Putting Things in Perspective

January 4, 2022

By Madalyn Shircliff

When I went to college to study journalism and political science, my dreams were almost Herculean. I had a clear image in my mind of the path I would follow, the career I would have, the impact I would make. What I didn’t expect was the cynicism that followed, a feeling of inefficacy, that nothing I did really mattered. I believe this is something we are experiencing on a much larger scale these days. The world we live in is overwhelming; we are inundated daily with more news, more events, more stories that make us feel helpless. There is a communal fatigue, a feeling of burnout among much of the population, and many of us don’t know what to do with that. How can our voice matter in the grand scheme of things? How can the action of one person even make a dent?

After a period of succumbing to this negativity, I decided to start over and seek that drive I’d had in the beginning. I didn’t find this through writing or reading or studying, all activities I typically gravitate towards when seeking answers. Instead, I found my peace in seemingly minor actions. In serving my community in small ways and actually seeing the impact that I could make.

On this journey to reestablish my connection with the feeling that I can make a difference, I found AmeriCorps and decided to take on a year of service. I entered my service year seeking an opportunity to learn, learn about a new community and the ways that I could get involved. During my time with AmeriCorps, I’ve done exactly that. I have learned so much about the people here, about what drives them and what they need. I’ve heard incredible life stories, been told the most exciting dreams and goals, and met people who have such a strong desire to create positive change. These connections have reignited my ambition as well as my optimism.

My service varies day-to-day. Some days I am recruiting and talking to college students who are seeking ways to volunteer, other days I’m creating flyers or scheduling events. I’ve often found myself in the role of just talking to people to help answer their questions about taxes, tax credits, and financial resources for our CA$H Maine project. But between all of these and any other roles I’ve taken on, at the end of the day, I get the satisfaction of knowing that what I’m doing matters.

This year, the biggest lesson has been just that. One person can’t change the world – that’s not new information – but we often have the weight of the world on our shoulders, and it becomes so unbearable, so exhausting that we lose the drive to do much of anything. The solution to this burnout is simply to look at and recognize what’s right in front of us: our community. It’s not a revolutionary solution – I’m not claiming to have had some groundbreaking realization – I just think it’s a good reminder to hear occasionally. This is a lesson that I plan to carry with me into the future: that it’s not always about the big picture. Sometimes the best thing we can do is help our neighbor and, more importantly, to listen. It’s not always easy to make that shift in perspective, but it’s crucial if we want to keep fighting.

Madalyn Shircliff (she/her) is the AmeriCorps VISTA serving as College Access and Success Coordinator with New Ventures Maine at the University of Maine at Augusta. Madalyn spends her free time gardening in real life during summer months and gardening in Stardew Valley in the winter.