Most people in their 20’s take the traditional route of a 9-5 job and are content for the next couple of years. Me, on the other hand, I chose to take the less traditional way and join Peace Corps and go as far away as Africa. It was the extreme change I needed to grow and develop as a person. After graduation, I was rolling in dough making over $1400 a month but I was also overworked and exhausted. I worked three jobs and some days I would be up by 630 a.m. and wouldn’t be safely tucked into my warm bed until anywhere from 800 p.m. or midnight. I let my friendships slide and for six months, every day would pass me like a blur. I would be so exhausted from working over 80 hours in a week and I would just want to recuperate during the weekend. For all my friends that took the traditional route, they were available on weekends and I was too, technically, but I didn’t want to do anything besides lay in bed eating from a cold jar of ice cream or downing a glass or two of wine and watching really bad television. For six months, I watched myself grow tired and old. I was 22 and had just graduated from college but I felt much older than my years.
I left for Ethiopia 10 months ago and although I took a significant pay cut, it is the happiest I’ve ever been. I have a ton of
free time and while I do spend a lot of time watching really bad television here too, I’ve learned to develop meaningful relationships and learned to love a society so much different from me. The idiosyncrasies of people and the different of cultures make my time here worthwhile. Where else was I going to learn that you have to drink coffee with every meal? Or that when you watch a movie, you have to have popcorn with coffee instead of the traditional popcorn and soda? Where would I have learned to slow down and greet people in different ways to “how are you?” Where else would I have learned patience when all meetings are spoken in a different language and often start about half an hour to an hour late? Where else would I have learned that daily showers aren’t as important as having available and clean drinking water? Where else would I have learned that Ethiopians are kind, caring and hospitable to everyone they meet?
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately on what truly matters most in this world and in life. Does living happily at 23 mean having a lot of money but slacking in the social life or does living happily mean leaving everything behind and packing up your bags to go live and work in a developing country? The answer is easy: the latter. When I’m 90 or 100 and laying on my death bed looking at my children and my grandchildren, I want to be able to show them pictures of my time traveling and share my experiences of the moments when I learned most about myself. I want to live a life with purpose, with meaning and in my early 20’s, having a 9-5 job is not enough for me.