I am 37 years old, well at least for another 2 days. Then I am turning 38 and even though I am only one day older then the day before, it still feels like a year and a big step closer to the magical four zero number that brings you to the “for real” grown up world. So my identification suggests that I am now an adult, and yet I feel further from that description then I did for ten years ago.
I just quit my job for a week ago, with no new job in sight. Who quit their job with no financial security and in depth up to your ears? But that is what I did. Hardly smart, but it absolutely made me feel good. When I had sent the e-mail with my resignation I smiled from ear to ear, and my steps seemed much lighter. The strange thing is that when I did go to work that day, I for the first time noticed the kids playing in the playground next to my office. Had they always been there? So why had I not noticed them before. I had after all been going past that playground for 8 months?
It took a few days before it dawned on me what I had done. It then felt as I had made decisions that really were not involving me, like I was standing on the outside and looked in to my life. Taking a stand on behalf of someone else that was not happy, and needed a change, and not me. Then for an hour or so the panic set in. I crutched down to the floor and covered my head with both my hands and felt like crying. Would I lose my apartment? What was I to do with my life? What do I need to do to survive? Would I now start all over? And as I was rocking back and forth, I kept saying to myself that I was a soon 38 year old woman, with no kids and now no job. In other words I was in the same place as I was when I was 20 years old. Did nothing happen the past 20 years?
After wobbling in self-pity for an hour, I did the sensible thing that most economist would. I dived in to the details of my own finances. I looked on each spending I had for the past half year and I looked on what I needed to do to save money. And then I looked at how long I would last without a new job. And together with my saving money my odds looked quite good. Whit out any big adjustments, vacation money and savings, I could last throughout the year. Phew… I allowed myself to breathe again, and the smile came back. Within a year I would have some type of job. Maybe not as well paid or maybe not with the same responsibility, but a job that would pay the bills. With my new found (imagined) security I allowed myself to dream of what I would do before then.
After spending the past ten years almost locked in to the office I was now determined to get some time off. I wanted to do something completely different, and regain energy. So what should I do with my life? That is right! I am soon to be forty, and I still do not know what I want to do. When I was twenty years old, I pictured that I would be married with three kids, and a brilliant career. I am pretty sure that I was picturing myself with grandkids at my age at some point, and obviously still madly in love with real life Ken, and suddenly become stunning as Barbie. I wonder what I would have thought then, if I would have seen the way I am looking now. Wrinkles and all? Would I then be depressed or disgusted?
Thank god we live in oblivion until age actually happens, and that it sneaks up on you gradually.
So what should I do? What would get my mind off of things? The answer came from a colleague who told me that she had once gone volunteering in her youth. My old dream immediately resurfaced, and I knew that volunteering was what I wanted to do. I immediately contacted the nonprofit organizations that I knew of and I started my search. This was my time. I yet again had to take a deep look in to my finances to see what I could afford. And what I realized is that if I rented out parts of my apartment, like the twenty something that I feel like, and stopped buying shoes, I could actually save up quite a bit. It was devastating to give up shoe shopping, but was I not supposed to be an adult? My plan evolved and my dream suddenly was within reach.
So where to go?
But as I looked at all of these organizations that offered volunteer programs I was having second doubts. Was I out of my mind? Swopping my suit for working gloves? And what in the world would I be able to contribute to out there? I am not a doctor, but an economist, what can they do with my skills? Outside the capitalized world I was useless. Unless I had numbers to analyze and present to some corporate management group, there was little I could do. How did that happen? How could my skills who I had worked so hard to improve be worth so little? Because I did feel important when I was rushing between meetings, or ran to catch the morning flight for some HQ meeting. I had felt that I had responsibilities, and that people were counting on me. So what would happen if I suddenly where to vanish from the face of the earth in my current job? Would the business stop running? No, it wouldn’t. Maybe one transaction or delivery would be delayed. They needed time to redirect my tasks after all. But nothing would stop, and no one would die. There was not one single person that would be seriously affected if I went missing. Instead there would be lines of people just waiting to take over my tasks. Talk about realizing your own worth.
Hurting from the discovery of my low importance I continued my search. I also noticed the lack of response from the local foundations I have been contacting. They were actually who I thought I should hear back from. After all… How often are they offered a free economist for half a year? Instead I looked for other trips, like a backpacking and adventures. And there it was. Staring at me from every homepage of the travel agents. The volunteer programs, voluntarism or adventure traveling. It had many names, and it was marketed as an existing vacation. The new and hot trend of traveling. The bells of skepticism that always saved me from doing a bad deal rang loudly in my head, and I realized I need to know more. So I did my research.
What I wanted to know is that are these programs really vacation or do they advertise them like that to get tourists to join? Could you be ensured that you would actually contribute to anything? In my mind I imagined a bunch of tourists coming flagging with their money, and taking the jobs from the locals. And the further I looked in to the alternatives, the more selective I become. Not all projects are what I would call local friendly. I will not go down that road, because then I would never stop and my temper would rise. It is however a good thing that it made me more aware of what I was looking for and what to stay away from.
Believe it or not…
After some research I found my first project. And hold your horses, because I actually found a project that I think will fit my skillset. It is a settlement project in South Africa, and it is called Business skills development project.
SAVE Foundation is a registered, non-profit organization (NPO) that assists communities in Africa. Their work involves setting up and facilitating sustainable community and conservation development projects in South Africa, Ghana and Kenya as well as assisting non-profit organizations that are actively involved in the local communities.
This is what they are saying:
Many people in the settlements have excellent business ideas but don’t have the knowledge or confidence to start. The Business Skills Project aims to give local people the chance to realize their dreams and start and develop their own business. Volunteers need to have lots of initiative and be able to work with minimal supervision. They will be working with individual people in the community, mentoring and teaching them business skills. Volunteer’s tasks will depend on their interests and experience and may include: One on one mentoring with locals, teaching business skills to a group, assisting locals to start a business and help existing businesses expand.
So now my ticket is booked and I have to work three more months in my current position before my termination period is over. After that, I am putting my suit back in to the closet, and I am taking out my backpack. Just thinking of the choice I made makes me bite my lip and giggle in insecurity. It does feel right, but I cannot deny that it is scary.