Personal Growth: Lessons Learned from the Summer Institute
This blog is cross-posted with kind permission from the SnapShot Blog, in which Global MINDS Fellowship Program Fellows share their experiences with the program and their progress of implementing and evaluating their solutions. Paula Njeru is a medical student at Kenyatta University in Kenya. During the Summer Institute of the Fellowship Program, Paula and her team members developed an “advocacy incubator” as a way to raise awareness, promote social inclusivity, and dispel myths and stigma about mental illness in the Machakos community.
Attending the Summer Institute (SI) was an enlightening experience. I learned extensively about global mental health from professionals making significant strides in the field. As far as outcomes go, this was expected. What was unexpected, was how wholesome the experience would be. Given that this was my first venture into the field of global health and social innovation, my assumption was that the SI would be a rigorous affair due to the limited available time, and that the curriculum would solely be dedicated to learning and memorizing innumerable literature related to the field. However, when every day began with the Global MINDS Mindfulness Ambassador Council, a program that helped me learn how to thrive in the present, to derive insight into personal and social challenges from within, and more so to engage genuinely with those around me, I knew I was in for a life-changing experience.
Needless to say, I did learn a lot, theoretical and practical knowledge included, and I could write endlessly about key elements involved in tackling mental health challenges in my community and globally. Instead, I would like to share key insights learned from the SI that have contributed to my personal growth:
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
“Compassion is defined as a concern for the wellbeing of others.” (Cosley, McCoy, & Saslow, 2010). I have always viewed compassion in terms of how I relate to others and never of how I relate to myself. During the SI, I learned how important it is to be able to connect to my feelings as well as my needs and fears in order to truly show compassion to others. I was able to realize how always striving for perfection has prevented me from experiencing my hurt and failures with kindness and caring and thus hindered learning from these experiences. Away from the SI, in “real life” it is much easier to fall back into the rut of perfectionism, but I now find it much easier to forgive myself of my faults and foster kindness within.
“We all wear masks and the time come when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”
– André Berthiaume
In a society where we grow up with perceived ideas on how to act, what to say and ultimately how to feel, it is no wonder many of us wear masks. Our masks may enable us to take on an identity that is deemed acceptable or to control others or situations by hiding some of our truths. Wearing masks can sometimes serve a purpose, whether in helping navigate an uncertain situation or taking on daunting challenges. However, they also keep us from connecting with others on a deeper level that leads to truly building relationships. I learned the importance of looking within to analyze the masks I wear and to truly assess whether I need the masks. I have found it much easier to express my point of view to others without fear of criticism, when I can be myself without ascribing to a certain role.
“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”
Mindful listening is a lot of work. It involves devoting 100% of our concentration when it is almost second nature to multi-tasking, at least to me. Nevertheless, how well we listen has a major impact on how well we communicate and build relationships. By learning to become more aware of how I listen, I can now identify how my own internal dialogue, mind wanderings and emotional reactions impede my ability to stay open to the perspective of others. This is a skill that I am mastering, but it is amazing just how much I am able to learn from others when I am not constantly second-guessing what they have to say and how others are willing to consider my point of view when I truly listen to theirs.
These are but a few of the lessons I was fortunate to learn and deepen as part of the SI. I will always fondly remember the two weeks I spent in Machakos, Kenya learning from great minds, building life-long friendships and creating solutions to wicked complex challenges affecting mental health in my community. Moving forward with the team projects, I’ve found it much easier to juggle the extra responsibility using the skills and confidence instilled during the SI. More so, I have experience a great wholesomeness in my interactions with others and my fellow team members. As Martin Duursma said, “Innovation, more and more, is a social activity. It occurs at the edges between teams, when people collide in unexpected places, to spark new ideas.” This was truly my experience during the 2017 Global MINDS Summer Institute.
Image caption: Meeting and learning from CREATE Kenya’s Point Tech employees and their family members.