One of the drags about being an aid worker (&, well, about life as we know it too!) is that poverty, hunger, conflicts, uprisings, inhumane treatment, & general suffering do not appear to be going away very fast. So, while this admittedly gives you a job & ensures you the basic necessities of shelter, food, water, & the clothes on your back, there are always more people without. This means a) you are always ultra busy (unless, that is, you are the one with your feet on your desk, chillaxing, & you actually aren't particularly concerned by the ways of the world) & b) there's not a hell of a lot of time for you or that elusive thing in the aid world: a PERSONAL LIFE! Yes, friends, you TOO can have one!
When we were young ducks, experienced colleagues used to whisper words of the wise into our young, naive ears: "Get out. Get out. Get out while you can. You're young. You can still have a personal life replete with a partner & children. Run!"
We would stare blankly back, partly mesmerized by the hushed tone in an environment where everything is so fast-paced, active, & centered around fist-pounding arguments over which organization will be the one to say first that 200,000 internally-displaced "persons" are being maltreated by the local government. But, we were always equally stunned. We didn't know how to respond. Having someone admit that they made a mistake by placing work first & warn you not to do the same is not easy to hear - especially when you're still young, full of energy, & convinced that you won't fall into the same trap!
But, many of us did. I fell smack on my face, only to be saved by a violent attack that forced me into reflection. So, now that I too am old & wise, here's my advice: Do not forget your personal life! Whatever it may be that pumps blood into your veins - your partner, your child, your family, your lover, your dog, singing, playing piano, practicing yoga, running marathons, eating fistfuls of chocolate, standing on your head, reading Shakespeare, painting, sculpting, acting, swimming, learning a new language, meditating, JUST.DO.IT. And, be sure to do something for no one but you each & every day. You need it. Your body & mind will thank you.
If you happen to have a boss pretending to be a dictator or a drill sergeant, don't drop to your knees & treat this crazy person like royalty. Draw the line & put yourself, your family, your partner, your dog, your whatever first. Take care of you.
What's more: You will be a far better contributor to the aid-working world if you can prove that you value your own life & happiness too.
You know what I mean. You've seen that grumpy person, chain-smoking in the back room, bitching about life as an aid worker? Let that not be you.
(Put the part below on the side somehow as a sort of "Sticky note")
Questions to periodically ask yourself:
- If I were to be at the end of my life today, how would I feel? What would I regret? Is there anything I’d do differently?
- If I only had this upcoming year left, how would I spend it? What would I prioritize?