Throughout my time as a student at Macalester College, I have always thought of myself as an environmentalist. For my first year there, I practiced and explored my philosophy on the environment and resource use in a very personal way. I became and avid knitter, an Environmental Studies major, and to the dismay of my freshman roommate, a person who showered infrequently.
In my sophomore year, I wanted to get involved in a more collaborative way. I began to think, “I certainly cannot create real change without the support and action of my peers, why go at this alone?” I decided to get involved in my school’s student environmental group, the Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society, or MacCARES. I also started working in the sustainability student worker network and went to Powershift, a national conference geared towards young adults interested in creating change through grassroots activism. Throughout my two years of exploring my environmentalism at Macalester, my ideas of what I wanted to do and be were changing.
After sophomore year, I decided that rather than go home and read through the Harry Potter series for the tenth time, I wanted to find more useful work. I kept my eyes and ears open to the opportunities available to me. Through MacCARES, the student group that I had joined, I met two of the program leaders for Summer of Solutions Twin Cities, as well as several of the programs’ past participants. Through their encouragement and rave reviews of the program, I decided to apply. It sounded like an amazing program, and one that would help me to develop further as an environmentalist.
When I decided to become a participant of Summer of Solutions, it was based on conversations that I had with people who were already involved in the program. They said that SoS had shaped them; it was a place for them to grow. When I asked what they liked about the program, they told me that participating was a formative experience in their lives as young leaders and that by stepping out of their comfort zones during their work, they were able to become more well-rounded. I am happy to say that these reviews have been on par with my own experience this summer.
Throughout my time in the program, I learned something that I had forgotten about myself: how I grow and develop as an individual. This summer I remembered that I reflect best on the work that I have done using few words and simply recollecting the new skills that I have learned. This is how I have stepped out of my comfort zone this summer, not by talking or explaining, but by doing something new. By doing, I have grown stronger as a young leader and an environmentalist.
Since we spend so much time as a collective group talking about how we are feeling and discussing what we are doing, I find it strange that the times that I most cherish when working for SoS are the times that I am not saying anything at all. My experience is defined by what I do physically and the personal reflection of what I am doing. I have grown much more as an individual this summer when I have thrown myself out of my comfort zone and done something that I normally would not. If you told me two months ago that I would be taking notes in small group meetings and be responsible for accurately reporting those notes, I would have told you that you were mistaken. I am God-awful at typing, and have just recently learned to type without looking at the keyboard. I have also never blogged before (Am I doing a good job?) and am terribly afraid of what other people think of my writing. Beyond participating in new ways during small group sessions, I have also stepped out of my spatial comfort zone. I have never had a sense of direction or the inclination to exercise very much, but this summer I decided that my bicycle would be my primary mode of transportation. I am pretty excited to say that I have never learned more about different streets or bike routes than I have this summer. The moral of the story is that SoS has been a formative experience for me in the way that it has challenged me to act in ways that, until very recently, I did not think that I could. It has also made me realize that I find physical labor and action more memorable and significant than just talking and listening.
Even though many of the hours that I work for SoS for the next two weeks will be spent discussing my feelings with the other participants, I am excited for the growth that I can realize this summer not by talking, but by doing. I am also glad that I have been able to reflect on these ideas for long enough to understand them. Here’s to spending the rest of my time as a SoS participant growing by doing.