Grow In: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Journey Inside Herself

Kelsey Sabo
Kelsey Sabo

A seed must be planted into the soil and given plenty of nutrients to grow within. It expands and expands. What science does not tell you is that during this time the seed is making important decisions: who it is, what kind of plant it will be, even how strong, resilient, and comforting it will be. Then, it branches out to establish a solid foundation in its environment – roots. These roots will grow while constantly supporting and nourishing the future growth of this seedling. The seedling grows and grows, with support from his root friends down there grounding him as he also lends support to them. A fair mutualism. He grows up, up, up and becomes the strongest, happiest, and brightest sunflower out in the field. Once in a while he will proudly look around and remember that everything started with himself; the decision to expand and expand from within before branching out to roots has allowed him to now be the adult-like yet ever-growing sunflower he is today.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

You will understand when you are older.

Where do you see yourself when you are 50?

You can when you are 12.

You have to wait until you are 18.

No. Not until you are 21.

Grow up – This has been drilled into our minds since we were born. From having a sleepover and wearing makeup to going on a date and drinking a beer, these phrases have reverberated in our heads. We convince ourselves that once we cross that finish line of “growing up,” that’s when life becomes golden. That’s where all these secrets and tricks hide that adults never can share. Finally, there we are all grown up, quantitatively, and very quickly we realize that we didn’t quite cross a finish line to freedom and parties. Ironically instead, we began the never-ending marathon of responsibilities.

Grow out – Throughout this whole process of growing up, we are gaining friends, significant others, mentors, role models, and jobs. We do mind numbing activities together like shopping, drinking, gossiping, eating, weight lighting, and so on. You keep a job, you lose a job. You keep a friend, you lose five. You keep a boyfriend, and you lose that boyfriend. We trickle through these days until a small percentage stick with us. We look up to individuals whom we know very little about in our youth then realize they are not the best role models after a few years. The core reason these variables in our life fluctuate like the stock market are because we are making mistakes. Mistakes are not bad. We are not doing anything wrong. We are working with what we know and learning as we go.

Then, bam.

Grow in – Some call it a “mid-life crisis” when it hits drastically, others throw around that phrase when quite the opposite of “growing in” is happening. This phrase has such a negative connotation for two reasons. One, who actually knows when the middle of their life is? You might already be over the hill, sweetie. Secondly, “crisis” is a synonym for “a terrible time.” As if change and self-reflection are always awful. But to use the term “mid-life crisis” in its barest form: the point in life when we realize the road we have been trucking down is not right or the horizon in sight is not where we want to end up. For few this happens mid-twenties, others mid-thirties, and some not until long after retirement. At this time, whether we chose to or are forced to do so – we think. Why have these friends stuck around? Are they actually bringing value to my life? Why did my wife leave me? Is it because I am miserable doing this job that I despise around people who make me a worse self? How will I pick up these pieces? How can I make a positive change in my life? What am I going to do? Who am I?

These questions allow reflection and change. They allow us to know ourselves, our values, desired qualities in others, passions, and self. Once we know ourselves we can begin to love ourselves. With love comes forgiveness, protection, and encouragement. If we know who we are on the core, the deepest level, then nothing can ever touch that or change it besides ourselves. Body changes. Physical abuse. Illness. Job loss. Sexual assault. While these can fog the glass over our core self for time, nothing can break you. In the end, your core will never be tainted and you know that. When you know what you are truly passionate about, no amount of “failure,” setbacks, and naysayers will stop your drive. We will no longer waste our time, energy, and emotions on people who do not bring value to our lives and visa versa. We won’t waste years being miserable in jobs that we don’t actually enjoy to the fullest. Instead, we will follow our hearts, struggle through our obstacles, and always be challenging ourselves in the most positive, passion-filled ways.

These past nineteen months living in rural Uganda has allowed me to form and reflect upon this topic. To develop this understanding of Growth. I found myself journeying along this new path, both knowingly and unknowingly, every hour of the day in my wildly new environment. At face value my experience has been that of a “young, white female living in a rural community of Northwestern Uganda.” In reality, it is so much more than just what is seen. Without delving into each and every factor of my transition to where I am now, my first year consisted of constant questioning and confusion, confidence and self-doubt, loneliness and companionship, underwhelming conversations and overstimulating environments, and above all, love.


