What Peace Corps Taught Me About Life- A Series

Written by Kate • June 8, 2012 •
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Peace CorpsI joined the Peace Corps in 1995 after a few years in graduate school. I studied International Development which is a fancy way to say I learned about how to improve the lives of those living in developing nations. We studied economics, the environment, microcultures, etc. Every single person in my class of about 200 had been in the Peace Corps except maybe five others. And four of those other five had spent time in developing nations through other programs. So it was just me and a guy named Josh who had never been to a developing nation. At first that was fine. But then, class after class after,  I saw the sense of community, of shared experiences by all returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCV). They had this deep connection, this bond that was apparent after a few seconds, no matter where they had served.

And so I became very interested in joining and becoming a part of this larger community- and it was a great way to get overseas and pay back the mounting debt I was beginning to feel I owed to the world. I wanted to be overseas again, after having spent my senior year of undergrad in Paris, I wanted to give back to a world that had provided me with so much, and I wanted to be a part of a community.

I realized things were going to have to change. I let my perm grow out, I went camping for the first time in 15 years, and I applied to the Peace Corps. Peace Corps tried to not send me the application saying I wasn’t qualified enough. Please. So I told them to just send me the thing and we’ll see. This was pre-internet- by the way- so I couldn’t just go online.  And then I found out that this is something they do to everyone because hey, if you’re going to fold just because you someone hassled you about your application, you shouldn’t be wasting Peace Corps’ time and money on getting you overseas.

I applied. I jumped through their hoops; medical, dental, references. I got certified by my doctor that my hayfever didn’t pose a risk to me in a place where there is no doctor.  I got my wisdom teeth out- just in case they came in while in country. After 8 months of paperwork, doctor visits, and more, I was invited to go to Benin in West Africa for two years plus 3 months training.  I found out just before Christmas 1994  and decided to wait until January to tell my Mom -so I wouldn’t ruin her Christmas. I was going to leave in May.

I had never heard of Benin so I looked at the map in my office at the time and could not find Benin. Turns out the map was too old. Benin has been Dahomey until 1990.  Remember- no internet! So I found out about Benin through books and was very excited.

I had to tell my Mom and the rest of my family, give notice at work, buy supplies, and get ready to leave. What I didn’t realize about my 2 years of service is that I would get far more out of it than I could ever have given and that it was to change me fundamentally from the person I had been prior to my service.

I will be writing about the biggest lessons I got from my experience and apply them to life here in the US in a series of blog posts.

The other posts in the series:

What Peace Corps Taught Me – Presence

What Peace Corps Taught Me- Connection

What Peace Corps Taught Me – Fame

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Eating Paleo/Primal and Listening to Your Body

Written by Kate • June 5, 2012 •
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Image Thanks to Lord Jim

I used to be able to eat/drink cow’s milk, like cheese, milk, sour cream, and ice cream. And then I spent two years in West Africa in the Peace Corps where few people in the area I lived in had access to cow’s milk and therefore I rarely had any cheese and never had any milk or other refrigerated products. And then after Peace Corps, I started traveling for work and spent a lot of time in overseas and continued to reduce my intake until one day, I woke up and my body said no more.

The End of an Era

Because I had a habit of not listening to my body’s wisdom, I tested this message a few times. First I started having massive stomach pains from eating cow’s milk, rolling on the floor, groaning type pain. And then I made myself a fruit smoothie for breakfast – low fat milk and berries. By the time I got to work, I barely made it to the bathroom before I starting vomiting. But this wasn’t a big enough lesson for me. I thought to myself, maybe the milk or the berries were bad. Certainly, with all of my traveling in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, I’ve had my share of food poisoning, dysentery, and giardia. Maybe it was that. So I waited a week and got all new ingredients and tried it again. This time, I didn’t make it to work and had to turn back home to worship at the porcelain god.  But this time I noticed that I felt perfectly fine after I got rid of the offending inputs. And I knew then that cow’s milk and me had just said goodbye.

Moving On

It took a lot of adjustment and trial and error but I was able to create a perfectly satisfying diet without cow’s milk. I can eat all the sheep’s and goat cheese I want, for example, so I still get my cheese. And there a lot of ice cream brands out there that are “dairy” free.

