That time I almost went into the Peace Corps.
Last week, Colin and I tuned in virtually to one of our favorite storytelling events and it made me thankful for the art of storytelling. If you have never experienced live storytelling, I highly recommend listening to stories on TheMonti.org. My top favs: Colin Ryan (of course), Sarah Ford, Danny Criscenzo, and Hannah Strom.
Psst.. tomorrow night (4/21/20) The Moth in Burlington is having a virtual storytelling event (Colin is telling!!) and anyone can tune in by signing up free here.
In the spirit of storytelling, I thought I’d share this personal story with you.
When I was in grad school earning my MBA, I had my heart set on going into the Peace Corps. My peers all had their sights set on putting their degrees to work at Fortune 500s. That plan had zero appeal to me. I wanted to be a “woman of the world” and to do my part (whatever that was). By that point, I had taken trips to Germany and studied abroad in the UK. So the idea of living in a completely new culture for 27 months was thrilling. I apply, interview, and get accepted. I am given my assignment (Fiji) and I get alllll of my vaccinations. That’s when I receive this call:
Peace Corps rep: “Hi Lindsey. We’ve moved up your departure date and we’ve changed where you’re going.”
Me: “Okay, when and where?”
Them: “May 1st and Paraguay.”
Me: “That’s before I graduate.”
Me: “So I can’t do that. I want to graduate.”
Them: “Sounds like you’re not as committed to this as you thought you were.”
I was absolutely shocked. This was my plan! I graduate with my class. I move home. I sort out my life. And then begin my journey on the date I had in my planner. I had even written “Go to airport. Begin your big adventure!” I had circled it. Multiple times. Doesn’t that mean anything?!
Everything was changing before my eyes. I felt totally out of control. It was 2007 and the start of the recession. I had no back-up plan. (That part surprises a lot of people, but it’s true.) Everyone in my class either had jobs or were about to get job offers. It was March and the only thing 8 months of effort had netted me was an article about me that was now fake news.
I graduated on May 13, 2007. It was Mother’s Day. I packed up and moved to Burlington, VT, following my boyfriend of 4 months (not Colin). He had an engineering job at a manufacturing company in the area. We moved into a tiny apartment at the top of Church Street with our 120lb. dog. I spent my days looking and applying for jobs, taking walks around the waterfront with Jake the dog, and beating myself up over not having a plan B. Looking back on that summer, I’m bummed that I didn’t enjoy it more. It was the only time since age 14 that I had a summer off AND it was full of gorgeous sunny days. c’est la vie!
One day, I heard about AmeriCorps. In all of my research about the Peace Corps, I hadn’t considered a domestic option because, ya know, that whole exotic travel thing. With no job offers coming my way, I looked into it and realized there were opportunities to volunteer in Burlington. Things are looking up! I worked hard on my application, got my resume together, and ended up getting offered (and taking) a position at a non-profit called Linking Learning to Life. Their mission: to help young people make successful transitions into continued education and careers beyond high school. My stipend: $10K for the year. The good news was I could defer the $65K of college debt I had accrued (with zero interest…phew).
Was this what I saw for myself at age 23? Well, not exactly. I had a purpose, though. That got me through many “oh shit” and “what are you doing, Lindsey?!” moments.
The “good enough” decision I made back then changed my life. I turned a one year AmeriCorps volunteer gig into a 8 year career at the organization. I earned multiple promotions, working my way up from volunteer to Assistant Director. I became a sponge, utilizing the advice from mentors I am still in touch with today. I learned how to negotiate a higher salary, a 2 month paid sabbatical, and stretch assignments to increase visibility. I figured out how to network on a national scale. And turns out that network is exactly how I scored my first consulting gig as a new business owner, giving me the confidence to go out on my own in 2014. The skills I gained from coaching students and partnering with businesses to create programs are all skills I use to this day. And if that’s not sweet enough, a work colleague (hi Kim!) introduced me to the yoga studio I met my now husband at. I could’ve never called that.
So here I am again, in a world where so much feels out of our control. I’m seeing my clients face tough life changing decisions. Many are feeling unmotivated and discouraged about their careers and businesses. In many ways, it transports me back. To the unknown. To questions like “How do I know what’s best? What’s the right thing to do?”
Here’s how I’ll end this story: All we can do is take our best shot. We sort through the information we have (giving ourselves a time limit to do so) and we make a decision. Then we’re kind to ourselves about it. We give it time to see how it plays out. We give up trying to micromanage every detail. We stop trying to do the universe’s job.
For all of you ruminators out there, if you have a decision to make, the best thing you can do is make it and be gentle with yourself. Afterall, what do we know about decisions? There’s always another one waiting around the corner. And you’re going to want to show up as best you can.
Thanks for listening.
P.S. I’m here if you need to talk about all of this uncertainty. You can reach out to me by scheduling a free call here.