I was always a bit jealous of friends who knew their calling at young age. “I’m going to be a fireman when I grow up!” Not me. I floundered. I had vague ideas about being a journalist for National Geographic, but I had no clue how to get started down such a path. It seems impossible now, but growing up in my small town, I really thought career options for women were limited to teacher, nurse or secretary – all which I considered noble professions, but nothing really excited me. Not knowing what to do with my life left me with a strange, deep sadness. It was like desperately wanting to fall in love, but not being attracted to anyone.
It took me a long time, 42 years to be exact, to find my purpose. But just like finding true love, it struck me like a lightning bolt and I became willing to take big risks in order to follow my passion. Now, knowing my purpose is a huge relief in itself, but that doesn’t mean things get easier. Today, I am starving student, living off my life savings and the tiny paycheck I get at working part-time at a wonderful, lean, results-driven NGO based here in Geneva.
I am just beginning to learn the skills needed in my newly chosen field, and am immensely grateful for the opportunity, but basically I am a 44 year-old intern. The rookie. A fumbling-clumsy-inexperienced newbie. It’s humbling, but I am excited to go to work every single day! I want to shout from the mountain tops and that deep feeling of sadness has been replaced with something better than I imagined: warm contentment and knowing, that even though I sometimes struggle, I am on the right path, finally. Blissfully. Finally.
My career wilderness years were uncomfortable; I failed a lot and often lacked motivation. Even though I had success at times, I never felt like I was living up to my potential. I buried that deep feeling of sadness, trying not to ask myself any tough questions, until I finally couldn’t take it anymore.
For those who are just starting out or, like me, wondering how to start over, I think it’s good to embrace being uncomfortable, even if you are naturally quite good at what you are currently doing. Being uncomfortable pushes you to make changes and will open doors you can’t believe. The opposite would be to settle, and no joy ever came from accepting less that you what can possibly be. If you haven’t found your purpose, keep looking! Try new things. Volunteer. Moonlight. Invent. New fields and opportunities are emerging every day. Your dream job might not even exist yet.
The legendary Julie Andrews delivered a wonderful commencement speech to graduating class of 2013 and, as usual, she has the best advice:
The best thing for being sad, is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn. – T.H. White, The Once and Future King
I squint up at the sky.
Its brightness temporarily blinds me, and I’m lost for a moment.
I’m rarely without my enormous Jackie-O sunglasses, but it’s been a cool week with rain and mild temperatures, so I’m caught without. The glare hurts a bit, but the sun feels good on my face, so I stop to let my eyes adjust and take in my surroundings.
Three perfect white swans bob about the lake gracefully, and a street performer dressed up in gold lamé robes as an Egyptian pharaoh mimes for a small group of tourists. I’m taking the long way home, walking around the southern tip of Lac Léman. Back-to-back way late nights have left me physically tired, but I’m exhilarated thinking about the magnificent performances and the ambiance from the last night of the Montruex Jazz Festival. Friends and I were lucky to go over several nights and enjoy some amazing acts. We arrived from what has to be one of the top five scenic train rides in the world: vineyards, fields of sunflowers, castles, the alps, chateaus, and sailboats dotting the glacier blue shoreline to venues packed with legends and up-and-comers across most (not just jazz!) musical genres. There is so much talent around- every bar and lakeside cafe has a world-class band playing and the legends often play free jam sessions into the wee hours. To witness the sheer musical genius of performers at that level, in that setting, is incredible.
I personally have no musical ability, but get chills watching someone who can tap into what seems a supernatural gift. One powerful, simple acoustic rendition of “Amazing Grace” made me believe the performer had a direct hotline to God. You could feel the humility, pain, sorrow, despair and ultimate redemption in her voice. Sometimes, an artist can take us to church!
It made me wonder if artists are actually angels, and by sharing their talent, they give us a message from the heavens? I decided- yes, some HAD to be angels,and not just gospel; but rock, funk, metal, classical, pop, country, soul, jazz and all music can transcend to deliver us a message from above. If you listen to the lyrics or truly feel the music in songs that endure the test of time, I guarantee there are profound elements of the spirit that perhaps decode our hearts better than any other format or technology.
I stand still in the middle of the lake path, mulling over my angelic discovery and wondering if I should share my findings. I hesitate. Isn’t my blog supposed to be about volunteering and citizen diplomacy? What do funky jazz angels have to do with my life in Geneva? Just then, two glowing figures approach me. “Can we help you?”
I squint at their bright shirts and smile.
I toss a few small coins to the gold lamé pharaoh and continue on my path.
