Have ever you noticed a recurring theme that keeps popping up in your daily interactions, readings and in seemingly random, déjà vu like moments? It’s like the universe is trying to send you a message; subtly at first and then gradually its metaphorically hitting you over the head until you have no choice other than to sit up and take notice? Themes of energy, time and effort spent on people and projects have gone from a quiet whisper to 100 piece brass band marching through my life recently. For me, this quote (and it’s variations) are everywhere lately:
Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher. – Oprah Winfrey
If you surround yourself with the good and righteous, they can only raise you up. If you surround yourself with the others, they will drag you down into the doldrums of mediocrity, and they will keep you there, but only as long as you permit it. – Mark Glamack
Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard. – Colin Powell
Good stuff, but then I read a zinger on Twitter that stopped me in my tracks. “Got negative people in ur circle of friends? Tighten the circle.” - Chalene Johnson. Whoa. Brutal…yet necessary, I realized, as I thought through some of my relationships and where I spend my energy. As someone who feels blessed to have many wonderful friends all over the world, still…this truth hit home.
For me, it’s not about excluding anyone, but about focusing my effort and energy to its best use. One group of people I am extremely grateful for is my family of friends in the international volunteer community. I say family, because nothing I’ve ever been involved with in my life is as bonding as living and working side-by-side with people who share similar values and challenge you to stretch beyond your comfort zone to help awaken your inner light.
My Habitat for Humanity mentor and dear friend, Laurie Skipper, says that people who join Habitat trips are self-selecting; Habitat builds naturally attract quality people who you want to get to know and spend time with. I’ve found this also to be true with friends and colleagues at Kiva and All Hands Volunteers, two of the other organizations I’ve been privileged to volunteer with over the last few years.
It’s the night before my 19 hour journey from Geneva to Cape Town via Dubai and I’m going over my checklist once again to make sure I’ve got everything I need for the Habitat for Humanity build week ahead. I’m reviewing our team roster and am excited to see friends who have volunteered with me in Haiti, Guatemala, Jordan, and now, South Africa. I’m humbled and grateful for these opportunities to serve in a meaningful way and can’t forget to thank all our family and friends who encourage these endeavours with generous donations and unending support. We’ll be joining 12 teammates to build a simple, decent home in just one week for a very deserving single mother and her two daughters. It will be tough, dirty and exhausting and I couldn’t be happier about getting to know the people of Mfuleni Township while partnering together to build a lasting community of teammates, home-partners, masons, neighbors, and friends that believe we are all connected and everyone deserves to live a life filled with love and opportunity for all.
Although the main focus of the week will be on building houses, it will be more than that! As bricks are laid and the mortar mixed, relationships are built between the volunteers and community members. Any misconceptions and stereotypes existing before are eradicated as those from the community of the “have’s” work alongside and together with those from the “have not’s” uniting towards the goal of housing a community and restoring hope and dignity to all. – Desmund Tutu
This is my community. It is a gift. The circle is tight.