Everything I Need to Know: Changing Everything

AdviceIt’s time for Thursday’s trek to advice-land, where all your problems can be solved with the wisdom of romance novels.

Dear Smart Bitch Sarah:

You know that saying “the penny dropped?” My penny just dropped and I’m not sure what to do because the penny is huge and it changes everything.

I’ve been content, I guess, with my life until recently. I have a decent job that’s steady and pays ok, and I have a boyfriend who I hang out with a lot, and he’s fun and a very good guy, and everything was comfortable.

Then while reading the news I read about this young woman who sold everything she owned to found a home for orphans in Nepal, and since I read it I have been thinking about it constantly. I don’t necessarily want to go to Nepal, but I’m boiling with the need to do something, to leave now and make a difference somwhere else. I’ve been researching the idea incessantly, from the Peace Corps to teaching English in Japan and working for travel guides in small countries in need of tourist business.

The trouble is, I’m not stupid and I know the economy is awful, and that if I take the time to go away now, when I get back, my job, and probably my boyfriend, will have moved on without me. But I can’t shake the feeling that I want to do something now, and I wanted to ask your advice. Can you help? Or, more specifically, can a romance novel help me?

Signed,

Ants in my pants

Dear Ants:

First, the fact that you want to do something altruistic and are inspired by someone who made an extraordinary change in her life is not at all a bad thing. Give yourself some credit: wanting to help is admirable, and in the current doom-and-gloom is a very needed and important goal.

That said, trying to change everything is a dangerous proposition, and you’re right to recognize the risks. I think you need to pay attention to three things:

First, you: Are you trying to change everything because you’re bored with everything you have in your routine presently? Ask yourself if everything needs to change, or if maybe you can channel your newfound (and wonderful) energy and drive into something that can be added to your present schedule. Maybe you want to cook or deliver meals for people who are unable to leave their homes, or you want to get involved with a group like Habitat for Humanity or a local group that helps foster children, homeless animals, or people in need of literacy education.

No matter where you land with your desire to do something, do something, do something now, you will make a difference, but I think part of what you may be looking for is a more targeted and vivid sense of purpose that your present life isn’t providing. It is not a sin to ponder what volunteering will yield in terms of your own happiness, but I do think you need to examine your motivation a bit because changing everything is a very, very drastic step indeed. Instead of devoting your life to a specific purpose, you seem to be running away. Whatever it is you may be running from, it will follow you. Better to face it and kick its ass, then find your happiness.

There are no shortage of contemporary romances that start with heroines, or less often heroes, relocating, uprooting themselves entirely, and starting their lives over clean and fresh, without a pesky or immediately available backstory or ancillary characters like, you know, parents to muck up the happy ending, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

The trouble is, without fail, no matter who or what the problem was for the heroine or hero in their previous life, that problem comes back. If something needs fixing, it’ll still need fixing no matter what country you’re in, or what work you’re doing. A panic response that causes the heroine to toss everything she owns in the car and head out, or drives the hero to relocate to a beige apartment in a beige condo complex in an anonymous town with a name like Blandsville is still a response to something – and that something needs to be dealt with. You are still you, with all your backstory, even if you’ve experienced a complete change of venue.

Second: your boyfriend: Your letter makes me raise an eyebrow because, while brief, it seems to be between the lines that you’re bored with him and that the prospect of leaving him for upwards of a year doesn’t stun or upset you too much. If you’re with him because it’s habit, perhaps for his sake and yours this is a habit you need to break. Unless there’s some massive passion that I’m missing in your letter, your boredom may stem in part from what appears to be a stagnant relationship.

Third, your job: Your job may not be waiting for you when you come back. In fact, given the layoffs and unemployment rates that rise each week, it’s probably a given that, unless you are in a specialized field or related to the owner, taking a year to volunteer may cost you your employment and benefits when you return. This is an important consideration, and I’m glad you’ve noted it.

I can’t make a decision for you but I can say that smaller steps may be better. I think you ought to find your niche locally, and volunteer in smaller portions – even a few hours a day is more than many people can contribute. Once you discover your strength and match it with a specific purpose, you can look into more complete and total use of your time.

