What travel and volunteer taught me about life and money
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post on leaving the corporate world to volunteer and the experiences it gave me. It was a lot of jumping points for re-thinking one’s life goals, careers and the material world. However, I wanted to be careful not to romanticize the idea too much.
I say this from experience. Graduating from college, my view of the world was naive and idealistic. I saw the good in everyone and wanted to share all I had. It often comes as a shock that others do not think the same way and a major one came in the form of a good friend who suddenly turned into a different person over a money spat with me. Being young (and again, naive), I lost hope, avowed money and ran off to a jungle in Burma to volunteer teach. It was the beginning of my education, a real education outside of college.
It wasn’t the first time I volunteered. I have enjoyed volunteering since college, teaching and working with immigrants or minority adults and learning about their lives. I had also grown up partly in Indonesia, so I was not completely clueless about Southeast Asia or the level of its poverty. But still, being a grown up and experiencing it was different. Every person and every country had their own situations. My South American student crossed the desert illegally for hope of a better life. My African-American students struggles to get a job and sees immigrants as a big problem. My Karen students are caught in a civil war and chased off by the Burmese military. My Indonesian students are struggling to grasp the idea of entrepreneurship to make it through low wages and education level in the country. And the stories go on.
To put a long story short, that journey took me to the corporate world, which I shortly traded for two years of travel, volunteer and long-lasting friendship and then back to the corporate world again. The first time, it didn’t last because I didn’t know what I wanted to live for and why I was trading my time for a sum of money I didn’t know what to do with.
But this time, I know my direction, I know where I’m heading. I know enough to know that life is more than branded items and cars. I know enough to know that giving money and teaching others about financial education can go a long way. That friends, family and love provide the greatest joy in the world. That much are to be treasured about the simple things in life.
Along the same line, I don’t wish to condemn wealth generation. By all means, go for it, it will improve your lives. Just remember to do it with a sensible mind and not let it consume you to the point that you becomes less of a human. Keep learning, keep growing, keep traveling, keep volunteering and doing good and let those experiences transform you and guide your decisions. Instead of feeling guilty or terrible for having a more privileged life than others, be thankful and use it to fuel yourself to make a difference. In the end, whatever you do, even when things go wrong and all your plans go to naught, remember that there are much to be grateful for in your lives.
This is why I encourage people who haven’t to travel, see a different side of the world and do some good. It wasn’t a waste of time for me, and I don’t think it will be for you either. I don’t think it matters how old you are, but please do enjoy the ride and tell your tale.
And no, my education has not ended, I will continue to grow as an individual, the journey’s only starting. 🙂