Last year, however, I started noticing that there was just something wrong with the food I was eating but I couldn’t tell what it was. It wasn’t overt like my issue with cow’s milk but it was persistent and getting worse. So with the gluten free craze currently in vogue, I decided to cut gluten out of my life. I did feel better but it didn’t fix everything. And plus it was so hard to eat that way, with delicious sour dough bread, beer, and goat cheese pizza out there, the sacrifice didn’t seem worth.

Eating Paleo/Primal

But the malaise continued and I was still turning around in my head what to do about it when I heard about eating Paleo [or Primal]. Dooce, one of my absolute fave bloggers, talked about how she was eating Paleo as well, and gave a great overview of what she was eating and why. So I bought Robb Wolf’s book and was sold on the concept. So I recruited Dion into eating Paleo for one month, because I knew a one month trial would be so much easier if we both were invested. And off we went.

Well, all of my low level malaise disappeared and my constant hunger- gone. We then discovered Mark Sisson‘s Primal eating through his Mark’s Daily Apple. Fast forward and it’s now coming up on one year of eating Paleo/Primal. It’s been hard cutting bread, beer, and gluten out of my diet but it’s so worth it. Just last week I decided to throw caution to the wind and I had three doughnuts to celebrate an accomplishment with some friends. I was so sick later that day- quite a reminder that gluten actually does me harm.


My take away message is my body knows what it needs and wants far better than what my brain tells me I need or want. Listening to my body and taking action on the clues is the best course of action, always.

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Follow the Joy

Written by Kate • June 1, 2012 •
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O Be Joyful

Image Thanks To CameliaTWU

It seems like such a simple thing to do: “Follow the Joy”. Do what you makes you feel an abundant sense of peace, joy, well-being. But what if the joy you feel is caused by something you were taught was wrong, or impractical, or just “not done”.  What if your Joy is telling you to quit your job and back pack around Europe? What if your Joy is telling you to stop staying out late and start doing yoga at dawn each day? It’s easy to think that you’re the one who is willing to follow your Joy right up until your sense of Joy tells you to do something that feels inconvenient and scary. “Quit my job? How will I live?” “Stop staying out late? What about my friends and my community? No one I know does yoga or gets up at dawn”?

The down side to not following your Joy:

  1. Less joy. By allowing your beliefs about what is right and what is “allowable”, or by worrying about what “they” might think get in your way of following your Joy, you ignore what makes you happy and you do something else instead.
  2. Lessened ability to know what brings you joy. When you start to consistent ignore your internal guidance system about what brings you joy and you instead do the acceptable and practical thing, you become less able to hear the system and it becomes harder and harder to know what it is that feeds your soul.
  3. Numbness and despair. After years of ignoring your Joy, you end up in numb and in despair. Mid life crisis, anyone? And then you have to peel back the years and the layers of practical and fear to find that small, nearly silenced voice that is your Joy.

But why not bypass the typical approach to live and avoid your mid- life crisis and years of numbness and despair. Follow your Joy, no matter how impractical it may be.

The up side to following your Joy

  1. Increased confidence to follow your Joy. The more you’re willing to risk following your joy, the more you’ll able to do to follow it. You’ll see that although it may have appeared impractical to your mind’s eye, following your Joy actually makes a lot of sense to your life. And in a virtuous cycle, it just gets better and easier.
  2. Synchronicity. More joy. More confidence. More things clicking. You will become “lucky”. Things will go your way. You’ll start getting the right resource at the right time.
  3. Rich and happy life. As you build your confidence and momentum, life get happier and your life is full of rich content that feeds your soul.

So skip the mess. Have the courage to follow your Joy now.  Show others the way.


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Give up complaining

Written by Kate • May 23, 2012 •
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Stop Complaining

Image Thanks to ATurkus

I know most people complain, it feels so good to do it sometimes. And there are a rare few who take it to such a level that it becomes an art form such that it is akin to entertainment to hear the way they complain.  It can be fun to witness this level of complaining.

And sometimes it’s painful to see how much complaining takes up a person’s life. It’s like they’ve resigned themselves to permanent victim status. I’ve heard from others so often variations on the following statements: “This other person did this so I had to respond in this way [meaning normally I wouldn’t be stoop this low but the other person’s behavior forced me to]. ” Or “‘Can you believe the other person acted in this way [meaning I know how others should act at all times and it’s the way I see the world]. Or “This situation happened to me and it’s not fair [meaning I have so little power over my life I react to these situations rather than accept what is].

