I was born to be a volunteer.
THE VOLUNTEER YEARS
After being in school my whole life, doing the Lutheran Volunteer Corps at 22 in Seattle was the perfect context for me to start navigating who I wanted to be in the big, wide world. I was ready for something totally different, and (as volunteers do) really wanted to help people.
Set up in a squatty Rainier Valley house with five fantastic women, this year of living intentionally met my expectations and much more: it set a new standard for my life. I became a vegetarian and a locavore, learned volumes about homelessness, marched in anti-Iraq War protests.
It was the happiest I’d ever been, and made me sure I could do anything.
A year later and I went to South Africa with the Peace Corps. Like with LVC, this decision was a no-brainer. There was nothing I wanted more, then, than to connect deeply with a new culture of people, learn a new language, and adapt to conditions out of my comfort zone.
The experience did not disappoint. I came home bursting with all I’d gained and become in those two years, intent on continuing to forge a strong life.
THE AFTER YEARS
But at first, it wasn’t that easy. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do next, and nothing felt as fulfilling as my life during LVC and the Peace Corps.
Ultimately, I went back to school and got a Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language. I loved working with immigrants and refugees, but felt like something was missing.
Then, trying another route, I went through culinary school and cooked professionally in Seattle restaurants. But that wasn’t quite it, either.
Finally, I got into editorial writing and editing. I enjoyed that, but I still felt like my life was meant for something different than what I was living.
I believed the level of meaning and engagement and presence I’d felt while volunteering was still possible in non-volunteer contexts—and I was right.
NEW PURPOSE IN COACHING
What changed things for me and helped me find my momentum and direction after volunteering were:
- finding a serious meditation practice that convinced me of the light thick in all of us,
- studying the work of scholars and poets from all over the world around life purpose, and coming to observe and embrace the concept in my life, and
- receiving some very powerful coaching that woke up (then exploded) my potential and sense of meaning.
Ultimately, I was realigning with my sense of life purpose, and the process felt like a return to myself.
I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, but those several years after Peace Corps I lost something for a while, which I now see as connection to my larger life purpose. During that time, I didn’t feel sure of what I had to give, and started to worry that maybe I’d peaked as a volunteer and would never find that kind of fulfillment, power, and depth of contribution again.
This was because I didn’t get that while wonderful for me, my volunteer years were just one piece in a much larger story of what I’m on earth to do. That clarity has literally changed everything for me.
Now as a certified professional coach (trained by Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, an Accredited Coach Training Program through the International Coach Federation), I help other former volunteers reignite themselves after their service commitments to create their next empowered chapters.
I do this work because no other group of people lights me up in the same way, bearing so many deeply powerful and totally individual gifts that really can transform this planet. We are far too great a force to waste, sitting on piles of energy and heart without being sure how to use them.
We were, literally, born to be volunteers, and much more besides. Our lives are still calling. Let’s own them!