The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

I slowed my car outside of the soup kitchen and looked at the parking lot. There was one space left, and the only way I could park was to back up into it, which I was terrible at. My heart dropped into my stomach.

Nervously, I put my car in reverse. There were people outside my car, ones I automatically assumed were waiting for the soup kitchen to open. Not only was I frightened of my mom if I were to come home with a busted up door, but I also was scared of the outdoor surroundings: particularly, the people.

When a large man tapped on my driver’s side window, my heart went from the pit of my stomach to the middle of my throat. Before meeting his gaze, I checked that the doors and windows were locked. The man and two others rounded my car and began directing me on where to go and where to stop. Trusting them, I followed their advice and in less than a minute, I was securely stationed within the lines.

Instead of getting out of my car graciously thanking the men, I grabbed my car keys and held them between my knuckles, clutched my purse to my chest, and made a b-line towards the door. No eye contact. No smile. No “thank you”.

I didn’t understand the issue with my actions until the same three men faced me from across the counter while I was piling pasta onto plates. Suddenly, I was mortified with myself. I had prided myself on being worldly and caring since childhood. While in Baltimore, I had invited a man who asked for spare change to go to dinner with me. Why was I, in that situation, the complete opposite of the way I had reacted in the parking lot? All at once, it hit me; I wasn’t the one helping them. I no longer felt the reward for doing a good deed. Instead of embracing that difference, I, in an incredible act of selfishness, ignored it.

At the end of lunch, I abandoned cleaning up momentarily to catch the three men before exiting. I thanked them and apologized for my actions candidly. The man who had initially knocked on my window said, “it’s okay ma’am, we’re used to it.”

The way I felt after that day sparked a change in how I viewed serving others and I reversed my thinking that service was a one-way street. I realized that people do ‘random’ acts of kindness to improve their own reputation. Growing up in one of America’s richest zip codes will teach you that. I was no exception, though I thought I was. I began learning a lot about myself, like that my new favorite place to eat Subway is on a park bench next to a person who gives me life advice, and who, in exchange, I lend an ear and spare change to.

My actions in the soup kitchen parking lot guided me through a series of channels that landed me 1400+ miles away from home in a house made of rusted tin sheets, sweatier, dirtier, and happier than I had ever been. I might not be the first to tell you that community service can be more beneficial to the volunteer than the recipient, but when an 8-year-old Dominican girl named Reina looks up at you with the biggest smile while you’re placing a Band-Aid over a fresh cut, you realize just how true it is. It was there that I discovered that I wanted to spend my life doing just that: service through public health. Though it, I hope to guide others to embrace a mutualistic service perspective. I have those three men to thank, not just for helping me park, but for making me a better person and leading me to what I fervently hope my future holds

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