Why in the World

“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” – Joseph Campbell

In four days I’ll travel to a remote location in Texas to see if I can qualify for a field position in ShelterBox, a humanitarian aid organization that delivers emergency shelter to disaster victims around the world.

ShelterBox Disaster Relief Tent

ShelterBox Disaster Relief Tent

I’ll be subjected to four days of physical, academic, and psychological testing under 100 degree heat, living in a tent camp in the middle of Nowhere. If I qualify, then after 9 days of additional training at the UK Academy, I’ll be on call and expected to travel to wherever they need me within 48 hours.

Whether I make it or not, I’ll be having a blast.

Some people may wonder, Why in the world would anyone want to do that?

And to that, I have two episodes from my life that perhaps will explain:

The Spark

When I was a little kid, my older brother and I were inseparable. Back in those days when kids could run around without checking in, you could find us at the playground or in the woods near the school. There was always something new to discover.

I remember one day we scooped up a bunch of gelatinous material from the creek and brought it back home in a milk carton. My brother told me they were frog eggs, but I was skeptical. We left it in the bathroom of our finished basement. At first we checked on it frequently, but over time, as kids do, we forgot all about it.

One day, while we were playing in the house we heard our mom shrieking from the basement. At the time they were extending the storm sewer system in our new community. For some reason this triggered an infestation of mice in everyone’s homes.

My brother and I were fascinated by these little creatures that scampered through the house while my mom tried to catch them. We ran downstairs to watch.

FrogBut we didn’t find what we expected. Rather than running around with a broom, chasing after an elusive mouse, my mom just stood there, frozen at the doorway to the basement bathroom. Scattered at her feet were hundreds of tiny frogs, all hopping around in different directions.

While she screamed in her native language (something she did when she was really upset), we scrambled, trying to catch the dime-sized baby frogs and release them outside. We tried to suppress our giggles, but failed. We knew we were in trouble, but we also were ecstatic over witnessing the miracle of life.

From this experience I developed a love of nature, the outdoors and exploration. As I grew older I enjoyed hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and traveling to exotic places. I enjoyed discovery, unpredictability.

I grew up with a belief that life should be an adventure.

The Shift

Fast forward several decades – after attaining my engineering degree, cancelling a wedding to my high school sweetheart, moving cross country to Seattle, marriage, several careers, and the birth of my son – to about two years ago: I was extremely dissatisfied with my job at one of the world’s leading software companies. The pay was good, and the work was challenging, but predictable. I was terribly bored. And for me, boredom is the kiss of death.

That year I used my vacation to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity International. I traveled to Fiji and built homes to help people escape the slums.

Never before had I seen such poverty. But I also witnessed such joy over things we take for granted in my country, like clean water and safe shelter. There was a waiting list of over 100 families to move into single room, 10-ft square homes. Something that we might call a shed in the US held the promise for a better life.

Habitat-Fiji Team, September 2010

Habitat-Fiji Team, September 2010

Many of us on the volunteer team were touched by what we saw, and we worked tirelessly to do as much as we could while there, exceeding the goals for our project. It was a joy for me to work with so many people with beautiful hearts on something so impactful. And this joy was shared among my teammates. From that shared experience, many of us, though scattered across this country, developed friendships for life.

Upon returning from my trip, I made the mistake of reporting to work right away. My work schedule demanded it. After spending weeks working side by side with people living on the margin, I came home to a world where people were creating fire drills over things that, in the grand scheme of life, had absolutely no value or potential to improve the quality of people’s lives.

This was the beginning of the end of my career in corporate America.

I tried very hard to enjoy my job after that, but it was too late. The inner voice telling me it was time to dedicate my life to service was no longer a whisper. I tried to rationalize that I was helping my family by staying in my job, and I could still help others during my time outside of work.

But over time, I became more and more unhappy, following my head instead of my heart. This eventually impacted my health, as well as my relationship with my family. One pivotal, heart-wrenching day I realized that the job just wasn’t worth the impact it was having on my life.

Magically, right at the moment I made the decision to leave, things started to fall into place, as if a path were being lit up for me to move forward. The right people, the right events, the right opportunities, all materialized at the right time, as if something was calling me to keep moving forward, to this new life.

And it’s been that way ever since. Whenever I’ve needed something, things just seem to happen that makes moving forward effortless. Doors open before I even knock, and I discover my life is blessed. The number of beautiful, good-hearted people in my life has multiplied, while the health and relationship challenges have simply faded away.

Last October I left my job in the corporate world to follow my own version of bliss. Since then I’ve traveled to Thailand, Singapore, Mexico, the Philippines, and various places around the US.

Volunteering at an orphanage in Thailand, November 2013

Volunteering at an orphanage in Thailand, November 2013

In this new life I’ve had the honor to become friends with many others who are following their own bliss. While I pack my moisture wicking clothes, study my humanitarian aid policies and check my camping gear, they are living a life of service, pursuing the arts, entering the world of architecture, doing what they’ve always been driven to do.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether anyone understands why in the world I do what I do.

What does matter is that we each identify our unique definition of bliss, and live it each day.

Categories: Travel, Volunteer

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