Caitlin Navratil, 131 YinD
I should have known.
I should have known when it took a group of 15 trainees 45 minutes to determine who was going to visit which school. There were four schools. Okay, maybe 5.
I should have known when I learned that Thailand is one of the most competitive Peace Corps Programs in the world, and there were only 59 of us.
I should have known when training started and every single person I met had an incredible backstory and impressive credentials. Every. Single. Person.
I should have known when I wasn’t the only one who had a viable plan on how to accomplish a task or how to schedule an event. But… planning is my thing.
I should have known when sessions would go long because every person had something insightful to say.
I should have known that… *gasp* we’re all type A.
There, I said it – sorry, fellow Peace Corps Thailand 131 Volunteers. I’ve diagnosed us. We’re terminal overachievers and explosive personalities, every single one of us. We’re each used to being the most impressive, the person with the answers, the teacher’s pet. Put 59 of those people in one room? It gets really interesting. And loud, honestly.
All joking aside, I recently had a revelation that helped me figure out something that had baffled and frustrated me during PST. Why wasn’t I doing better, comparatively? PST was hard and I was doing my absolute best, why wasn’t I excelling within the group more?
Are you ready for this?
I, Caitlin Navratil, life-long nerd and President of every club I joined (actually not an exaggeration – the one club I was in throughout both high school and college where I wasn’t President was National Honors Society, but only because there was literally a rule that you couldn’t be both NHS President and Student Council President. Guess who was Student Council President? Me.) am not the only overachiever here, nor am I the most impressive.
Not even close.
I was overwhelmed, out-talked, out-led, and out-personality-d (not a word, but you know what I mean) at every turn. They told us to step up or step back in group discussion to give a balance to the group. Well, I stepped back. I stepped waaay back. I had never experienced such a dynamic group of people, and I think it caused me to sink back into my shell just a little bit. I didn’t particularly stand out as a leader among my peers – not because I wasn’t a leader, but because I wasn’t one of the only leaders. Plus, I did a terrible job of being assertive; I blame the Minnesota roots for that one.
When our group voted for VAC (volunteers to represent the group to the PC staff, basically), I didn’t win. I wasn’t even nominated. But here’s the kicker: I knew that every person who was nominated would have done a better job at it than me. Not because I would have done a bad job, but because I was sitting in a room of exceptional people.
I don’t mean this to sound self-deprecating in any way. In fact, I hope you read this and know how dynamic I also am. If I’ve ever been in your classroom or your office, been your coach, your Young Professionals leadership, or your club president, or even your intern of the year, you know that I’m not just along for the ride. I am driven and passionate and exceptional. I am motivated to provide a better result than was even requested. I’m a natural leader, and I really should have “efficiency” as another middle name. Though, that would be inefficient.
With that in mind, I hope you are able to appreciate the impossibly impressive nature of PCV Thailand Group 131. We’re Fulbright Scholars and we’re tri-lingual. We’re dual-citizens and we’re almost-lawyers. We’re athletes and we’re ukulele-players. We’re second-time PCVs and we’re political campaigners. We’re poets and we’re engineers.
We are the type of people who leave behind the life we know for two years to try to make the world a better place.
And at the end of the day – or, more accurately, at the end of PST – only one volunteer goes to a site. Where I may have allowed myself to hide in the shadows of my peers in PST, I am finding that I am the main event here in Ngim. I am entirely in charge of my own experience here, and I feel my old self re-emerging from my shell. You want me to run three camps before school even starts? Sure, let’s go. Will I work at all seven schools in the community? Absolutely, I’m up for the challenge. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.
I think I’m coming to terms with having felt not quite good enough or interesting enough during PST. I think somewhere in my soul I was crossing my fingers, hoping they’d swear me in as a volunteer before anyone noticed that I wasn’t qualified to be here. But I realize now that it was the demon of comparison that was holding me down, whispering to me to never raise my hand – someone had something smarter to say. Excuse my language, but the demon of comparison can go back to hell. Being a PCV is not a competition, it never has been. We’re a team – the better we do as a whole, the more lives are changed. There’s no other way to see it.
And you know what? I am qualified to be here, I am going to do a great job. I am bringing my specific talents, my specific experiences, and my specific personality to my site – and I’m so very excited to share them.
So PCV group 131, thank you for challenging me to be a better me.
And thanks for being so incredible. Here’s to changing the world.