Eight years ago I wouldn’t have imagined where I am today
What comes to mind for you when thinking of discomfort? Screeching chalk on a chalkboard? Hot and gritty? Cold and frail? For many of us, discomfort arrives when we feel uneasy, anxious, or embarrassed. While most may shy away from discomfort, I embrace it. For me, discomfort is the first step to growth and gaining different perspectives on life. when there is discomfort, adjoining lessons may be close by.
Embracing my discomfort
My tussle with discomfort began eight years ago with Lookout Mountain Conservancy when I was pulling invasive plants and becoming one with the soil. I wasn’t accustomed to outdoor settings, let alone diving into them to “befriend” all the critters and reshape their land to improve their wildlife habitat—and create special places for people as well. Thousands of hours later, in partnership with my fellow Lookout Mountain Conservancy interns, as we worked side-by-side in the heat and the cold, I moved past this discomfort as I gained a personal appreciation for the environment and the work we do in it.
Three years later, after graduating from The Howard School and the Intern and Leadership Program, and enrolling at Knox College in Galesburg, IL, I once again embraced discomfort. No one in my family made it through their first year of college, yet, here I was towards the end of mine at Knox, volunteering and immersing myself in Sri Lankan culture with International Volunteer HQ. This new chapter of discomfort forced me to push against some of the ideas passed down from society and textbooks; my experiences in Sri Lanka began to not only broaden but also restructure my understanding of society.
Discomfort and growth
That learning continued through my studies in Cameroon and Botswana, and then after graduation as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana. Prior to being evacuated due to Covid-19 this past March, certain long-held ideas by Americans and local Batswana made me very uncomfortable. Yet, my time at the Conservancy, working on the Mountain, positioned me well to work through my challenges and remain open-minded. As a result, these discomforts evolved into deeper understandings of my identity, the world we live in, and ways I can try to empower my community.
A new type of challenge
Coming back to work with the interns on the Mountain, this time as Summer Staff, raises both personal and professional challenges and questions. How can I redistribute my experiences at multiple levels in a way that is relevant to the interns? How can I inspire the younger students and use my past experience here as an intern in a way to connect and inspire personal realizations—beyond the hard work? Am I walking the walk of the program’s leadership, modeling compassion, deep listening, hard work, and thoughtful risk-taking?
Perhaps surprisingly, this summer, my discomfort, and learning hasn’t been with leading projects or working behind the scenes with Conservancy staff to ensure all goes well during our time with the interns. Rather, it’s been the multitude of eyes watching me. Things are different now. Beforehand, I was a peer, a classmate, an agemate. Now, multiple years separate me and the other interns making me more of an adult figure―someone who needs to both lead and follow, demonstrate what humility means as a teacher and mentor by investing in their voices and learning.
I’m adjusting and readjusting into my unique position of being young enough to relate, but also old enough to educate. As I mature and gain more experience, the Conservancy’s summer internship program provides me with the opportunity to discuss how they too can stretch themselves, embrace discomfort, and accomplish new goals and dreams.
I try to model that every day. Eight years ago I would not have believed that I would be planning to pursue a master’s of Communication at Loyola University in Chicago with the goal of attaining a Ph.D. in Visual Anthropology to help tell these untold stories.
Being part of the metamorphosis of an intern
Like you, I am constantly impressed with the daily physical, mental, and personal gains the Conservancy’s interns make. It’s both a privilege and an honor for me to take part in their stories; I learn from them every day, they inspire me to see the good in our society. They, are my “why”: they play a role in why I continue to press for higher goals; they are why I continue to strive to expand my thinking; and ultimately, they are why I return every year.
Like me eight years ago, they too deserve their chance to thrive through the intern program. They too will continue to grow and share the lessons learned this summer, as they go on to create the positive change they want to inspire and find their place in our community. The internship program teaches all of us that although discomfort is inevitable, we cannot cower from it. Instead, we must meet it head on to continue our internal growth.
- Domanique R.