It was eight years ago and now. Two time frames when my creative interests, and the promise of fulfillment, called me more loudly than the routine of everyday work-life or money. The only difference is that now—I am married with a two-year-old son. The questions are louder now than before, and the answers have broader implications: Do I deserve to follow my heart? Can I afford to be fiscally risky?
The Spiritual Call
In 2008 the call was the same. I was a communications consultant, making six figures and working for the federal government. Mornings were the worst. I would get dressed with a deep pain in my stomach and drive to the office with a redundant wonder—does my work matter?
I didn’t think it did. I felt trapped. Helpless. Unremarkable.
The one thing that soothed the void inside me was my love of writing. Chimpanzees were the main characters for a children’s novel I was writing and they became an obsession. I began to follow the work of Dr. Jane Goodall—world renowned for her chimpanzee observations and behavioral discoveries. I read nearly all of her books, watched documentaries about her and feverishly read articles, absorbing all that I could. It was less about the chimpanzees, to whom I had become fascinated, and more about a search for authenticity; which I wanted to infuse into the writing of my book and into my life.
One day while searching Dr. Goodall’s website, I noticed an announcement to apply for an international internship. I remember how my heart skipped. I felt pulled to international service and the off-chance I might get to visit the chimpanzees of Gombe, popularized in Dr. Goodall’s writings. I sent in my application almost on a lark and waited. After an interview, I was soon notified I had been accepted and was invited to Tanzania, East Africa. I could have pinched myself. But what intensified the surreality of the coming experience was that the chosen six interns would actually live in Dr. Goodall’s house.
Time was short. I had only a few weeks to leave everything, and I mean everything. How could I even consider leaving a good job, a fancy car, a house and a boyfriend? I couldn’t make sense of it. I couldn’t reconcile the desire of my heart to go and the logic of my brain to stay. I walked around with a new pain, the pain of struggle and confusion. I prayed. I cried. I asked the opinions of my close friends and family. Then I repeated that cycle over and over again. Nothing gave me solace.
The Dream that Changed Everything
But then something remarkable happened. It was approximately two-and-a-half weeks from departure time. I went to work and a coworker with whom I was friendly, but didn’t know much about personally, pulled me aside. I will refer to her as Patty. She said she needed to tell me about a bizarre dream she had. Later that morning, I sat with my mouth agape as she recited a dream that was a direct answer to my prayers.
Patty said, “You became missing from work. Your disappearance was quick and it surprised our coworkers because there wasn’t much notice.” She was sent to search for me. After looking everywhere, Patty found me on the water running an enterprise on board a large boat.
“It was the happiest I’d ever seen you—you seemed to glow,” Patty said.
She questioned why I left work. That’s when I explained, “Life is about living without regrets, it’s about taking chances. I had to leave.” I asked her to join me in my new endeavors. “But I am afraid,” she replied. I admonished her for being “spineless” and told her, “You just need to step out on faith.”
Faith was definitely what I needed. Every objection I created in my mind was addressed and absolved through the conversation in that dream. After recanting the story, Patty turned and asked, “Isn’t that the craziest dream? I know it means nothing to you but I felt I should share it with you.” I told her everything. How I was considering traveling to Africa and how I had been conflicted, as well as how I would need to leave within a short time frame. It was her turn to be shocked.
A clarity washed over me. My final sign came unexpectedly and from an unexpected person—and it was that fact that made me pay attention. As the Greek historian, Thucydides once said, “The secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom is courage.” The time had come for me to step into that courage and be free. I left the office and within minutes I was driving to see my boss to resign. Two weeks later I was on the plane excited for the journey. And what a journey it was.
Living in Africa as a Jane Goodall Institute Volunteer
I got to volunteer at an orphanage, assist in an entrepreneur project for coffee growers, build a community garden and was even invited to assist Dr. Goodall’s staff with specific communication and facilitation needs. I got to scurry belly-down through the forests of Gombe, tracking the magnificent chimpanzees. I lived, talked and briefly worked with Dr. Jane Goodall herself when she was in town for two weeks. I got to go on wonderful safaris and marvel at animals I had only witnessed on my TV. I got to fall in love with Tanzania, make life-long friends and begin to learn Swahili.
Keisha Reynolds and Dr. Jane Goodall after at a lecture at Goucher College in Maryland, 2010, shortly after Keisha returned from the internship.
Even with the bounty of all of that, with the tastes of freedom and fulfillment on my lips—I returned to the States and got stuck again. I can’t explain how it happened really. Responsibilities confronted me the minute I returned. How would I pay for my car that my boyfriend was hiding from the repo person? How would I pay for my house? What job would I get? How would I live? Passion couldn’t pay the bills. I had to do that. And, it required me to re-enter the communications consultant field but as I did, I promised myself it was for only a year. That year multiplied into nine and I am now I am where I started. In unhappiness. In unfulfillment. This last year the internal struggle began to bubble. I knew that feeling all too well. I started having panic attacks when I would sit down in my cubicle then rush to the outside balcony for air.
This time, it’s not just about me and my calling. The boyfriend that I mentioned earlier became my husband when I returned from Tanzania and we went on to have a child. It’s about us. But yet the call has come again. My skills are being requested elsewhere. My real work is calling. I have a life purpose to work toward and I now have begun to share the messages of global inspirational entrepreneurs, both in my podcast and in a new communications agency I am building.
The Courage to Leave
I want my years as a marketing and communications expert to mean something real and to change the world in ways small and large. Service, storytelling and freedom are themes that have summoned me repetitively throughout my life and in hind sight, that is what my trip to Africa was about. That is what this period is about. This time though, as I eradicate myself, I must never return. I hesitated in my position for far too long, longer than I would have if I were single. But I have to believe that this moment will liberate us all. I have to know that a happier mother and wife will show up and that money will follow, this time.
The science fiction writer, Octavia Butler, said it best, “…There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.” My time is now. Yesterday, I bundled the nerves and rested on the clarity I felt from a well deep inside.
I requested an impromptu meeting with my manager and explained that my journey had come to an end. I watched him wince and then let the words land. His reaction triggered a doubt within me for a split second. I recovered and told him there wasn’t a way to convince me otherwise. The beckoning was just too strong and I could sparsely remember what creative freedom felt like but I knew if felt good. Then, I followed with a resignation letter and a two-week window, of which I am still inside. But when I traveled to my car last evening, a relief was with me and it was a feeling that I hadn’t known in a while.
Thucydides said,“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”
I have my vision and plan for what’s next. My freedom is palpable and in another several days, it will be my reality. I am happy. I am hopeful. And, I am knowledgeable about how this could all go wrong. However, with experience as my teacher, I am more excited about everything that will go right.
Have you ever taken a leap of faith in your career? What did you do? If not and you are unhappy, can you think of ways to liberate yourself? Leave a comment and let me know.
Keisha Reynolds (founder of Rey.Comm.) is a marketing and publicity strategist for inspirational entrepreneurs interested in unleveling their brands. Visit Keisha’s website to join her newsletter for regular inspiration and marketing tips to improve your business and your wellness. Also, check out her Global Warriors Podcast featuring the change makers of the world.
Image courtesy of Jill111.