From Global Board Rooms To Global Citizen: Why I Quit My Humanitarian Job To Take A Sabbatical
By: Melody Miles, Unsettled: Peru, Unsettled: Costa Rica & Sailing alum
I was on the verge of tears inside my office at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation when I finally clicked the “sign up” button for my first Unsettled trip. I had spent nearly a decade as a humanitarian, traversing the dirt roads of Africa helping to launch the global effort to eradicate malaria. Yet underneath the glamor of working on behalf of the richest couple in human history, my day-to-day life was full of endless meetings, cross-continental flights, and complicated diplomacy leaving me dried out and empty. I was checking boxes and hustling my way to the next life milestone, yet I couldn’t help but wonder:
In all my efforts fighting for the freedom of others, was I really living free myself?
Spoiler alert, I wasn’t.
It took a series of anxiety attacks in global board rooms and African villages to wake me up to the emotional storm going on under the surface of my success. The world was cheering on the girl behind the mask, but deep down all I wanted to do was rip the mask off and run wild and free. I wanted someone to tell me I could cease trying so hard to save the world, and simply slow down and love it.
Signing up for Unsettled represented my tipping point, a love-offering, of sorts, to myself. A tangible way of honoring what my heart has been screaming for under the surface for years; i.e. to let the wrecking ball crash into my life, feel the pain, and do the work of rewiring my life from the inside out. I was finally ready to surrender all my structured life-planning, information-gathering, and life-hacking ways for an unstructured, uncertain, and circuitous process of experimentation with life.
A week after I clicked that blue button and said yes to living Unsettled, I quit my big job with no idea what was next, what I really wanted, or how things would work out. All I knew was that I needed to turn down all the external noise in my life so I could finally listen to the internal voice inside my soul.
Today, a year later, I’m typing this from a café in Nashville, Tennessee, where I’ve left behind my old job, relationship, house, and community to pursue my passion as a writer and entrepreneur. If you were across the table from me, I’d scoot up nice-and-close and tell you this: Choosing a season of wandering was the best thing I’ve ever done in life. I’d tell you I finally feel like that wild and free girl now, but it required being lost for a good-long while. I’d talk to you about how my greatest transformation emerged from giving the middle finger to other people’s expectations and giving myself permission to beginning again in life. We don’t often know what we really want at the start of any process. To wander and freefall is sometimes the clearest path to our truest desires. We have to take a leap and trust the net will appear, even if we do not know what that net looks like when it catches us.
Saying yes to living unsettled taught me how I feel most secure not when I have all the things we associate with the ‘American dream’, but when I’m deeply connected to myself and honoring the desires of my heart. I learned I can throw out the map and make my way by walking. And I learned living truly free means I can change my mind, my opinion, and even my life. In fact, this endeavor of beginning again is not defeat; it may actually be the most courageous thing we ever do as humans.
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I now believe that sometimes the best thing we can do is open ourselves up to new people: to let them pass through our lives without expectations or agendas, but with curiosity and a soft invitation to let them change us. Sometimes we need new ideas and new perspectives, and the only way towards newness is choosing an adventure not everyone understands. Sometimes, we don’t have to try so hard in life and relationships. We can let the earthy, physical acts of surviving pull us closer – like hoisting sails or searching the open waters for a lost dinghy, or cooking on a stove that sways with the ocean waves. Sometimes in life you need to read books and ask wise mentors for advice, but often you need to leave all the advice behind and say yes to living unsettled – because in letting go of control you actually find yourself more fully. Sometimes we don’t need to be chasing a forever goal. We just need to be creating space, inviting the unexpected, switching things up, befriending strangers, and floating with the tide, wherever it takes you. When you travel with Unsettled, sometimes these strangers will bring you a Unicorn costume and literally pull you to shore. They will dance with you under tropical rain, teach you how to do the limbo with a horn 🦄, pour you rum until the moon sets and the sky fills with a million stars, and make sure you know ALL PEOPLE from ALL WALKS OF LIFE can hold you in love.
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Our greatest transformation comes NOT from striving, but from letting our heartbreak soften enough to face the very thing we’re most afraid of. This is the hero’s journey towards finding wild, abundant freedom, but it often requires losing our old life in order to find the deeper, richer parts of us that have been lying dormant all along. So if you remember anything from our coffee chat, please know it’s okay to come unglued from a location or job or community or even yourself for a while. It is in this unsettled, unraveling process– belonging everywhere and nowhere all at the same time – that we learn we are really free.