Working with people was something I always felt drawn to. But after 23 years of social work, I felt there was something more that I needed to do. I was not ready to give up social work – this ‘more’ had to be related to what I was already doing, but at the same time remaining where I was, was a non-option. There was a burning desire inside of me to explore further.
But where, what, how, I did not know. I tried to ignore this niggling feeling – I was 43 years old, in an established career, surrounded by lots of loving family and friends. What else could I ask for? Why rock the boat? But yet, I could not settle. So I slowly started to allow myself to dream…get a PhD, change career, find a job in another country? But nothing seemed appealing and attractive enough. Until I allowed myself to get in touch, once again, with what I dreamt of doing as a teenager – that of doing voluntary work somewhere abroad. And that’s when I started to feel excited and come alive again. The silence of my heart told me to drop everything and go for a long-enough time but the chaos of my mind told me to go slow. I researched and asked around, until a friend got me in touch with Right2Smile and soon learnt of their 3 week placements in India. At a blink of an eye, I enrolled. India had been on my bucket list and combining it with voluntary experience was ideal. My attitude at the time was: 3 weeks – it will either quench my thirst or make me want for more.
India did wonders to me. It opened my eyes and heart to a different reality. My voluntary experience at Bodh Gaya, meeting the children, the staff of the school, the parents, the locals, made me want to learn more. During those three weeks, I peeped into a reality which intrigued me. But I soon had to come back. The initial few months back home were tough…my body was here but my heart did not follow. However, after some time, I stepped back on the treadmill of life and I carried on from where I had left off. Or did I? I think not. Something inside had changed. That niggling old feeling was back – and this time with a vengenance! This time it did not just niggle, it pestered and invaded my mind, until I had no choice but to respond. I knew that this time my answer needed to be bolder. I had thought that India was about quenching the thirst, but when I came back I realised that it was about me not trusting my intutition. This time the decision was bigger as it was about a long-term volunteering experience. I was not particularly bound to any country, so when Right2Smile offered me the opportunity to coordinate volunteers in Cambodia my affirmative response felt spontaneous and free.
To say that I was afraid is an understatement. The fear, at times, was so big, that all I could feel was that. But as the saying goes: ‘Everything you want to do is on the other side of fear’. So I started to peep into what was on the other side….and what I saw was what and who I wanted to be. The more I visualised what was on the other side of fear the more I disassociated from fear and the freer I felt.
Of course, there were many things to take care of before I left : quitting my job and dealing with my own thoughts – ‘Am I being irresponsible?’ – and others’ reactions: Are you crazy?’Another big one was sharing the news with family and friends and dealing with the inevitable pain of the absence of the relationship. However, the support and encouragement I received from people who know me well has truly been overwhelming and certainly the back bone behind this experience. I also researched alot about Cambodia and tried to gain as much knowledge as I could about its culture and people, knowing very well that no amount of reading would prepare me as much as immersing myself in the culture itself.
With time I am learning to live side-by-side with fear, to acknowledge its inevitable presence without allowing it to guide me. Embarking on this journey meant taking a leap into the unknown. Being out of the comfort zone can be daunting at times and there are moments where I am tempted to jump back into the zone. At the same time, something stops me from going back there. Now that I stepped out of it, I want to experience what it’s like to be out here – to feel, to live and to be.