I am a regular reader of your blog and a huge fan of your work.  I started following it in 2007. I was drawn to it because I was/am that classic twenty-something: lost.  I immediately found my post-undergrad job to be unsatisfying and boring.  I started in corporate finance.  I have since upgraded to an analyst position in asset valuation at a financial services firm.  I have been here three years and although I am not miserable, I daily yearn for something more.

I am in the process of researching NGO’s in Nepal.  I want to move there for 2-3 months to work in women’s empowerment.  I want to volunteer in Nepal because (a) I have spent the majority of the last five years making money for myself and my employers, not contributing much to humanity, (b) I want to immerse myself into a new culture and I find the Nepalese culture intriguing and (c) I want a hub to explore Asia (primarily after my commitment is fufilled in Nepal).  I have been to Asia twice and traveled throughout Europe in college so I am very confident in my traveling skills.

My biggest hesitation here has probably crossed your mind: what will I do upon my return?  I don’t know.  I am hoping that while abroad, I will be presented with new opportunities that will lead to my next step or, at the very least, my time overseas will shed some light on my next career move.  I am fairly certain that I do not want to stay in finance and I do not want to come back to Chicago, which is where I’ve lived for nearly five years.  One of my inclinations, among many, is to pursue a career in writing, using my material from a blog that I will keep while in Nepal and afterward.  My priorities of traveling and exploring will come second to writing my blog to ensure that I have a product when I return to the US (if I return).

What are your thoughts? Am I completely insane to pick up and leave (with approximately $10K in the bank) after building so much career equity in the past five years?  I am so lost and without a clear direction on my next “job” and I feel drawn to do something drastic and unconventional like this.

14 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    It’s fine to take an adventure to Nepal. It will not help you get a job. And it might hurt you.

    Here are some things for you to consider:

    1. Travel writing is more competitive than any other kind of writing. You can’t jump start things by going to Nepal. It’s too competitive.

    2. You need to tell a story about yourself. The story of I tried finance and didn’t like it is fine. The story of I tried finance and didn’t like it and took a break from the workforce is not as strong. People like persistence. It’s one thing to not like something and try something else. It’s another thing to run away. Which is what going to Nepal is.

    3. You will have a lot more options when you come home if you save your money to help get you through a long job hunt. If you come home from Nepal with no money you’ll have to take any job you can get. If you don’t go to Nepal you can afford to wait to get a better job.

    Sometimes travel is eye-opening, and sometimes it’s a merely escape from the problems one has at home. Also, at some points in life, travel is challenging and there’s a lot to learn about having to fend for oneself in another country. At this point in your life, though, you have traveled and you know how to do it. So you will probably learn more by forcing yourself to take new jobs and try new things to figure out where you fit in the world.

    Penelope

    Reply
  2. Morgan
    Morgan says:

    If you want to travel, travel; the rest of your life will work itself out. You can sell any experience as relevant to a career with the right diction. But if you truly feel drawn to working on women’s empowerment, why wouldn’t you make that career shift now? Why limit yourself to a few months if you feel it’s your calling? Penelope is spot on: it sounds more like you want an escape from your current life and you’re trying to sell it as a move towards altruism. Why not volunteer in your own town while looking for a new job and see if that scratches the itch?

    Reply
  3. Ru
    Ru says:

    Travelling seems like the easy way out. Ask yourself if its a break/long vacation you need or a permanent change. If you are gonna up and go, i suggest take a community travel writing class before leaving. Not because you need someone to teach you how to write but to force yourself a carved out time and be accountable for the quality of your writing in a peer assessment setting.

    I did a course like that and realised how hard it was. Imagine being in a foriegn country and have to write about woman empowerment in nepal, how much do you know about the subject to write about it in a meaningful way to your audience. Whats your angle on that? My instructor would ask us refine our narrative view constantl.

    If you really want an extended time off, ask for a sabbatical. A two month sabbatical guarantees a job to return to at least and if you end up with a better gig, you can quit :)

    Reply
  4. Becky Castle Miller
    Becky Castle Miller says:

    Why make it a short-term experiment? Why not make it a semi-permanent relocation? If you know you want to live in Asia, find a job with an NGO there that will take care of your immigration issues and get you a residence permit. Plan to live overseas for 5 years instead of 3 months. You’ll probably have to make a drastic downshift in your standard of living, but the daily adventures you’d have, and the meaningful work you would do, would probably make up for it.

    Another option would be taking a job teaching English in somewhere like Japan for a year or two. If you still have student loans, loan repayment is part of some of those programs.

    If you really want to live in Asia, I think that’s fantastic. Just make it a long-term job shift and become an expat, rather than being a tourist for a few months and coming back to the US for a job search. (And I say all this as someone who moved overseas from the US almost a year ago and is overall enjoying the expat life–it has challenges, but it’s amazing.)

    Reply
  5. katie
    katie says:

    I’ll just disagree with Penelope to say that it will help you find a job, IF you want to find one in the development sector in Nepal. With a finance background, you have great chances of switching to a microfinance NGO for example, working for World Bank, etc etc– if you are interested in that kind of work. With a couple years of field experience you can then move back to the US to get a job back in headquarters. Travel writing might be a stretch but depending on your networking skills and writing talent, you might be able to start freelancing, writing about economic and political issues, etc. For advice about careers in the development sector I recommend Alanna Shaikh’s blog, Blood and Milk (google it and click over to the career advice section). I moved to Bosnia to volunteer and ended up freelancing, working for a TV station and now in development.

