Being that I plan to spend the next two months of my trip in Puno and have already gloated on my facebook page about how much fun it is going to the discoteca with your boss and co-workers, I thought I would share the backstory on how I ended up in this little town on Lake Titicaca. I’m sure some of you are also wondering why I have a “boss” given that I was so happy to leave the land of cubicles.
Finding a Purpose
Even though I was quite happily embracing the thought of pure idleness and hedonistic pursuits as the main purpose of my being while traveling around the world, it did actually occur to me that I couldn’t afford to be completely oblivious to the real world. The reason I was going on this trip because while it has always been a dream of mine to travel around the world, I needed a serious re-charter in my career course. This would be the time when I would get myself out of the cubicle and not having any other distractions, would take the time I need to determine what I really want to do with my life.
When I finally came out of the suitcase and revealed my career break plans to the greater world I was naturally inundated with a lot of questions from curious friends and family members. While I was more than happy to share my newfound happiness with everyone, the one question that still made me feel a little vulnerable was, “So what are you going to do after you’re done traveling?” I couldn’t pinpoint an exact career path with a precise plan of action and that was something that bothered me. It gave some credence to the belief that maybe I was being foolish following this pipedream of mine. For a while, I brushed the question aside with the response of, “I have plenty of time and savings to figure it all out”, and decided to relax, be patient and let the answer come to me when it was time.
Well “time” came along much sooner than I expected, but fortunately I was more than ready for it. I don’t remember the exact moment when I figured out my new purpose in life, but I’m sure it coincided with packing up my CFA books to send back home. I remembered all of the long hours spent studying for a certification that I knew was more grueling and informative than spending two years of networking at b-school, yet would not benefit me at all in my current career. I’m glad that I continued with the coursework though because it was a reminder that I didn’t need to get out of the finance industry but simply needed to find a different niche within that industry whereby I was helping people and not helping banks.
This is when I started getting interested in the idea of working in microfinance, which generally speaking, is the idea of offering financial services and products to the world’s poorest in a responsible and sustainable way such that they can carry themselves out of poverty through enterprising. This potential career path really appealed to me obviously because it carries the potential for traveling around the world, and given that my travel plans call for visiting developing areas, I thought that this trip would be a great opportunity for me to explore the field and see if this is a career path I’d really like to take.
Scoring My First Gig
Once I became set on the idea of pursuing my interests in microfinance while traveling, of the type of work I wanted to do while abroad I trolled through the usual suspects of websites for volunteering and found a few promising leads. The one thing though that irritated me about all of the volunteer programs, was the sometimes exorbitant fee charged for administrative expenses. I could understand the fees in regards to your room and board, but actually paying an organization to function as your job placement agency when your income is zero, was sub-optimal for me. I had faith that being a resourceful woman with a semblance of patience, I could find an alternative option that would not require me to curtail my trip by a month or two.
My lucky break came when I attended the Meet, Plan, Go event for contemplative career breakers in New York City. I have to first mention though, that one of the best decisions I made in this planning process for my trip was to join a network of other career breakers with Briefcase to Backpack. The amount of resources and expertise I gained from interacting with the community as well as some good old fashioned moral support kept me motivated and inspired to do this trip. Moving along, I went to the MPG event in October 2011 and was glad I took the time to read all of the panelist bios. I noticed one particular woman who in addition to co-authoring a book on career revivals, is also a board member to Pro Mujer, Inc., a microfinance organization. I always hated the idea of networking; it made me feel like such a tool to pretend to be interested in other tools. However, this time I found myself leaping out of my chair to talk to this particular panelist and regale her with my ambitions of working in microfinance. She graciously listened and offered up her business card.
My efforts were fruitful; after e-mailing her to explain my interest in volunteering for Pro Mujer, she was kindly put me in touch with the right people within the organization and before I knew it, I was on a Skype interview with the managers of the Peru office terrified that my Spanish would be less than satisfactory and that my pyjama bottoms would somehow be visible on the webcam. The stars all seemed to align on this one because within a week I had received correspondence from Pro Mujer accepting me as finance intern for two months. I was ecstatic! Not only did I secure my first opportunity in the microfinance industry, but I finally used my networking skills with success and without feeling insincere afterward.
Now I find myself one week into my stay in Puno and it feels nice to settle to be settled in a place, even if for a short time, while engaging in an activity that is more purposeful than being a lady of leisure all day. I think the biggest takeaway from this experience thus far occurred when I realized that the benefits of a career break to your motivation are real. My boss informed me that I was to prepare due diligence documentation and join him on a conference call with one of the organization’s financiers. For the first time since I can remember, I got a little sparkle in my eye at the mention of the words, “due diligence” and “conference call.”