Goal Setting and Why I Love It

Goal setting has saved me for the last two years of the least structured job I’ve ever had. Outside of official, Peace Corps organized training events, life in a village can be exactly that: life. Your “job” is everything that falls under the “life” category, which means that learning to cook the perfect agnamaogo aro vanio is just as important as planning a lesson with a SMART objective for your 6th grade English class. At least, that’s how I saw it. And I think that saved me.

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Cooking misao (pasta salad) and milawa (fried bread) for my birthday with some students. I’m proud to say I’m accomplished at these recipes after two years of practice!

Understanding that I should put equal amounts of effort into my language learning, my integration (kind of a blanket term for ‘socializing in a culturally appropriate way’), my technical “job” (teaching and promoting the English language), my physical and mental health (which Peace Corps broadly calls “resiliency”), and my hobbies (which became cooking and playing music) helped me put everything else that I expected to be doing with these two years into perspective. It helped me feel accomplished and honestly, happy, in a small site, as a brand new volunteer with limited resources and support, in a region that is still largely Francophone.

I’ve blogged about the frustrations of having an unstructured and easily interrupted job many times before. It’s been extremely hard for me, as an American who ties her job performance to her self-worth, to break myself of that nasty habit of self-shaming. I taught myself to combat this disappointment through realistic, time-bound (dare I say, SMART?) goal-setting.

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One of my sixth grade classes on the last day of school. Somehow they all fit into that tiny room behind us.

I started this practice two and a half years ago during our Pre-Service Training. PST is three months, so I decided to set goals for myself that I could realistically achieve within three months. I set goals for each of the categories in which I was trying to succeed: learning Malagasy language, integrating with my host family, improving my teaching skills, and discovering and solidifying positive, sustainable coping strategies. I no longer have my PST journal; I took it home on my visit to America last year. But if I did, I would open it and find amusing the goals that, at that time, felt insurmountable:

  1. practice Malagasy with five new people;
  2. learn to make pumpkin bread with my neny;
  3. practice yoga three times this week; go on a walk on a new path;
  4. plan two new EFL lessons.

I know myself well enough to know that I need incremental praise. This practice became a small, silly way of me feeling good about my accomplishments, the small, seemingly insignificant accomplishments that, over the course of two years, added up to so many big things: 

  1. a higher level of language competency
  2. increased cardiovascular health and a healthy way to deal with anxiety
  3. a cookbook’s full of tasty Malagasy recipes
  4. a method with which to plan an effective EFL lesson
  5. FRIENDSHIP. Is that too cheesy? Don’t care.

These things matter. They matter to me. Anyone who asks you, “so what do you actually do in the Peace Corps? Are you making a difference?” has clearly never been in the Peace Corps.

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Region mates and my crew of students who liked to hang around and read books, practice English songs, and beat me in basketball.