    Reply
  6. Angie
    Angie says:

    I have always had similar ideas about quitting my job and traveling. In fact, for the first few years after college, I worked temp jobs specifically so that I could travel for a month or two between them. One such trip was a 6-week stay in Geneva to volunteer with an NGO. I enjoyed the stay and learned a lot—including that I would never, ever want to work full-time with that particular NGO because they were doing nothing. I had one job other job offer while there, but because I wasn’t specialized, the only way that they could have got work papers for me was to set the wage so low that no Swiss person would take the job. I didn’t see how I would survive on such wage, so I ended up coming back to the States to find work.

    And I want to write also. But I’ve realized that my fantasies about dropping everything to travel and write have more to do with the utter boredom of my daily life than anything else. Self-examination has also shown me that the core of my desire to write is that I love to learn, and I love to share what I learn with others. I can do that right where I am by starting a blog. And, to satisfy the need for novelty, I’m trying out local places that I haven’t been to yet and taking day or weekend trips in the state where I live. Also, I’m taking myself on a vacation abroad this year, and I negotiated to work remotely for a month so that I can have an extended visit with family who live far away. It’s less dramatic than moving to another country, but these steps will ultimately get me closer to my ideal life, whereas I’m not really sure that my fantasy of quitting everything, housesitting in Europe, and writing full time will get me anywhere but broke (it still sounds awesome, though, right?).

    All this to say that It would be really worthwhile to examine what unfulfilled personal needs are driving you toward such a move. There may be other ways you can meet those needs.

    Also, I work in publishing and cannot emphasize enough that for most writers, it takes MUCH longer than most people expect to earn money from writing, and even longer to get to a point where you’re actually supporting yourself from writing. And Penelope’s right that travel writing is very competitive and hard to get in to.

    Reply
    • Angie
      Angie says:

      Not that you shouldn’t try writing if you want to! I’m just saying, be prepared for it to take a while before you earn real money.

      Reply
  7. Jen
    Jen says:

    Have you considered asking your employer for permission to take a sabbatical? Both my husband and I work at big blue chip companies in, as Penelope calls them, “big jobs” and our employers were very receptive to us taking 2 months off unpaid to travel. You might get even more support that we did because you would be leaving for volunteer work. I would see if you could take an extended vacation to guarantee that you have a job when you get back. While you are away, you can start mapping out where you want to take your career next, and then when you get back, with the comfort of a salary, you can start figuring out how to execute a plan.

    Reply
  8. channa
    channa says:

    I left a boring career to live in Vietnam for a year, without a specific plan for what to do there. While I was there I worked on business school applications (in addition to freelance paid work to support myself and some volunteer work) and when I returned I attended a top-5 business school. Here is how this experience impacted my career:

    Made me more interesting to other people (I have good stories.)
    Made me more confident in cross-cultural situations and better at understanding accents.
    Gave me credibility as a candidate to work in other countries (I’ve since worked in 5 others.)
    Made me more interesting to graduate schools (I assume.)

    Here is how it didn’t:

    Open a career in UN / NGO / foreign development / microfinance. Just showing up for a few months is not a qualification. And being introduced to those lifestyles and the work they do, made me realize I’d rather travel for fun, work for money and support free trade and immigration.
    Improve my resume. Other than one volunteer line, I leave that year off my resume.
    Teach me a second language. Languages are HARD.
    Launch my travel writing career. hahahaha

    So anyway, I loved the experience, wouldn’t trade it for anything and wasn’t worried about the impact on my career. If you are worried about your career then you should solve that problem then figure out how travel fits into your new plan.

    Reply
  9. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Good question! A(n online) friend runs the site http://meetplango.com/ They have meetup events for people who – like you – are looking to switch up their careers, and use travel as a way to find direction. It’s a common desire! What some may seem as escapism can also be a need to shift life and career around. I say this as someone who left the US ten years ago for Asia on a one-way ticket…

    Reply
  10. Jen
    Jen says:

    Have you considered working while you travel? If not for you current company, then perhaps as a consultant? It can provide career continuity, and by working for yourself you’ll learn a wide variety of things that will influence your career decisions when/if you return to the workforce full-time.

    Reply
  11. Bijay thapa
    Bijay thapa says:

    ………..then you must travel around the Himalayas of Nepal.I say jungle safari and Bird watching in NEPAL will take you to new natural world.Trekking or travelling in Nepal will surely relax you and bring you a fresh start.
    Then you can volunteer some NGO’S in Nepal.

    Reply
  12. mh
    mh says:

    Just travel.

    You should travel because it will make you a more interesting person, and you will learn about yourself, and the world, and yourself IN the world.

    Travel will bring you a depth and self-confidence that will translate into the rest of your life.

    You don’t have to know the answer before you leave.

    Going to Nepal is a little cheesy — why not try Uzbekistan or Khazakstan or Azerbaijan? Travel should not be so predictable. Break free.

    Reply

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