Life begins at 40. Forties are the new twenties. We have heard, spoken and overused these sentiments, more so during the year we turned 40. Big dates make us pause, review where our lives have taken us, reevaluate our priorities and set new goals. Some people choose to go through a radical change: have an affair, get a divorce, get married (again or finally), have a child. Many are interested in restyling their careers: it is time for me to do what I really want! Others are happy with a few new toys that their hard-earned money can finally buy: a fancy car, an upgraded house.
For those who do not to have children, a change of scenery to clear their heads and think through what the next 10, 20, 30... years are going to be like, is an easy solution. What is it going to be: an exotic location to relax and spoil yourself, or a destination to make a difference for communities in need? Sign up for a few months and break to:
1. Check back with your ambitions and passions
Do you remember what they were? Yes, I am talking to you, careerists! In the past 20 years you have pushed upwards, onwards, worked crazy hours and told yourself that there was going to be a reward once you were done. What was that reward exactly? What does done mean? We are so overconnected and overplugged in that there is rarely any time left for seriously thinking about who we wanted to be at the start of the career journey. Were you planning to get out of the corporate world to go satisfy your passion for teaching? Have you been telling your friends about this amazing book idea for the past 10 years? Did you want to try something new before you actually commit to a career change? Was your dream to start your own business? Volunteering projects allow you to enjoy new environment, get new ideas and test the old ones while you are actively helping a local community. They also are a fertile ground for discussions about life, universe, priorities as well as comparing experiences.
2. Understand the current gap year generation
You know how people in your office sometimes start their complaints with "These recent graduates, I just don't get them! They... " Joining a group of volunteers in any country in Africa gives you instant access to the minds and hearts of the current gap year generation. Their experiences growing up are drastically different from yours. They are idealists and seek meaning from the start of their first jobs. They don't just want to go to the university, but rather want to know why and how they will apply their education. You will also realize that you are not really that different. It just took you extra 20 years to articulate the same goals and feel safe to pursue them.
3. Create new friendships
Eight-hundred Facebook friends is a fun number, but when was the last time you made a real friend? Chances are if you are in a career race anywhere in the world, you barely manage to keep up with people who you have got close to over the years across many countries. Maybe you meet a few interesting and useful contacts, or get a few new friends in the office.
Shared volunteering experiences create strong new friendships. You bond across a wide range of age groups. You have time for endless debates and discoveries, laughs and silly games besides your hard work. Yes, volunteering is work! Just unpaid. Meet new people, both locals and fellow volunteers and be open to share who you are and why you are on this journey far away from home. Enjoy your new friendships!
4. Learn about new cultures
You have traveled so much for work and on holiday that there isn't possibly anything new you could learn. Wrong! Volunteering sites provide access to unedited life stories, local reality and needs. You can be in a beautiful hotel in the north of Zanzibar, for example, and never speak to a single person who grew up there. Even if you do speak to them, it's most likely going to be a set of polite greetings.
When you volunteer, you become part of the community. There is something truly amazing about walking through a village and hear people of all ages call out to you from their homes: "Teacher Nicole! Teacher Pauline! Teacher Toni!" Whether you are 18 or 40, your status is of an educator. You will also meet the locals and understand what their lives are like. You will get extra interpretation of what you have learned from your volunteer coordinators.
Turning 40? Never volunteered abroad? If you read the post this far, I hope you sign up for a project close to your heart!
Follow Yelena Parker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/yelenaparker