done properly. If you don’t manage your space and time with maturity and integrity, you could easily impose on the space and time of others. Even your moods and the energy that you exude will have a significant impact on both the individual beings you are surrounded by and the community as a social unit.
I’ve also seen time and time again that it only takes one person to completely change the dynamic of a group. The group is a product of everyone in it. One person in a community of six is not a sixth of the energy or a sixth of the influence of the group. The condition of the group is entirely contingent upon the fusion of energies, actions, and personalities of those within the group. If you’re behaviors and disposition are negative, you will have a negative impact on the group. You will create uneasiness in public space, causing general distance and discord. The introduction of one personality, even in a large group, can be divisive. Be very aware of yourself. Your words, actions, and energy should align in earnest positivity and dedication to community.
Don’t Be Ashamed of Feeling Low
Not everyone is positive all the time. We all go through low points and crises, and these can impact the group. When you are feeling low, it is important to be communicative with your fellow community members. No matter how much you think you can hide and repress your negative condition, it will undoubtedly impact the community. If you open yourself up to the community, you can automatically ease the tension and questioning and open yourself up to support. You will probably be surprised to find just how much support is available to you when you ask for it.
These are all things I have observed and learned through work exchange Hawaii. Do I abide by all of them? Definitely not. In fact, I have probably only honed in on these lessons because they have been some of the biggest for me, which means it will take a long time for me to completely transform my perspectives and behaviors. We all have different lessons to derive from living in community. The important thing is to at least become aware, both of yourself and the dynamic at play around you. Even the perspective derived from the awareness is a step toward improving yourself.