Don’t get me wrong. It’s easy to see in others where and how they complain too much. It’s far more difficult to catch yourself in your chronic litany of “they done me wrong”. I have been guilty of complaining as much the next person. But several years ago, I gave up complaining for long periods of time [with varying success]. I’m happy to report that my desire to complain lessens the more I practice the art of giving up complaining. Complaining focuses your attention on people and matters external to yourself and keeps you focused on what is happening to you, rather than what you can do in your life and in the world.  It’s an incredibly corrosive attitude that can keep you stuck in victimhood and powerlessness.

The following are some reasons why you should give up complaining and some common situations you may find yourself in once you’ve committed to giving it up.

First though, as in all things, don’t expect complete transformation one day to the next. We are biologically wired to continue our habits and it’ll be some time before you’re able to change any habit. So consider a 30 day trial and notice how often you complain during those 30 days. And then, at the end of the 30 days, start adding in one hour per day that you’re complaint free [in addition to all the time you sleep – which can’t count! 😉 ].

Complaining Gives Your Power Away

When you complain about something someone else does or something that has happened to you, you’ve given your power away over how much you can influence people and events in your life and  how you want to act. If you can imagine the difference between being someone who takes the temperature of a room and someone who sets the temperature of room, you can start to see who you’ve given your power away.  If you’re the thermometer, then you’re the person reacting to whether or not the room is hot or cold. When you’re the thermostat, you set the temperature of the room.  So if someone is doing something else you don’t like, you don’t let them shift your sense of self or sense of peace.

By being the person who remains unaffected by bad or boorish behavior on others’ parts, you can rest in your own centeredness. For example, imagine the Dalai Lama and how he reacts. He has been accused of terrible things by the Chinese government and he continues to pray for that country. His sense of self, his sense of right is not being altered because of external situations or circumstances.

Complaining Focuses Your Attention On One Moment In Time

By complaining over situations or another person’s behavior, you are focusing all your attention on one moment in time- without allowing for the broader sense of time and space. So someone was unbelievably rude to you or a circumstance is entirely unfair- and then you complain about it and you focus on how bad the situation was. Well, that situation happened and now it’s over. Yet you’re continuing to give all your attention to a situation that, if you allowed it to drop, would be over and forgotten. No need to keep dredging up one moment and time and keep it with you as you continue to feed it your attention and focus.

Instead, you can acknowledge it happened and that it kinda sucked or that you didn’t like what happened to you or label it unpleasant. And then drop the situation, your anger, your sense of what “should have happened”, and move on. It’s over and now you can focus again on the situations and people that you choose to spend your attention on.

Complaining About Someone Else Means You’re Deciding How Everyone Else Should Act

It certainly is easy to hold everyone else to the highest bar and expect them to act in the way you think is best. This is how other’s should be be. This is clearly how the situation should be. They shouldn’t act this way.  But what you’re really saying is that you expect people to act in the way you think they should act, in all situations, in a way that is beneficial to you.  Which is hoohaw, as you well know. But it’s hard to drop the satisfaction you get when you “know” you’re right and the other person is wrong. Here’s the truth: if your advice is so great, you follow it first. You be the person who acts correctly in all situations, who doesn’t let tiredness, or fear, or insecurities swamp them from time to time. You be the person who puts acts in the “right” way every time.

Instead, be the change you want to see in the world. Be the one who allows others to act in the way they need to act, even it you disagree with the manner in which they do it.  Focus instead on how you’re interacting with others, the joy and the sorrow you bring to the world, and how you make the world a better [or worse] place. You can only change yourself.

Common Situations You Find Yourself In Once You’ve Given Up Complaining

Someone else complains all the time

Once you’ve decided to give up complaining, you’ll unfortunately notice in even more in others around you. This is to be expected, normal, and frustrating! But just because you’re become aware of how complaining doesn’t help and in fact hurts you doesn’t mean others realize this. For them, complaining still feels right or good. So meet others where they are on their path. And if their complaining gets extensive, don’t be afraid to change the subject or to remove yourself from the situation.  After a while, sometimes longer than we’d like, others will notice that complaining around you doesn’t work anymore and you’ll find others doing it less and less.