I find that when I have the desire to change everything, it’s really a response to an irritation that I haven’t identified yet. If you want to help, start now, and gradually increase. Remember: you can’t be a heroine if you don’t have your shit together. Pushing away from everything, from your car to your apartment to your boyfriend to your job and your income, without a specific goal or plan in place isn’t altruism. It’s self-defeating, and you’re in a better position now, with or without your boyfriend, to make a profound difference than if you chuck it all and move halfway around the world without a clear path to your happy ending.

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  1. 1
    Nell says:

    The Shadow and the Star with pimp-handed gargoyles

    She’s a working girl who is trying to break through writing while her Johns sleep.  The gargoyles keep asking for their money.  What’s a hooker to do?

  2. 2
    Nell says:

    And I’m a total newb who commented on the wrong post.

  3. 3
    Suze says:

    Amen, sister!  I quit my job and ran off to change my life about 12 years ago.  I can’t regret having done it, but I’m WAY far behind financially, and I need to be really careful from now on so I don’t starve in my old age.

    If you’re a visual person, write out a list of everything you love in your life, and everything you’re unsatisfied with.  It’ll give you a surprisingly clear picture of what the underlying issues are.

    Rather than changing your WHOLE life, and quitting your job, Google “altruistic vacations”.  I work with a man who spent his vacation helping out at a school for HIV-positive children in Africa.  He didn’t have to abandon his wife and kids, or his job, and it made him very, very happy.  (Granted, he had to get special permission to bunch up two years’ worth of vacation so he could take enough time off.)

    Travelling to help is glamourous and exotic, but every community in North America needs more volunteers.  For everything from picking up garbage in your local park, to respite foster-parenting, to styling the hair of terminally-ill people.  Look around, and you’ll find something to do that will give back, and give to you at the same time.

    having33!  It’s not all about what you have, man!

  4. 4
    asdfg says:

    Volunteer at various jobs now where you are to see what volunteering is like and what works for you. Only then consider whether to move away. Talk to some people who have worked in the Peace Corp to discover the good and bad and ugly.

    Also, ask yourself why Japan needs other people to teach their people English or why small countries aren’t paying their own people to write travel guides rather than spending their coins outside the country.

  5. 5

    I’m reminded of Bujold’s short story “The Mountains of Morning,” which is really entirely about a massive penny dropping.  You can read it for free on Baen’s site:  Here’s the link.  (If you are contemplating reading Bujold but are afraid of science fiction—read that short.  It’ll take almost no time, and you’ll notice that it’s nothing but a darned good story.  The sci fi elements are pervasive but like all truly excellent world-building, they drop into the background, and serve only as emotional ballast to the story.)

    And here’s the bit that I remember:

    He contemplated his urge to throw all his money, not just a lightflyer’s worth, at those mountains; to quit it all and go teach children to read and write, to set up a free clinic, a powersat net, or all of these at once. But Silvy Vale was only one of hundreds of such communities buried in these mountains, one of thousands across the whole of Barrayar. Taxes squeezed from this very district helped maintain the very elite military school he’d just spent — how much of their resources in? How much would he have to give back just to make it even, now? He was himself a planetary resource, his training had made him so, and his feet were set on their path.

    What God means you to do, Miles’s theist mother claimed, could be deduced from the talents He gave you. The academic honors, Miles had amassed by sheer brute work. But the war games, outwitting his opponents, staying one step ahead — a necessity, true, he had no margin for error — the war games had been an unholy joy. War had been no game here once, not so long ago. It might be so again. What you did best, that was what was wanted from you. God seemed to be lined up with the Emperor on that point, at least, if no other.

    So, what are your talents?

    Don’t run to teach English if you can’t teach—and if you don’t know if you can teach, before you go off into the world, try tutoring children who need it for a year.  You’ve grown up in one of the richest countries in the world, and I presume you’ve gathered a significant skill set.  You are a planetary resource, and if you want to line yourself up to do the most good, ask yourself what you are most good at.

