The Freedom of Not Knowing
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Eleanor Roosevelt
 

Have you ever dreamed of volunteering abroad?  Then you shake your head thinking of all the things that are holding you back—-you own a home, you are too old, your career is going great—I mean who wants to start over?

My friend Alynn Woodson thought all of those things.  Then she decided, why not?  She was bold and brave and she stepped out on faith— she believed in her power. Alynn is currently a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger. She had worked her job for 10 years when she needed to step out of her head, and step into another world to tap into the passion she was missing. In her quest to help others, she actually helped herself.

Here is her story in her words.

The Impacts of Mid-Career Volunteerism
By Alynn Woodson

I am often asked why I chose to leave my professional career to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, especially during these trying financial times. Did I hate my job? Was I laid off? Was I going through a personal crisis?

In truth, while I certainly went through some level of personal and professional uncomfortably in the year preceding my application into the Peace Corps, I had a well-paying job that I enjoyed, I had friends and family that supported me (and still do), I had a beautiful house and a spunky cat, I had all of the things we are taught to want in life. But since I was in high school, perhaps earlier, I had always wanted to join the Peace Corps.

Was it an easy choice to make? Yes and no.

I had spent years gaining skills that could potentially greatly impact a community, I loved to travel, especially in Africa, and I had always wanted to live abroad. But at the same time, it would mean leaving everything I knew – selling my house, leaving my friends and family, and leaving the security of my job. In making my decision, I realized that life isn’t about comfortably and stability, life is about living, and this includes overcoming the fear of uncertainty.

Doing hands-on community work fulfills a vital part of me. In fact, when I was interviewing for my first behind the scenes position at an organization at which I had previously been a long-term volunteer, I was gently reminded that the job was in an office, not in the field and “would I be OK with that“. Ok with that, I loved it! I learned that I was meant to be on the support team helping others to learn and volunteer, rather than always being on the front lines.

Why then would I give that up?

Because at some point it started to be about work rather than about passion. I knew I needed to get back to basics; and basics for me included being an integral part of society through volunteering.

While I realize not everyone is able (or wants) to join the Peace Corps, everyone can volunteer. Ask yourself what you truly love. Why did you get into your career? What do you like doing outside of work? What skills and passions do you have to share with your community? Whatever the answers are, there will be a place for you and a way to use your skills to help others (and yourself).

As a mid-career volunteer, I am amazed at how the skills and knowledge gained in my professional life have prepared me to help others help themselves. I honestly couldn’t imagine doing this work as a new college graduate (although many do, and are doing great things). I am proud to be doing this work at this point in my life.

Is life perfect now that I’m following my dream of being a Peace Corps Volunteer? Of course not. I am challenged at every turn, from learning new languages and trying to figure out cultural norms, to missing friends and family. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Being uncomfortable empowers us to learn and grow (and yes, some times are more uncomfortable than others, and no, I am not always so cheery about it).

Now, when people ask me what I’ll do upon my return to the working world in the United States (will I return to the organization I left to join the Peace Corps, will I get a higher degree, will I do something completely different), I answer honestly: I don’t know.

Part of this experience for me is about being open to the changes within me and in the outside world. Who knows how this experience will affect me and where it will lead me. I wouldn’t mind going back into non-profit program management and administration, I really enjoyed the work, but at the same time, perhaps I am meant to bring my skills and experiences elsewhere. Only time will tell. The hard part is having the patience to wait, but at the same time there is joy to be found in the freedom of not needing to know.

Alynn Woodson is currently a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger.

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