…give them Swiss chocolate! Works every time.
Last night, I tried a different kind of volunteer gig; playing Santa’s helper at the Geneva Christmas Ball. I had responded to a posting on Glocals looking for people willing to greet some 800+ guests to the Geneva Intercontinental Hotel ballroom and direct them into the party. No costume required (whew!), just a necklace to identify us as party staff and we got free entry into the ball. Hmm, get all dressed up (so glad I happened to pack a perfect LBD!) smile, hand people yummy Swiss chocolates for 45 minutes and then dance the night away? Yeah, I can do that.
The event was a blast! It was superbly organized - they flew in a top Lady Gaga impersonator who sang every hit song so well, we almost forgot it wasn’t the real deal. I met tons of great people and made some new friends.
I also got a gig photographing Geneva’s big Australia Day party in January. I’m volunteering my time and photos and will get all an access pass to one of most fun parties of the year! Bonus, I’ll be surrounded by hot Aussies.
Not bad for my first week in Geneva.
If you are new in town, home or on the road and you don’t want to do things “on your own,” volunteering is a GREAT way to get involved without feeling like the odd man out! Now, who wants to volunteer to be my photographer’s assistant at the Aussie Day party?
That’s the default title that comes when you set up a new blog: Hello World! It’s a propos to some of the exciting changes happening in my life and I like its cheerful optimism because, truth be told, I’m a tiny bit nervous for the following reasons:
1. I just quit my job as a corporate VP.
2. I gave up my fab NYC apartment.
3. I’ve agreed to move to a developing nation…but don’t know exactly where in the world I might end up.
Okay…that’s the scary bit. I’m also giddy with joy about the amazing opportunities that have made it possible for me to pursue my passion and follow my dreams.
First, I’m honored and excited to share I have been selected to join the Kiva Fellows program!!! Friends know that it’s been a quite an extensive interview process and I’ve been holding my breath to hear if I might get one of the highly competitive placements. Kiva’s mission to connect people through lending perfectly matches my belief that the best way to help alleviate poverty is not with a hand out, but with a hand up.
I’ve got a lot to learn, but here’s what I know so far:
I will be in San Francisco the week of August 15 th for training. I will then be leaving for my placement approximately August 21st.
How long is the Fellowship?
I will be in my field placement from August – December 2011.
Surprise! We don’t know those details…yet. (I have had a hint it might be somewhere in Africa!) After being accepted, Kiva works with the MFI in each potential country to place a Fellow where they are best suited to serve, so I should hear about where I’m headed in another week or so. Here’s the list of potential placements for english speakers – I don’t have a “preferred” because I want to go where I am most needed.
Is it paid? How is it funded?
The Kiva Fellow is a volunteer position designed to increase Kiva’s impact in the field, so they offer no compensation. I have to raise my own funds for my travel, living expenses, meals, equipment (laptop, camera, etc.) and insurance. I’ve put together an Amazon.com Wish List and also need help with the biggest expense flights. If you are able to help with air miles or via Chip-in, your donation will go directly towards all activities around my Fellowship, but will not be tax-deductible. Please email me if you have questions. Thank you!!!
What will I be doing?
The Kiva Fellowship is a 40-hour+ a week position that includes:
- Interview Kiva borrowers to assess loan impact, verify data, and gather information for journal updates
- Develop innovative ways to facilitate connections via creative journaling, photographs, YouTube video and other means
- Write a blog entries for the Kiva Fellows Blog
I’ve got a lot to learn, and will explain more about the core responsibilities in a future post.
Why not keep my job and continue to do non-profit work on the side?
For a long time now, I’ve wanted to challenge myself to go beyond short-term projects and really contribute to alleviating extreme poverty, help people recover from disaster and work to empower the under-served. I’ve shied away from moving directly from my corporate job to a non-profit for a number of reasons, but mainly because I want to better understand policy, politics and how our world leaders go about leveraging resources to create sustainable solutions. Basically, I want to move beyond being a “Do-Gooder” to become an educated humanitarian so I may contribute at my personal highest and best use, because I belive we are all connected and we share a common destiny.
With that goal in mind, I’m beyond thrilled to share I will be entering a PhD program in Diplomacy and International Relations in Geneva, Switzerland this December! I’ll write more about school and the big move to Europe soon. (So much to plan for…)
And, yes- I’ll continue to lead Habitat for Humanity Global Village Builds, and have a team going to build houses in Pondicherry, India over New Year’s 2012. Join us, I think you’ll see Kiva + HFH is a match made in heaven!!!