The Dip

Everyone has felt it.  The feeling of near invulnerability that you experience when you start a new job that you just know you’re going to be awesome at.  Everything goes really well until one day you find out that everyone you work with is trying to keep you from being successful.  You can’t implement the ideas that you want to, and you can’t get anyone on board to execute your ideas.  You can’t see the results from the work you’ve been doing, and it’s hard to get excited about dragging yourself to work.

Or at least it feels that way. 

At Volunteer Maryland, we call this “the dip,” and almost all of our AmeriCorps members experience it.  The timing varies, and it can happen more than once over a member’s service year.  It is characterized by a feeling of hopelessness, a feeling that the members’ programs aren’t moving forward fast enough, and that the members aren’t making any difference. 

My experience with the dip came at the same time that my program failed.  It was winter, and it was dark when I came in to work and dark when I drove home.  I was worried that my site supervisor would come into my office one day and tell me that he thought I was doing a good job, but that he knew that I was faking my way through my work.  No sunlight, program failure, and feeling like I’m faking my way through my job are not a good combination.

It’s not a good place to be, feeling like you’re no good at your job and spending most of your free time in bed because you don’t have the energy to go out and deal with the world.  There are some things that you can do to help ease the downward slide, though.  For site supervisors, make sure that your members know that you’re there to support them.  Make sure you highlight your member’s accomplishments and helm them to work through their obstacles.  Be open about the dip, and talk to your members about it.  Make sure your members are taking time off for themselves.  If you’re comfortable with your relationship with your members, take them out to lunch—a good sandwich has mystical healing properties.

The dip is a lot harder to manage from a member perspective.  I know that I didn’t realize what a tough time I was having until after I’d come out of the dip.  All I wanted to do was stay in and feel sorry for myself and my failing program.  One of the things that helped me make it through the rough spots was a group of friends who wouldn’t let me stay at home and feel sorry for myself.  Don’t forget about your friends, your hobbies, and the things that get you juiced to get out of bed.  It might be hard to care about those things when you feel like nothing you’re doing matters, but those are the things that are going to help you to pull through. 

One thing to keep in mind, whether you’re a member, a site supervisor, or someone who is thinking about a year of national service: the dip is only one part of your year.  There are going to be low times, but there are going to be blindingly brilliant days, too.

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