I wrote this essay in December of 2007. It’s a summary of the biggest challenge I faced with the Peace Corps – the challenge of readjusting when I finally returned home. It’s been four years now and I can truly say that the readjustment is not complete. This essay does not cover some of the big issues I deal with now… walking into the Peace Corps hoping to fix some of the problems in a developing country and then walking out realizing that our “developed” nations are missing something too. However, it does address the immediate challenge of readjustment and how I dealt with it. I hope you find it useful.
When the Peace Corps said that it would be the toughest job I ever loved, they were right. I expected to be challenged when I left for the remote island nation of Tonga, but I never expected the more painful struggle to readjust when I came home. That was the most difficult transition I have ever faced.
My first reaction was positive as I had missed hot showers, restaurants, family, and friends. I was soon overwhelmed with the overabundance of choices, the rampant materialism, the post 9/11 paranoia, and the Paris Hiltons. I went from being a national superstar in Tonga to relative anonymity. Few people wanted to hear my stories and no one seemed to understand them. Like my fellow Peace Corps returnees, I felt lost and lonely.
I handled this the way I handle everything in my life: by diving in head first. Against all recommendations, I joined a top consulting firm in a place I had never been to. The results were as predicted; my first few months at Accenture in Seattle were brutal. With the help of new friends and role models at the company, my bruised ego soon recovered and I realized that I was on an exciting new adventure.
Over time, I recognized that things weren’t as different as I had first imagined. I had just traded in my taovala and straw skirt tupenu for a suit and a tie. Instead of attending kava circles at night with the village elders, I was attending evening socials with the company partners. Instead of teaching New Zealand law and computing to students with little grasp of English, I was dealing with clients who had crazy deadlines and unrealistic expectations. While I had received power and responsibility as soon as I arrived in Tonga, it still took me three years to earn that respect, just as it has at Accenture.
My readjustment experience opened my eyes to my greatest strength – the ability to take risks and not be afraid of failure. I take advantage of opportunities regardless of how daunting they seem to be.