I am 23, graduated from UCSB two years ago in international development and business communication, and work for a four-person consulting agency with extremely supportive cofounders. Unfortunately, my desire to feel connected to a cause or issue is suppressed in my current career.

I’ve been circling my next move for about 6 months now and quite frankly, I just need to make a decision before I go crazy.  I know that I would love to do international development work with a focus on maternal and newborn health. I am considering joining the Peace Corps to carry out this step come January.

It would be a major transition for me and I just don’t know if this would serve me more than staying where I am now, or making a completely different move altogether. I know you would give wonderful advice to help me gain some clarity.

6 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Here are some things to think about:

    1. People do not get paid to do meaningful work. People need to do meaningful work for free. That is what gives our life meaning, after all. People get paid to do work that does not have meaning.

    2. You can do any job, to pay the bills, and then do meaningful work after work. There are 16 hours of every day. You can choose what you do with eight of them, even if you have a job for 8 hours of those days.

    3. Reconsider your financial requirements. Maybe you can work four hours a day and earn enough money for food and rent and spend the rest of your time doing whatever is meaningful to you.

    4. Take a look at people around you. Find someone whose life you think you want, and ask yourself what they did to get there. Most people who appear to be making a lot of money doing something meaningful did one of three things:

    a. give up their personal life forever
    b. take huge financial risk
    c. get extremely lucky (famous writers) or come from a lot of money (most startup founders)

    Be realistic about what you want from your life. You can’t get a life that you have not seen someone else also get — there are no secret passages through life. Just the difficult ones we already know, because life is difficult.

    Penelope

  2. Denys
    Denys says:

    I served in th PeaceCorps 1991-1994 and it was some of the best years of my life. All the people I served with are still good friends. Half continued serving and traveling around the world and the other half live “normal” lives. The perspective you get can not be gained in any classroom, book, documentary and is invaluable. Do it.

  3. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Agree with Penelope, with this caveat:

    I lived & traveled all over Eastern Europe in my 20s — having been in a sheltered small town most of my life — and while there, I saw a *lot* of different ways to live. I met people in the foreign service, international correspondents, Peace Corps. volunteers, travel photographers, professional adventurers, start-up founders, farmers… Until I traveled, I had no idea the world was full of such possibility.

    So I say: put yourself in the way of meeting people who are doing what you think you may want to do. The Peace Corps. could be right for you that way.

  4. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    With your experience in business communication, have you considered going into grantwriting and marketing/communications for a non-profit you care about? I am a grantwriter (i.e., I write grant proposals to compete for funding awards) and enjoy getting to use my writing skills for causes I care about. I’m not getting rich at this, but there *are* career paths working for NGOs and non-profits. There are a lot of strategy, sales tactics and lawyer-ish “presenting of evidence” that go into grantwriting and fundraising. I think corporate skills would translate well. Good luck!

  5. Mia
    Mia says:

    I had a similar background and made a career transition from corporate work into a well-known NGO in DC where I do communications and knowledge management work. It has been very meaningful for me, and my pay has not lowered too significantly. Peace Corps is a great experience and will help you transition into the field, but is not strictly necessary and the experience can be replicated with shorter term fellowships or internships in the field. To start your career, I would strongly recommend relocating to DC which is where the majority of the jobs are. I would look at Coordinator and Associate type jobs at big NGOs that you might want to look at. Some strong maternal and newborn NGOs include Save the Children, Jhpiego, Pathfinder, but there are others I’m not thinking of. If Penelope wants, she can feel free to pass along my email to the writer of this question for an informational interview.

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