A new job offer just landed in your inbox. You're being sent to a lush, remote corner of Africa. Images are dancing through your head: a country you've never seen, a culture you're soon to know, a language you might learn, and a humanitarian situation with new challenges. Adrenaline shoots through your humanitarian veins.
No doubt - it's exciting to work in such unique and culturally-interesting parts of the world while committing energy, skills and time to people in need. Indeed, aid work is exciting, stimulating, inspiring and rewarding. But, it can also be exceptionally lonely - especially in the deep field.
It's often just you and your work. Your work and you. In this environment, what do you do? You work more!! This is great for your employer, but it's not so ideal for YOU!
If your employer emphasizes the importance of staff well-being and takes measures to ensure balance between the personal and professional lives of staff, wonderful. But, the reality is that this is often not the case. So, instead of sitting around, complaining about the lack of personal life in the workplace, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
It's up to you to prioritize your personal life so you can remain happy, healthy and whole . . .
Advocate for yourself
- Remind your employer that you are available to work nights and weekends when emergencies arise but not every night and weekend.
- Share innovative approaches to staff well-being with your supervisor and colleagues to see how your office might introduce healthier approaches to work. (Examples: yoga classes, meditation, book club, writing group, running club, art classes, local cooking classes, special celebrations for individual and office successes, etc.)
- Refrain from responding to non-urgent phone calls, emails, Skype messages, texts, etc. during your personal hours and vacation time.
- Remind your employer that you cannot work or come to the office, if your contract renewal is not yet in place.
- Practice healthy approaches in your own daily life - exercise, hobbies, journal-writing, yoga, meditation, contact with family and friends, etc.
Focus on your personal well-being
- Discover something new within the local culture. Get out and explore (unless, of course, security conditions suggest you should do otherwise!).
- Engage your mind, by reading new books, joining an online course, studying the history and culture of the country where you're living, and consider sharing these experiences with a group of people living in the same community, to render it social too.
- Keep a journal and write or draw. Let your mind go. Don't judge what you write or draw; just allow your mind to create. The field and your experiences as an aid worker can lend to incredibly touching stories and artwork. Have at it . . .
- Practice yoga and meditate, and consider teaching these skills to others or just get together and practice as a group.
- Integrate a daily exercise regime into your life. Wake up, work out, and prepare for a more uplifting day. Exercise with others to realize the benefits of bonding through exercise/sport.
- Swim. Ride your bike (even if just on an indoor trainer). Relax in the sun. Get a massage. Do something chillaxing just for you.
- Visit a local orphanage to change your mindset and offer something different to your local community through children.
- Teach any skills (language, cooking, sports, music, dance, yoga, etc.) you may have to children, vulnerable women, prisoners, or others in your local community. While this may seem similar to your work, you may be surprised at how rewarding and uplifting it can be to spend your weekends outside your office, away from your colleagues, engaging with those in your community.
- Stay in touch with family and friends, and take time out of your work schedule for those who are important to you.
Start by recognizing the signs that you may be lonely:
- You find yourself working non-stop weeknights and weekends.
- Your alcohol consumption goes from an occasional beer to an every night must-have.
- You spend more time on Facebook than interacting with the people where you live.
- You daydream about a new assignment and count the days until your current contract ends.
- You feel a familiar twinge of regret when you wake up in someone else's bed ... again. Oops.
Aid work can be lonely. Understand that, while this is rarely admitted, it is a reality. But, loneliness doesn't have to be your reality.
So, don't be lonely! Connect with us online and take measures to embrace the inner being within you seeking stimulation beyond the working world.
You've reached the bottom of the page. We know what you're thinking: "How paternalistic!!" We get it. But, do not brush off our advice, assuming we're just boring introverts who have always made the "right" decisions. Au contraire! We're trying to help you recognize how you can find a greater balance between your personal and professional lives and generally live a healthier, more enjoyable life in the field rather than realize in the midst of a brutal attack that you've committed your life to work, never prioritized your own well-being, and developed unhealthy habits to compensate for your unhappiness. Your life matters too! Take care of YOU!!
If you have other suggestions on healthy distractions, please share them!