Walking into the first day of training with City Year felt like walking into my kindergarten class for the first time. I knew no one, and had entered into a foreign space that instilled in me a sense of discomfort and uncertainty. I encountered power greeting and team circles filled with quirky norms, such as singing an announcements song as a precursor to actual announcements. If my comfort zone was home plate at Miller Park, City Year culture was through the left field panels and onto I-43.
Further, to culminate this experience into the perfect storm of what I’ve now come to know as ‘getting squishy,’ I had team leaders and staff members encouraging me to let the discomfort happen. At first, I brushed off the idea. Me? Purposefully be uncomfortable? Yeah, right. What had I gotten myself into? Well, the whole getting squishy thing kept coming up over and over, and as basic training academy rolled on, I became more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I enjoyed the first week and a half, a time of acclamation to norms that had never been norms for me, but then basic training retreat (BTR) rolled around. I remember packing the night before, dreading leaving my fiancée, Jaalah, for almost three days and shipping off over an hour south to a campsite near Lake Geneva, WI called Inspiration Ministries. I boarded the bus the next day after a melancholy goodbye with Jaalah. I did not want to go on the retreat to say the least. I never went to summer camp as a kid nor did I enjoy the few retreats that I had attended.
During BTR, I interacted with my own team, corps members outside my team, and staff. After one of the first training sessions on race and white fragility, I played frisbee in a giant circle on the grass with about eleven other people. The weight of the discussions around oppression and race definitely turned squishy, but the overall strength of the corps showed through in the skits each team made about their respective founding stories, the talent show (in which I played an original song in front of the entire corps), and the campfire that followed the show that night. At BTR, I also learned how each PT move goes, but I quickly saw my own limitations when doing the moves. I did not participate in the unity rally, and it was an early indicator confirming my concerns about my physical disability during my corps year of service. Those reflections, however, are for another time.
Three meals a day, a few trainings, some time outside playing my guitar to practice for the talent show, and some new friends. It sounds to me like an enjoyable experience. Now that’s not to say the retreat did not feel squishy. The skits, emotional conversations, awkward introductions, and more announcement songs definitely felt uncomfortable, but I did grow as an individual and as a leader. Through this experience, I began to appreciate that a huge part of growth involves getting squishy. Just let it happen.