There is something invigorating about ending one year and starting a new year. We always have so many “resolutions,” or goals that we want to accomplish in the new year. But 80% of goals in the new year are abandoned by February! I’ve done it, too. I’ve had weight loss goals, relationship goals, financial goals, and work-related goals that have gone by the wayside.
But an experience that I had recently gave me some clarity as to why I don’t always reach my goals and how I can change that. And the lesson came from a most unlikely source – 62-year-old indigenous Maya woman who I’d never met.
Now, it isn’t unusual for me to learn lessons from Maya women. I live in Guatemala and I find that Maya women have a lot of insights and wisdom. But this was different.
At work, we partnered with another organization to provide women’s health training to a group of woman from different communities and organizations. I was there with 10 mother leaders from my organization. I started chatting with a few women from another organization. From their clothes – traditional Maya clothing – I saw that they were from the town where I live.
In Guatemala, Maya women (and some men) wear a handwoven blouse and skirt with different designs indicating the town where it was made. Although things are changing quickly, many older women still only wear the traditional clothing from their town.
Guatemalans also speak 25 different languages, 22 of which are Maya languages. In my town, the primary language is Kaqchikel, followed by Spanish. I would say that I am fluent in Spanish (although I still have moments of confusion), but Kaqchikel has been much more difficult to learn.
I get embarrassed to speak in Kaqchikel because I know that I am not fluent and I could say something that sounds ridiculous. And that stops me from learning more. It’s a vicious little cycle of fear and shame.
But for some reason, that day, I decided I would try to speak with the women in their language. I struggled through small talk and they giggled at my Kaqchikel. At the end of the training, one of the women came up to me and asked me, in Kaqchikel, if I would go with her to the nearby community health center to be seen by a doctor.
Doctors, for the most part, only speak Spanish and what she wanted was for someone to translate from Spanish to Kaqchikel for her. I felt a familiar physical sensation – a knot swelling in my chest and my cheeks becoming warm.
How was I going to translate for this woman? I don’t speak Kaqchikel well enough. What if they laugh at me? What if I do something wrong and no one understands me? What if she gets the wrong medicine? What if, what if, what if?
But there was no one else. And this woman had the courage to ask me, a stranger, to help her get medical treatment. How could I not at least try to help her?
Don’t get in your own way!
That’s the first lesson that I learned that day. I need to get out of my own way. Sometimes the challenge seems too big. How am I going to translate for this woman when I barely can get a full sentence out in her language? The doubt started to overwhelm me, but I swallowed them, and got out of my own way. I decided that if there was something that I really didn’t understand that needed to be translated for the doctor, I would find someone who could translate. But I was going to do the best that I could and forget the little voice inside of me that told me that I wasn’t good enough or didn’t know enough.
As the doctor examined the woman and I began to translate, I realized that I understood what the woman was telling me and could translate it for the doctor. Whoa, I thought. Where is this coming from? Words that I didn’t even know I knew were coming out of my mouth. I asked the woman where her pain was and how often she felt it. Once I got over my fear, I surprised myself with my ability. Sure, there were definitely things that I didn’t know how to say. But I found a way to make myself understood.
Cut yourself some slack!
I sometimes get really down with myself that I don’t know more Kaqchikel than I do. And, as I mentioned earlier, it stops me from learning more. That day, I cut myself some slack and decided that I was going to help this woman, even if I wasn’t perfect. Even if I said some ridiculous things. I was all she had and I had to do the best that I could.
Have the courage to reach your goals!
The biggest lesson I learned from that 62-year-old stranger was courage. It took a lot of courage for her to decide to go to the health center. The indigenous Maya have faced a lot of discrimination and abuse in Guatemala and they rarely trust public institutions. It took a lot of courage for her to ask a foreigner to translate for her so that she could get medical care. And it took courage for me to accept the challenge, put my pride aside, and do the best that I could to translate for a stranger.
Do it for you but do it for others, too!
If I didn’t feel such a strong need to help this woman get the medical care she needed and deserved, I never would have stepped outside of my comfort zone in the way that I did. I think it is important to set our goals for ourselves, but I also think that we are more likely to fulfill them if we think about how they affect others.
Let’s say I have a goal to lose 30 pounds. I could say that I want to be healthier, look better, feel better, and have my clothes fit better. That may work. But, for me, if I say I want to lose 30 pounds so that I can enjoy running around with my kids at the park, I may feel a stronger pull to reach my goals.
I feel motivated by this woman and her courage to get out of my own way and out of my own head to set and reach my goals in 2023. How about you??