Villager in Sinice, Albania. Photo by George Kourounis
Like so many people, my work path took a wide turn recently. After a two-year period of evaluation, risk taking, preparation and sacrifice I joined Peace Corps in January 2020. Then, with as little as 24 hours’ notice, all 7,000 of us Volunteers across the globe were evacuated from our countries. High hopes turned into a resounding thud of fresh reality and I found myself back where I started just two months earlier.
Before the adventure began in earnest, I was en route homeward. Sort of.
Evacuation and Evaluation. I am back in the US but not in my residence yet. Returning this soon has caused me to reflect on just what I learned in my short, but meaningful, sojourn in mid-life. Bottom line: I am not as culturally inexperienced as when I left my homeland, nor am I as fully empowered by my global immersion as I had imagined.
It was a year ago that I came to the place where I am: 1) no longer needed as a daily hands-on parent, 2) satisfied with my mastery at this career stage, and 3) in search of a new challenging path. As our country director in Albania said: “Every now and then, a plant must be re-potted in order to grow.” As those words washed over me, I knew I had made the right choice.
While it was over all too soon, my memories of living abroad and 100% devoting myself to the Albanian people’s cause sustain me now. Along with a honed flexibility and more steadfast patience.
Raw Risk-Taking. Had I worried about abandoning a successful professional life? Of course! Was I concerned about leaving my colleagues and friends for a period time? Absolutely! Did I wonder how I might be perceived – crazy, burned out or even too idealistic? Without question! No doubt the biggest feeling holding me back had been letting others down. Followed by failure. Followed by raw fear.
Yet I was reminded of the solo journeys I’d already made to motherhood and to entrepreneurship once upon a time. And I recalled the transition from single person business manager to parenthood. It was one life moment where ‘Everything changed, yet nothing changed, at the same time.’ At my core I was still me. But now I entered into a new status I pray I always belong. A Mom.
My favorite ‘welcome back’ came from a former client who reminded me: “You never know where life will take you next. Now you’re ready and open to it.” True!
Unplanned Preparation. Years ago I learned that management consulting involved loads of business travel. As a veteran of the road, my motus operandi became ‘From the moment I’ve landed and arrived at my hotel, begins the process of re-packing luggage.’ One stage to the next, it was a repeating cycle; like a sling shot I’d eventually return to the same airport from which I came…
But purging years of clients’ files, career development binders, engagement designs, or personal stories had been hard. Giving some of my valued tools to others, tucking away hard-fought knowledge for a while, and trusting in the sound of a slowly closing life chapter was tough. All my admonitions to clients “Give yourself two years to plan for retirement” resounded loudly. What did I know of their choices amid a swirl of fond memories? I will admit, emotionally I was not prepared for the wrenching hand-off of my home to my dear neighbors, nor my pet to a caring family of dog lovers. Closing and locking the back door behind me took time. Precious, cleansing, defining and real. Time.
Tearing off the bandage in March 2020, followed by the flight back from Europe. Easy stuff. Arriving here when I am not quite ready to ‘be here’ is a much bigger journey. I sigh…
Sharing in Sacrifice. Perhaps the greatest gift is yet upon me. Us. All of us. For in an act of letting go is a chance to grow. And without need to ‘keep score’ or balance things out, I became and am becoming, more unaware of the sacrifices. When people asked me where I was going, what I would be doing and for how long with Peace Corps, I mostly had the answers. But I never fully grasped the “Why?” beforehand. For the first time in this goal-setter’s life, I had only faith that the answer would reveal itself along the way. (Did I once have visions of homebound grandeur? Yep!).
Then, a strange thing called World Pandemic entered our collective universe. In a sense prescient, my short-term venture rendered the poured foundation. We had been a tribe of adventurers who took a time machine backward to find a more basic way of life. Living in a new-but-old normal: becoming a roommate or couch surfer, adjusting to a listless daily pace, reaching out in resourcefulness, all the while operating under a cloud of uncertainty. Check, check, check!
I may never use the foreign language I struggled to learn in my brief time in Albania. But forever etched onto me, I have appreciation for the grit of mastery. And I have the grace to know that mine is but one of many, many shared stories.
My wish now is that we take the best of this rare time forward. And bring forth a realistic and promising resilience. Thank you, world citizens all, for bestowing the gift of gratitude and vulnerability.