At the Precipice

I had known for the last couple of months that I’m scheduled to leave for Myanmar on the 24th May. Even though I had been slowly ticking things off my pre-departure to-do list (for example, visa application, reading books on Myanmar, etc), my upcoming trip to Myanmar felt very abstract to me.

Now that there is less than one week to go before I leave, I feel that my brain is only now processing that this is really going to happen.

Maybe this has something to do with talking/thinking about doing something versus actually committing to doing it.

Volunteering in a developing country had been something that I had wanted to do for a very long time. Perhaps the seeds were planted when I was a little girl growing up in Indonesia. I wondered why I was born in a family that could afford to send me to school while so many around me could not. If I had been born in the “wrong” street, my life would have been very different and I could have been one of the street children that I see begging on the streets. Being one of the lucky ones, I felt that it was my responsibility to make the most of what I had been given.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I decided to target graduate programs with multi-national corporations because I felt that these positions would allow me to learn the most in the shortest amount of time and provide more career progression opportunities. I was successful in my job search and had worked in various corporate roles ever since. For the most part, I had found my work to be challenging and interesting. Along the way, I got married and had two children. Like many other suburban families, both my husband and I worked full time and took on a mortgage. Besides juggling work and family, I was also constantly undertaking some sort of formal or informal study.

Amongst all these busyness, every time I came across or read about someone who had worked in a developing country, my interest would be piqued and I would feel quite envious.

I remembered filling out a “getting to know you” questionnaire for our corporate intranet. One of the questions was  “What do you think you would be doing if you are not working for XYZ Company?”. I wrote down the first response that came to my mind, which very tellingly was “I would either be volunteering in a third world country or studying meditation at a monastery/retreat”.

But still I did not feel that it was something that I am able to pursue given my circumstances and familial responsibilities. International volunteering felt like something that is very unattainable and very far away from my reality at that time. Whenever the desire bubbled up, I would mentally tick off the reasons why it was not something I could pursue and would talk myself out of the idea.

Nevertheless, the call continues to get louder.

I recalled a conversation with my husband about what we will do when the kids get older and how cool it will be if we can both volunteer internationally. My husband agreed that it sounded like a good idea and something we could do – in 10 years’ time.  I remembered my stomach sinking at the thought of having to wait for 10 more years!

The call got even louder.

As a thought experiment, I started thinking about how, hypothetically, I can go about volunteering internationally, without waiting for 10 more years. Do we all move together? How would it work? Is that the “right thing” for the children? My impossible dream started to feel increasingly more possible.

A window of opportunity opened up after I left my corporate job last year. After discussing the matter extensively with my husband and children, a line was drawn in the sand and we decided that they would stay behind while I would go. The hardest part was making the decision, or more accurately, making peace with and accepting the potential consequences of that decision.

Once the decision was made, everything else fell into place.

It reminded me of a quote by William Hutchinson Murray:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

So here I am, at the precipice of the next phase of my journey. What was imaginary and abstract is becoming real. I wonder what lies ahead.