You just want to complain about this one little thing- it’s so justified.

Sometimes you’ve been so wronged or you’re so tired that you feel like this one time that complaining is totally justified and appropriate.  The fact is that you may have been utterly wronged but complaining about it doesn’t change that fact. Complaining about it gives your power away. Instead you can think, discuss, mull over the situation and respond to it. Discussing a situation and how you’ll respond to it is not complaining.

You’ll know you’ve slipped back into complaining when you move from discussing a situation about how you’re going to react to focusing on the actions of the other person or the situation and getting into a sense of I’m right and the other person/situation is wrong.

Try It!

Giving up complaining is a worthwhile effort that takes patience and mindfulness. The rewards are a stronger sense of self and an increased ability to respond to any situation you find yourself in.  Try for it for 30 days and see!



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Whose Permission Do You Need?

Written by Kate • May 15, 2012 •
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Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach

Each of have much to learn from those around us. Some of it is in the form of cautionary tales, some of it is in the form of how to do things exactly right.  I am fortunate enough to be partnered with someone who has set his sights on what he wants to achieve and is going for it, with every thing he has.  After 8 years together, he has shown me so much of what real success takes. Below are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned of late about the best ways to live a life and how to achieve true success.

Enjoy What You Do

To some this may be screamingly obvious and for those for whom it is, please continue on to the next lessons. But for those who don’t know what they like to do or for those are doing a lot of things they don’t like to do, trust me. This is an important one to work your way back to doing all the time.  Enjoy What You Do.

Joy in what you do is the most fundamental of ingredients. It makes you want to wake up at 5am and write a post, just to share your thoughts. It’s what helps you on a Saturday afternoon when your friends are have a few beers to help pass the time and you need to focus in order to learn about some new idea or draft up your own thoughts.  If you think your will is enough to sustain year in and year out doing something that doesn’t feed your soul, you will find out after years of toil that you’re wrong. Doing something for years on end that you don’t enjoy ends up numbing you and making it increasingly hard to find the joy.

You can see on the face of every truly successful person how much they love what they’re doing. Money, fame may mean you’re rich and famous but if you’re not happy, the money and the fame both won’t last and won’t be meaningful. True success may include money and fame but joy is at its true foundation.

Do What It Takes But Rest When Necessary

Inspiration, creativity, and all the other underlying requirements for success and a life well lived don’t obey a 9 to 5 world and can come at any time. Sometimes a great idea will come to you just as you’re heading for bed or about to hit the shower to get ready to head into work in order to be on time. Don’t ignore creativity when it strikes. Follow the inspiration no matter when it strikes.

And sometimes, even when you sit down to do what you’d planned to do, inspiration may be not call at just that time. Instead you may feel the need for a nap. Resting is just as important as working and should also not be ignored.

Be Excellent All The Time

Note that this isn’t about perfection. Perfection is both not possible as well as the enemy of getting it done. By trying to be perfect, you’re already on the road to failure. But be excellent all the time. By doing what you love and following inspiration where it takes you- and not worrying about perfection, achieving excellence is a lot easier than it may sound.

That means knowing you’re giving it your all, even when you don’t feel like it. It means giving it your all even when you’re tired, even when 70% feels like it should be good enough. Excellence, once you’re accustomed to be in the flow of what you’re doing, what feels good, becomes a habit that feeds itself.

The Only Opinion That Matters Is Yours

This lesson may be the most crucial. If you worry about what other people think, it’s hard to strike out on your own, to do what it takes which is often counter to what your family and friends expect of you. If this is particularly hard for you, think of a mantra to repeat to yourself until you’re free of your need to have other’s approval. Here are some to consider. Blaze your path. Let your freak flag fly. Withdraw your consent that what anyone else thinks matters. What other people think of you isn’t any of your business.

The thing about what other people think- it’s that no one likes change and no one likes change in which a loss may occur.  But if you’ve started engaging in new behavior that your friends and family complain or push back about and yet you keep at it for some amount of time, if you keep doing it, then that behavior becomes the new normal and the resistance from others just melts away. Don’t let the idea of being potentially different or be thought weird stop you from doing that which you’re meant to, that which makes you happy.  If you think you’re doing the right thing, that’s the only opinion that matters.

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