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Learning Curve

When was the last time you struggled with learning something new?  For me, it would be just a month or so ago.

My name is Alaska (pictured right) and this year I’m interning at Women’s Bean Project through a post-university service corps program, Episcopal Service Corps (ESC). ESC involves rigorous spiritual and personal development and interning at a local nonprofit.

I’ve learned things this first month that have challenged me both physically & emotionally, and truly pushed my limits of what I thought I could do. It’s been enlightening to see the effects the Bean Project has already had on me. Like Nicole, the previous marketing intern, I have never had the experience of working with the population Women’s Bean Project serves. It was a struggle at first to connect and socialize with women that I felt were so different from me, despite the fact that I have experience running a diverse social organization when I was in college.

As part of my internship, I’m learning as much as I can about each aspect of the business. During my first two weeks, I worked on the production floor alongside the women. Nearly every hour, I struggled to keep up with the women. I attempted a variety of things, such as weighing beans, general packaging, palletizing, labeling and assembling bags for products and more. I can’t remember the last time I struggled so much to learn something. I didn’t understand how to insert just the right amount of beans into the bag, scrunching it up in just the right way so that it was densely packed, tying the ribbon onto the final product, and packaging twelve of each into boxes that only seemed to fit ten—and to do it all fast enough to keep up with the pace of the assembly line. Not being able to keep up was truly a humbling experience as a person who is used to being an overachiever. At times my speed would be slow enough to warrant being pulled from a line and into another.

I recall one time where I was in charge of sealing boxes. I poured copious amounts of tape on the box. Before I knew it, the production supervisor was rushing over to remedy the situation. She informed me that I only needed to place one piece of tape on the box to hold it and its contents together. “You don’t need fifteen pieces of tape!” she informed me and it was humorous to look at the blunders I’d made, complete with I Love Lucy levels of unfinished bean-piles next to my place in the assembly line.

While I greatly enjoyed getting to know the women’s stories, I struggled with working in the production stage of my internship, even after weeks of training. It has been a very provocative experience so far, and I am eager to continue on this personal development journey as the women continue on theirs. I am learning the limits of my own learning curve, how to ask others for help when I feel in over my head, and the struggles these women face every day. Their work requires extreme patience in getting everything just right at a rapid pace, something that I admire even more so after attempting to try their role myself.

We are providing the women with tools to improve themselves, and my struggles with production have reminded me how frustrating it is to practice new skills that don’t necessarily fit my current skill set – that feel so far away from being able to be conquered. I am learning how to cope with things beyond my control; skills that I take extremely long to pick up; chaotic things happening at the Bean and the way that others may misinterpret things I say. All things that can be applied to my personal life as well – that I can learn from the women at Women’s Bean Project.

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