    Then see where you can apply your weight for maximum leverage.

  6. 6
    Sharron says:

    I think the question of, “isn’t there more to life than this” is fairly common in romance novels. Answers vary—some heroines find kids are what they needed, others find that they need to travel, some find they need to right wrongs, do good works, build a home, etc.  To me, what ties them together (besides finding love!)  is that they all embark on their journey despite the obstacles in front of them. Sure, they fight it at first.  But they eventually take that first step and come out different (hopefully better) people.  So I think you need to make some kind of step—the question is, will it be a small one or a big one? But you’re ready for something or you wouldn’t have ants in your pants.  :)

    On another note,  what I’d ask myself is, “Am I running away from something or am I running too something?”  If it’s the latter, I’d tell you to make the leap.  As far as the job—yes, the economy sucks and no you might not have a job when you get back but you can get work as long as you are flexible.  As far as the boyfriend, have you spoken to him? I’d suggest you do but I can tell you that if you really want to do this and stay “for him” you’ll end up resenting him in the long run.

    My suggestions:
    Make some goals: When. Where. What can you afford.  Etc. Planning is a good thing.
    Don’t let worry and fear of the future (lack of job, etc) make your decision.
    Don’t let other people make your decision. 
    Be prepared to love it. Hate it. Probably both.
    Embrace the change
    Be prepared to be poor!

    And if after all this,  you still want to take a different path and change your life, do it. I can truthfully say that my life is better—I am better—because of my more extreme decisions. In fact, they are where many best stories come from. :)

    Good luck!

  7. 7
    Kaetrin says:

    Definitely start small!  Volunteer locally first and then, if you’re still keen, you can go overseas for short trips to check it out.  I know you can go to Africa for 6 weeks to build houses and dig wells, you can go to China to help disabled children in orphanages for the same time period.  (In fact, in the case of the China thing, they won’t let you go on the long term trip – 2 years – if you haven’t done the 6 weeks first – too much culture shock and they have plenty of people deciding in a totally okay way that it’s not for them.)  I know this because a friend of mine did just that.  She was single but had a great job she loved.  She went on the 6 week trip, help cook breakfast for homeless teens in the city on weekends and then went over to China for the long term.  She was there for 5 years in the end and then relocated to the UK for 2 years (for the same organisation).  She is now with a different charity organisation and is training in the UK but will be based in Hong Kong. 

    (BTW, She is totally volunteer and is supported by friends/family so the other thing to think about is how you’re going to pay for it all.  Will you work?  If you volunteer full time, who will support you?)

    Best of luck.

  8. 8
    Suze says:

    Courtney Milan, I heart you.

    You are a planetary resource, and if you want to line yourself up to do the most good, ask yourself what you are most good at.

    That is the best thing I’ve heard all day.  And extra bonus points of heart for distilling a life lesson from a story by my personal goddess, Bujold.

  9. 9
    Lori says:

    I’m going to throw in something that I acknowledge is only semi-relevant.  For book lovers looking for a good “get your feet wet” volunteer opportunity I suggest Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic.  Their website is http://www.rfbd.org/  .

    I’ve read for them off and on for years and I’ve had really good experiences with them.  As their name indicates, they provide recorded material for people unable to read.  It’s mostly non-fiction and textbooks since fiction is generally commercially available.  They especially love volunteers who have a background in technical or specialized fields since it’s easier to do the reading when you know how to pronounce the terms.

    The minimum commitment is only a couple of hours a week.  They do need you to work a consistent time, but they have lots of slots available. 

    It’s a great gig for introverts because the reading is recorded, so you don’t deal directly with the clients.  You only have to work with a small group of office staff and other volunteers, so you don’t have to worry about panic-inducing meetings with lots of strangers.

