It`s time to talk about the big scary S word.

Scaling up?

Structural reform?

Sub-Saharan Africa?

Clever followers will have spotted the buzzwords by now and have already seen through my silly introduction to the focus of this installment: Success.

Why talk about success? It seems pretty obvious to me, but it’s always a good idea to examine motivations and assumptions behind, well, everything (more on that later-keep reading!). One of the major trepidations/challenges/growth opportunities I had in even applying for the Junior Fellowship was that of defining success in such a role. When it came time to make a PDP, the task of defining success in my role was one of the first things I thought to include, because I felt that it would give focus to the other points of development.

Looking back, I think the major reason for my need to define success stemmed from the culture of success we experience in Canada and the West in general. Think about it: academics, sports, careers, the list goes on. We’re very often driven to meet standards of success, whether internally or (more often) externally defined, in all of these things. It only made sense for me to want to set those standards as best as possible for my internship. So I started talking to some people.

First, I asked around at conference. “Asked” is actually a pretty strong word; in actuality, I extended my brain-tentacles outwards and very gently started formulating notions of success from various, sometimes indirectly related, inputs. I began to understand that there are definitely past JFs who have experienced relative success according to externally-defined parameters. I also quickly came to find that the standards of success in these parameters are very well-communicated and so “success” in them is pre-defined. This simplified the problem a bit for me, as it took the first step–the aspect of defining—out of my externally-derived standard of success.

Next, I went to my mentors. First I talked to two JFs who had gone overseas last summer. I asked questions like whether or not they felt successful in their placement, what factors contributed to their success or lack thereof, and what their processes were for defining success. The responses I got were overwhelmingly and necessarily, as I now understand, ambiguous. I learned from my mentors that success in my internship will be wholly context-dependent, and I shouldn’t set my standards of success too specifically until I’m experiencing the context in which they will be relevant.

This was solidified through another conversation with a past volunteer about, of all things-gender relations. The point that came out of that conversation is the fact that this experience is going to challenge all aspects of the Western perspective I bring to the table, including standards and processes for defining my success. In preparation for the challenges I’m going to face, I should be open to creating those challenges myself.

Well, my friends, defining my success has been a challenge. However, I managed to come up with three goals (at the urging of one of the aforementioned mentors) that I hope to reach in order to have success in my role. They are:

  1. To feel as if I had some impact, however small, towards improving the lives of individuals living in a reality of poverty
  2. To effectively disseminate all aspects of my experience with other audiences
  3. To determine the aspects of this internship I’d like to have in a career

They’re vague and feel incomplete, and that challenges me. I now see this as less of a preparatory process and more of one which likely won’t be complete until my internship is done. I will need to continually generate feedback from my reality and update my vision of success as I do so. I feel good about these goals, though, and I can’t wait to experience the contexts that will continue to mould them as I continue to grow and learn and experience challenge and change.


(Ironic side note: my initial goal was to have this post completed within two days. Four days later, and the post is finally done. I love when things get all meta like that.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s