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Editor’s Note: Missioner Tom Little shares how breaking through the image many people had of him when he first came to Bolivia allowed him to open up more and form deeper relationships.

On mission I have had to move past the fear of making a fool of myself in order to build relationships with people in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia.

When volunteers first arrive to the UAC (Carmen Pampa University), they are seen as special and treated differently. People here don’t challenge the volunteers’ ideas and act like they are always right and perfect.

Initially, this treatment feels great- you’re the new cool kid in school. You start believing that the way that they are treating you is correct, and you don’t want to prove them wrong by making mistakes. The fear of them finding out that you are not the perfect person they believe you are can be crippling and hinder making connections.

My first steps towards moving past this fear came in my first semester when the volunteers were asked to dance as part of the Education department. I know that I am not a dancer, so the thought of performing in front of 500+ students was a threat to my newfound coolness.

We went out and performed about as well as a group of people that only practiced a handful of times could perform, but the students loved it. By putting ourselves out there, we showed that we were not perfect, but instead were people just like them.

Tom dancing at the elderly appreciation lunch in his 1st year

Tom dancing at the elderly appreciation lunch in his 1st year

I had a much harder time getting past the fear of making a fool of myself in my work; I was so scared of making a mistake with my Spanish that I brought in someone to translate even the most basic of conversations. Unfortunately, this hindered my relationships the most.

Because of my fear, I was never talking to people – only communicating. The person who I brought into conversations to translate blocked my ability to make a deeper connection with the person in front of me. It took me the better part of a year before I felt like I could talk on my own.

However, once I made the leap to start talking on my own, I saw my ability to connect take off and in turn my happiness here increased just as much. It took a lot to convince myself that it is OK to not be perfect and the people around me took notice and realized that I was more open and approachable because of this new outlook.

Out of these experiences, I have learned that showing vulnerability is one of the most powerful things that you can do. When you do, you open yourself up to being hurt, but this vulnerability is even more powerful when you realize that someone is willing to take that risk for you too.

Reflection Questions: What is holding you back from opening up to those around you? What are the barriers in your relationships?