  10. 10
    Liz says:

    i know exactly how you feel, Ants.  I feel that way a lot.  I don’t think that it necessarily means that either of us want to drop everything to go off to some other place to help others, rather it means that we know that there is something missing in our lives.  When I first started to feel like this I joined some community service groups at school.  That really helped.  You can try doing something locally.  You can check out abettercommunity.org (that’s the one that is always mentioned during Extreme Makeover Home Edition).  They might be able to help you find something that you can make difference doing in your area (or even somewhere else in the country over your computer).

    For me I think that it is more like I am waiting for something.  I know what it is that I want…need to do, but I am realistic enough to know that I cannot do that just yet.  I want to foster kids, but I am not ready to do that just yet (especially since I am still living at home with my mom and I don’t have a job).  So I make do with other things that make up for that.

    You don’t need to leave your home to help others.  Yes, there are some rare individuals that are willing and able to do that, but most people cannot.

    (P.S. why don’t I get the spam-killer anymore?)

  11. 11

    Great advice, as always Sarah!

    I might add this:  you could go away for two weeks instead of a year.  There are so many short-term opportunities to help people in developing countries!  Take a vacation and help build a house, a bridge, a medical facility, a new school.

  12. 12
    Alison Stone says:

    My reply has no tie into romance novels, although I am an aspiring romance novelist.  I say, “Go.  Do it.”  If you are young, single, and w/o children, there is no time like the present to take a chance.  Try new things.  I remember 15 years ago when I was in college, the professors would encourage us to continue on to grad school because we’d never have the time to do it later.  “Yeah, yeah, I thought.”  So, I promptly ignored them, graduated with my undergraduate degree, got married, worked, and had my family.  I love my children, but man, do they put a crimp in my flexibility.

    So my vote is to do your research and make the leap.  There’s plenty of time for stable jobs and family later.

  13. 13
    Tessa Dare says:

    I went through a very similar thing in my mid 20s.  I applied to Peace Corps, was most of the way through the process and mostly likely headed to Africa to start a library there.  Then I got offered a volunteer gig with a smaller nonprofit to run a library in SE Asia, and ended up going there instead. 

    When I was trying to decide whether or not to do it, a coworker’s husband (who had been one of the original Peace Corps volunteers), said to me, “Oh, just do it.  It will only change your life.”  Which I think is exactly what I’d say to you.  If the idea of giving up your life and stuff here has you really excited, then go for it.  But be prepared for it to be hard, and not always fun, and to change you in ways you don’t expect. 

    When I left for my volunteer gig, I suddenly realized I had no keys.  At all.  No house key, no car key, no office key, nothing.  It was a blank slate of sorts, although I did have a safety net.  And there was a certain freedom in owning very little – however, even living on my $200 month in a developing country, I still had MORE than 95% of the people around me.  And boy, was that ever freeing.  It sounds awful, but it’s true.  What was a unique experience for me was not the having so little, but the having so much more than most people—I had extra money to treat the whole neighborhood’s kids to ice cream, or get weekly massages, or travel to small islands with white sand beaches…stuff I’ve never been able to afford here in the USA.  People at home would say, “I don’t know how you can live like that,” and I felt like I was living it up.  Because it’s all relative.

    So what I came away with after that experience of living “poor” for 1-1/2 years was that there’s no real virtue inherent to poverty.  That no matter what the baseline economic situation of any community, there are always those with more and those with less, and everyone always wishes they had a little bit more.  I’d always been uncomfortable with American materialism before my overseas volunteer experience, and afterwards…I’m still uncomfortable with it, but I don’t beat myself up quite as much, because always wanting a little bit more seems to me a human thing, not just an American one.  I didn’t really experience true poverty—but I definitely saw it.  And I did learn what it’s like to be “rich”, and it was very enlightening to think of my spending habits as a part of the local economy. 

    I did have a lot more time for reading during my time abroad!  And I read whatever I could get, so that broadened my horizons.

