My first article with Verge Magazine - vergemagazine.com/volunteer-abroad/blogs/2851-i-quit-my-career-to-travel-through-africa.html
At 50, I Quit My Careet to Travel Through Africa
There's no age cut-off for a gap year. I'm just setting out now.
Someone once said to me: “When the light of Africa finally turns on, the rest of the world will dim in comparison.” I have become fixated on this quote. It evokes such strong emotion within, the words often move me to tears.
My name is Joanna McBride—and I just quit my job to travel Africa for a few months. Yes, jobs come and go throughout life, of course they do. I know that. But the terrifying reality surrounding my recent decision is that I just walked away from my career. After years of hard work, I had finally secured a successful position in the events management profession. It was a job that demanded long hours and sleepless nights. My days were always filled with ever-ending networking, meticulous organization, multitasking, dealing with a wide variety of personalities and always pleading for the weather’s cooperation. For years, I made such a tremendous mistake of relying on my job for my happiness—yet it only served to make me miserable.
As much as I sought escape from indescribable euphoria mixed with torturous self-deprecation, I couldn’t help but wonder if I might be empty without it. Who would I be without my vocation? Taking something that once meant so much, and allowing it to slip away like sand through my fingers is a surreal feeling. Life became monotonous and predictable. The routine of my ordinary day-to-day started to bore me immensely and I knew there had to be something more out there for me.
I wanted remarkable. I deserved remarkable.
I recently turned 50.
It’s a frightening age, and I have definitely not embraced it as much as others have. Many of my friends, family and colleagues believe I’m smack dab in the middle of a mid-life crisis. They believe this foolish and adventurous spirit is temporary and will more than likely end soon. Maybe it will. Time has a way of revealing all.
I’m not rich, and I’m in no financial position to be gallivanting all over the world without a secure income, but I suddenly realized I wanted to be defined by what I loved.
I want to be defined by what I value and who I cherish. I want to be known as someone who lives a life led by curiosity, adventure, and a little bit of risk.
Life has crept up on me too quickly and I am certain it will only speed up from here. Mentally, I am still young, but physically, I have started to feel the effects of the years taking their toll.
Before it’s too late, I want to know Africa’s rich history and experience its vast fabric of traditional culture. I want to be a part of it, wholeheartedly. I want to toss myself in and encompass every aspect of life in Africa.
I want remarkable. I deserve remarkable.
In addition, I want to behold natural beauty, untouched by time. I want to gaze upon with the majestic wildlife of the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara. I want to float down the Nile and sleep under the stars of the Sahara. I want to trek the Bwindi and relax amongst the powerful, yet gentle, silverback gorillas in their natural environment.
In addition to this, I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to toss myself into the culture and encompass every aspect of the social behaviour.
I will run out of money before I run out of ideas—that is a guarantee—but I will never regret taking the plunge.
Since booking my one-way flight, I have been inundated with questions.
“How are you going to get by?”
Good question. I don’t know.
“What are you going to do for work when you get back?”
I don’t know that either.
I’ve been called brave, inspirational, courageous adventurous and resilient. Even though, most of the time, I don’t always see myself as overly brave or inspirational, these words serve to energize me. They empower me to go further and do more than I ever thought capable.
I’ve also been called irresponsible, careless, foolish, senseless, and rash. I’ve even been told I’m immature.
Yes, these discouraging words certainly have the power to demolish my spirit and make me second guess my decisions. Instead of allowing judgement to tear me apart, I choose to turn the narrative around and use these words to further fuel my fire.
Society puts a stigma on us and we have essentially become programmed to discriminate against individuals that attempt to distinguish themselves from what is perceived as normal.
I’m done with the settling down part of life, and if that makes me crazy, so be it. I will admit, there is one accusation that gets me every time, and as much as I try, I can never laugh it off.
You’re too old.
I’m 50, yes, but regardless of age, life is meant to be lived. There is a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. It’s calling my name. It’s always been calling my name, but I’ve just been too busy to listen. Too busy in meetings and appointments and business luncheons. Too busy mindlessly scrolling through social media and binge-watching television shows.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and here I go.
I will begin my journey in Tanzania. There, I will be doing four weeks of volunteering with a women’s empowerment program in Arusha. From Tanzania, I will make my way north, with hopes of exploring Kenya and Uganda. Rwanda, Burundi and Egypt are also on the horizon, but I am keeping options open in order to see where life leads me.
“When the light of Africa finally turns on, the rest of the world will dim in comparison.” I love that quote—and I can’t help but wonder what will happen now that my light has turned on.