Throughout it all, I was building and re-building myself as a person. I had been thrown into this new environment by choice, I mean, I did sign up for this. But not in the way you throw the marble “soccer ball” back into the foosball table time and time again. Instead, I was striped away from everything I was familiar with: family, friends, house, car, job, etc. I expected that. I was striped away of the next level of self: my clothes I could wear, how I appeared (now mainly sweaty or dirty), and I no longer had control of who or what grabbed me in the market or touched my skin, hair, and ass some days. My external bubble was no longer. Then my layers of internal self were peeled away or muffled. I couldn’t speak my opinions on certain topics for safety and respect concerns, I was looked at as worthless sometimes simply for being a female, and even brought myself to learning how to convince a man that my planned idea was really his so it could be approved. I hate to generalize but for the most part, this was now “life” for me as I was transitioning. I lost my health at times, communication (technologically and conversationally), my sense of time, and knowledge of world events. The only thing I had left was my core Self.

Simultaneously, throughout this time I was allowing myself to Grow In; I was figuring out these characteristics within myself that will never die. I fell in love with myself to degrees I could have never imagined. I started my marathon of never ending love, forgiveness, protection, and support from within. Confident. Determined. Creative. Compassionate. Strong. Perceptive. Nothing but my own will can ever change my core self. I will continue to grow in every day. That is what “living” is all about. To have learned this at twenty-three years old is the best secret I have ever learned. Now, I share it with you.

What are you passionate about?

Does that relationship bring positivity and value to your life?

What is distracting you from focusing on your happiness?

What are your three favorite qualities about yourself?

What situations make you feel most powerful and productive?

What kind of human do you want to be right now, tomorrow, and when you “grow up”?

What is your number one stressor and how can you remove/alter it or your attitude to improve your happiness and reduce the stress?

Is your feeling of loneliness derived from an internal feeling of emptiness?

How often do you remind yourself of how awesome you are throughout the day?

Grow In – Grow in love with yourself. Be self-centered and do not let anyone tell you that is a bad quality. Feel your emotions, let them sit, then let them free. Forgive yourself. Nourish the seed that is you before focusing on anyone or anything else right now. You cannot get your priorities straight until you know what your priorities are; your priorities are what bring positivity to your life. Consider what outside forces are defining you right now. How can you define yourself instead? Expand and expand.

Grow Out – Find your roots to support your growth and keep you grounded. Appreciate the relationships that give love and light while you shed those that do not. Once we know ourselves, growing out is easier because in the end, no matter how a relationship pans out, we always have ourselves to pick us up when we fall. People come and go, such is life. These growing processes are just that, a process. Constant checks and balances within ourselves. No one person is meant to be a part of our lives forever, we are meant to absorb all that we can from that bond and carry it with us, both the good and the bad. That boyfriend for five years, the smiling boy waving at you from afar for a brief moment, and the father of seventeen years are all teaching you about yourself and making you stronger. When your roots are strong and nourishing, so are you.

Grow Up – Once you know your passions, self, and true roots, this is the easiest step. Follow those passions. Make more mistakes. Dive into unknown that will bring you the most fulfillment and joy. Apply for that job. Sign up for that course. Sell everything and pack your backpack. Whatever you do, let it bring value and joy to your life because we have wasted too much time doing those monotonous activities and having those negative conversations already. If anyone calls you self-centered, smile and take that as a compliment. Nourish your roots and help them too; ensure that fair and equal mutualistic exchange. And while you are growing up, up, up remember to look around and self-reflect that this beautiful life you are living all started with you; your decision to expand and expand from within before branching out to roots has allowed you to be the adult-like yet ever-growing sunflower you are bound to become.

Instead of the societal trend to grow backwards, we may now focus on what is described above in that order. Grow In. Grow Out. Grow Up. Or, I-O-U.

“I owe you.”

No. I, myself, do not owe you anything other than supporting you in this life journey, I suppose. You do not owe anything to anyone else. Instead, look in the mirror and say this to yourself, “I owe you.” You owe you. You owe it to yourself. Your Self. You owe it to yourself to be happy, fulfilled, loved, and positive. You deserve to be self-centered. If everyone in this world focused on knowing and loving their core self, I firmly believe the world would be a better place. So when you are ready, replant your seed into this earth and start this process. Expand and expand. Grow In. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

In her second life, she’d like to be a sunflower. Or a pint of beer.

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