    I’ve never done a month-long volunteer gig, but I will say this – I think most overseas volunteers will tell you that for the first 4-6 weeks, you’re like a tourist.  You’re having a great time, everything seems new and fun and oh-so-interesting.  When it sets in that you’re there for a year or two, and you’re going to have to learn to live with some of these cultural differences which first seemed “interesting” and now seem frustrating, then it gets hard.  REALLY hard.  I think I and most of my volunteer friends (I lived with a Peace Corps vol and knew several others) were pretty miserable months 2-6.  And if you haven’t cut the ties pretty irrevocably with old life, it becomes very tempting to just go home.  A lot of people do.  If it had been easy for me to go home, I probably would have done it during those first few months.  But I’m glad that I didn’t, because eventually it all clicked around month six.

    Another thing that I found tough was learning to work effectively in a foreign culture and having realistic expectations of what I could accomplish.  In the USA, we tend to judge our business associates on their work – how efficient and productive and hard-working they are.  Where I volunteered, business is all about interpersonal relationships, not a quantitative product.  Building those relationships takes a lot of time, especially for a foreigner, so for the first…oh, year…it felt like I wasn’t getting anything done.  It was supremely frustrating, and I know a lot of other volunteers who felt the same.  Then suddenly, once people really started to know me and believe I was there for a good reason, they became willing to work with me and stuff happened quickly.  (Case in point—there was this suspicious woman I had to go see at the passport office every two months to renew my visa, and she finally said to me after a year: “You know, I am starting to believe you are really just a nice person.”  LOL.)

    Whatever you decide, good luck!  And feel free to email me from my website, if I can answer any questions.

  14. 14
    ev says:

    Try mentoring kids in a area of your home that desperately needs help, find a VA and visit those who dont’ have anyone anymore to visit them, go hold and rock sick babies in a maternity ward where there just aren’t enough hands, teach Englis as a second language, read on a public radio station that has a program for the blind and shut ins.

    There is so much to do in our own communities, you don’t need to give up everything to help.

    Why do people feel that they only way they are really helping is if they go to another country? Yes, they do need help but so do so many of our own right here.

    I joined the Elks because that is what they do- fund raise and help the community in so many ways. We have raised money for a child with CP to buy the walker and bicycle they needed but didn’t have the money for. Repaired homes, built things, cleaned roads and every Elks Lodge rotates weekends with visitations at the local VA.  If someone needs help, we try our best.

    There are many, many places right at home to go without giving everything up. Don’t look so far away, look closer to home.

  15. 15

    Do what I did.  I took a week off and did Hurricane Relief in Slidell, Louisanna. It ate up five vacation days and was so worth every second I was there.  I came back energized from it and covered with mosquito bites, but that’s another story.

    I’m glad you want to give back, but do it for the right reasons.  It is so much more fulfilling that way.

    amy

  16. 16

    I’m a big fan of “thinking globally, acting locally”.  There are needs in your community, or people you can help relatively nearby that won’t necessarily require you to abandon everything that’s now significant to you.  I liked the suggestion of working vacations, spending a week with Habitat for Humanity or another non-profit to try it on for size.

  17. 17
    Julie Leto says:

    Gotta ask: why are we always so anxious to take our time, talent and treasure OUT of this country when there are so many, many people who need it here?

    I think Sarah’s advice is wonderful.  Look into something local.  There’s so much! Tutoring a child or children, working with a battered women’s shelter or literacy initiatives.  Foster a puppy!  (I have a friend who fosters dogs specifically for a guide dog program.)  There’s so much…if you have to leave because you want to see the world, that’s great…but I certainly wouldn’t do it if you have a good job here.  As for the boyfriend…well, I think Sarah covered that very well.

  18. 18
    Kit says:

    you can’t be a heroine if you don’t have your shit together

    Truer words were never spoken. :)

    Ants, I’d say the fact that you can’t stop thinking about the story you heard is important. In my life, whenever an idea grabs me like that and won’t let go, it’s a sign that I need to do *something*.

    What I wonder about, as some other people have mentioned, is the part where you say you’re boiling “to do something, to *leave now* and make a difference *somewhere else*.” Which is more important to you – the making a difference part, or the total change of location part? It’s not that you can’t do both, but you’ll be more successful at either one – or both – if you’re positive about what your goal actually is than if you’re confusing the two things in your mind.

    Here’s my advice: imagine that it’s five years down the road. In one scenario, a week from the time you posted to the Bitchery, the perfect full-time volunteer opportunity opened up right in your current town, and you were able to take it on and make a huge difference to the people in your community, while staying in your current relationship. Imagine what you’d be doing and how you’d be feeling five years from now in that universe.

    Now, imagine that a week from your Bitchery post, an all-expense-paid trip to an exotic location landed in your lap. While on your trip, because you speak English, you got a darned good job offer with a fancy hotel, starting immediately, and you took it. You get to interact with mostly middle class local people and rich tourists, and your volunteer work is confined to small projects on weekends. Imagine what you’d be doing and how you’d be feeling five years from now in *that* universe.

    Like I said, I don’t mean to imply that it *has* to be an either/or thing. But it’s better to know which is more important to you and why.

    Good luck! Whatever you decide, I hope it works out wonderfully for you!

  19. 19

    I’m with those who say Do It. If you are young, single, childless and able… Do it.

    Take a good hard look at it first, of course. Do your homework. Put the time into examining your heart and your options and your finances. Talk to others who’ve taken that path. Then let it sit for a little while. If it still looks good to you, then do it. Your next chance will come in about 45 to 50 years, after your retirement… assuming all goes really well during that half a century.

    I certainly think you can do a world of good where you are, if that’s what you decide to do. There are so many people who need help here, and the good thing is, you can do both. Volunteer overseas now, if you’re able, and volunteer locally for the rest of your life, when other obligations keep you close to home.

    But let’s be clear on one thing… poverty in America is not the same thing as third world poverty, imho. My family was in the welfare system when I was a child. Eating a piece of buttered bread for dinner is not the same thing as feeding your child dirt just to fill his belly. Helping overseas is a worthy cause, as is helping here at home.

    I think people who volunteer in other parts of the world come back to the US with a different world view and a more knowledgeable heart. And I’ve never known those people to come back here and NOT work in their own communities. Can anyone else speak to that?

  20. 20
    Victoria Dahl says:

    And I second everyone who said that Courtney’s advice rocked! (And yes, I’m aware that it’s not seconding if I’m the fifth person to say it. Shut up.)

  21. 21
    amy lane says:

    I’m pretty much with everybody else, from think globally/act locally, to make a list, to work to your strengths.  In fact the only thing I can add is this:

    Have a very clear vision of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.  If you can’t write an essay (even if you can’t write!) stating your goal, why it’s important, and why YOU, you probably haven’t done as much research or soul searching as you may need to.  An essay makes critical thinking a must, makes you support your intuition with cold hard facts, and forces you to reason through your driving need to DO SOMETHING. 

    It might also give you a way to explain to your boyfriend why you’re doing what you’re doing.

  22. 22

    Tessa Dare said pretty much exactly what was on my mind.  Word up.  Search your heart.  Do your homework.  And if your heart says go, I say do it.  You only live once.  I joined the Peace Corps and worked in Africa.  It was an amazing experience and not only did I learn a lot about myself and my limitations, get to help out in some small way, learn two more languages and see more of the world, but I also met my fiance.  We’re in the States now, but we’ll go back to Africa in a few years to live and work.  It’s challenging and frustrating and exhilarating and rewarding at different moments and sometimes all at the same time.  And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  23. 23
    StephanieL says:

    You don’t have to fly halfway around the world to make a difference.  You can start locally because every little bit helps.  There are so many programs and organizations that focus on problems right here in America.  Since I graduated college and the economy has shown so signs of improving I went to http://www.volunteermatch.org/ and found some great opportunities.  And it’s great because it’s volunteer work so if I ever get that magical job callback I can still make a difference.

  24. 24
    Jojo says:

    As a social worker working with foster kids, it makes me so happy to see how many people have already mentioned foster care/providing respite for foster kids.  I still have to do my pitch though.  :P I really believe that we don’t change the world through bit, dramatic action, we change it by our every day actions and the love we share.  And who better to share love with than a kid who has likely never known what it is to be selflessly cared for?  You want to change the world?  Take in a kid whose world has just fallen to pieces and show him or her that they are infinitely valuable and deserve to be treated with love.  Believe me, it will change the world for that kid.

  25. 25
    Victoria Dahl says:

    I’m gritting my teeth a little over the “Why would you go overseas when there are people right here who need help?” Every volunteer is motivated by something different. Everyone is inspired in a different way.

    That argument can counter almost every single volunteer opportunity here OR abroad. Why would you work at an animal shelter when there are homeless people who need help? Why would you teach convicts to read when there are innocent chldren who need your time? Why go overseas when people need help in the US? Why help in the US when people are dying overseas?

    People should help in ANY way they’re motivated to help. And hell, I don’t think you should wait for selfless motivation either. If part of the reason you want to volunteer in Africa is because you like adventure, then let that be part of your decision as long as it doesn’t cloud your reasoning.

  26. 26
    lilacsigil says:

    I did teach English in Japan – but that’s not volunteer work, that’s a job. It was awesome and incredibly different from my regular life; it was also isolating, boring and routine a lot of the time. I wouldn’t go there at the moment, though, unless you are very, very motivated by Japan itself. Recession is hitting very hard, and there are plenty of English-speaking foreigners who want to teach.

  27. 27

    There’s much good advice above, so my own comment is going to focus on the romance-novel side of the equation.  I just recently read a pair of novels by Tasha Alexander: And Only to Deceive and its sequel, A Poisoned Season

    The resonance isn’t entirely parallel, and the books are strictly “romantic suspense” as opposed to “pure” romance, but it seems to me that Alexander’s protagonist, Lady Emily Ashton, faces a similar sort of life-decision, and much of the story that runs through both books involves Emily’s efforts to remain true to her own conscience and chosen life-goals while simultaneously functioning in the often-restrictive social circle into which she has been born.  I strongly recommend reading both books, as the first book focuses more closely on personal emotional issues while the second addresses her status in society, and one really needs the two together to see how she ultimately balances her choices and commitments.

  28. 28
    MargotK says:

    Why make some grand gesture?  There’s plenty to be done locally.  And as previous posters have said, of course the boyfriend and the job would be gone if you left them for a year.  What’s really bothering you about all these relationships?  Perhaps you should spend some time thinking about that.

  29. 29
    Katie says:

    I vote that you go for it. I had the same “penny dropping” moment about ten years ago. I dropped everthing and went to Romania to work in an orphanage for sick children. I loved it.
    But Darlene is right, there is a lot you can do in your home town. before I had bubs, I worked with street walkers. I gave out condoms and needles. It was great and I did not even need to leave Scotland to do it.

    And as far as your boyfriend goes, they have a saying here “What is meant for you will not pass you by.” When I was in Romania I worked with a guy whose girlfriend was in the Peace Corp in Bulgaria and he waited for her for two years. They are now married with two kids.

  30. 30
    Micki says:

    Great advice above, both pro and con.

    I fall on the side of, “Go, have an adventure. If you do your research, you might be able to make some bucks from it, and use those to do good, too.”

    I wanted to chime in on the Japan thing, too. This is not volunteer, and if you are simply motivated by “I want to change the world,” you’ll do as much (or more) world-changing by tutoring kids in your own locale. It’s an amazing experience, true, and Japan has a lot to offer (national health insurance, super-potties) that you can’t even get in America most of the time. But it will be self-changing, not world-changing. (-: Which is good, too. Challenge your assumptions in semi-comfort sort of thing!

    One other nice thing about Japan: the boyfriend can come along in a lot of cases, and find some work. If that’s off-putting, then I think you can safely leave the boyfriend out of all the other calculations. Release him, and let him get on with his life while you are getting on with yours!

    I’ve heard lots of things about vacations where you can teach for a couple of weeks, or go build a house for a week or so (Habitat for Humanity). That might be something you can do to test the waters.

    Also, you might check into an exchange program with your profession. I’ve heard of secretaries being able to do an exchange program in other English-speaking countries, for example.

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