Innovative technology has done a wonderful thing for the nonprofit sector - we can extend our reach beyond our local communities and communicate with people worldwide about our cause. These same changes have also created globalized careers. We can study abroad, readily travel long distances, work remotely, connect online with people in different countries, and shape our careers in ways that weren’t previously possible for many of us.
An upside to an expanding global influence in the nonprofit sector is the opportunity for exciting cross-cultural exchange and personal growth. Even when my work does not require extensive travel or working remotely, I’m still able to benefit from international experiences. In the past three nonprofit organizations I’ve worked with, including Idealist, I’ve worked alongside staff members from different countries and greatly benefitted from the chance to hear their struggles, successes, and perspectives.
A downside to the ever-changing opportunities that globalization brings is that you can begin to feel disconnected from your roots and unsure of your core identity. If you are used to a close-knit community, the difficulty of maintaining the types of long-term, close relationships that used to define you may disrupt your sense of self. If you are questioning who you are, how can you be sure that you are doing your best work in the social impact sector? If you’re feeling disconnected from yourself, how can you be sure you are connecting and supporting those whose cause you are passionate about?
One solution is to create an inner sanctuary that stays with you wherever you go.
Be open to the “other”
Communities are unique - embrace what makes this one special from the last. Since moving to New York, I’ve often fallen into the trap of comparing everything about my life here to what my life was like in California. It wasn’t until I switched my focus from what this place is lacking to what makes my time here special that I began to find opportunities for growth and happiness. Remembering the difficulties I had with my last big move reminds me of what worked then, what I wish I had done differently, and what I need to appreciate most while I’m here. This way I can carry my past with me and use it to shape the present that I need to be my best self.
All work in the social impact sector requires you to communicate and connect with others. No one can do it alone. Notice patterns in the types of people that are drawn to you, regardless of language barriers or location. What does this say about you? Even if it is a short-term relationship or a brief encounter while working abroad, you will notice that the people you connect with will reflect values and aspects of your identity. Those who value humor will find people who want to share laughter. Those who value quiet will find others to sit in silence with.
Keep track of where you’ve been
Here is a map I created using a free online resource - MapMe - of places I've spent time in that influence my career and life choices.
Mapping out your journey will help you identify a pattern in your choices. Be sure to include the ups and the downs, from that unpaid internship you loved to that salaried leadership position you struggled with. Your journey, your story is uniquely you. Notice how it relates to what you know about the stories of your friends or family - Did one of them also have a time in their life when they felt uprooted? How did they cope and how did this influence the rest of their lives? Research the lives of mentors, heroes, or role models you have - What parts of their journeys do they attribute some of their qualities or success to? How did they maintain a sense of self? Asking yourself these types of questions will help you feel connected to those who have influenced your life, even if you are no longer close, and help you feel connected to those that inspire and motivate you. Learning how the stories of others relates to yours will give you ideas for steps you can take in your own journey when you start to feel lost and can show you what to appreciate about your story.
A great personal development tool for this is journaling. If you are traveling or moving often, there’s plenty of technology to allow you to take your journal with you and not run the risk of leaving a physical notebook behind at the airport. Keep it private with a dedicated Google Doc, share it with the world in a blog, or search for “online journaling tools” and take your pick of free sites with different privacy settings, prompts, formats, and more. If you prefer images over words, there are plenty of social media and online photo storage options to consider. There are sites that let you create (and give you the option to share) your own maps, or you can step offline and keep an old-fashioned memory box. I’ve found that an online journal and physical memory box work best for me. I also collect people by focusing on creating at least one friendship on every stop of my journey. Even if we don’t stay in communication, our connection and their influence stays with me.
Reclaim and hold on to something that brought you joy in your youth
Growing up doesn’t have to mean letting go! Our sense of identity is often tied to our actions. Bring a familiar, fun action with you that is independent of your reason for travel. Along with bringing you a moment of joy in what may be a stressful situation, this can remind you of something that makes you unique, bring some consistency to your life, and help you connect with your current surroundings. I’ve loved to dance since I was very young, but I never thought my career would solely focus on my identity as an artist. Instead, I look for ways to incorporate it into my work and travels. I used my dance skills while volunteering in Africa, took my first Aerial Arts class while in Hong Kong for a conference, danced with a crowd of strangers in the streets of Venice while vacationing alone, and have found performance opportunities in each city I’ve lived.
Not everyone’s sense of self is so closely tied with movement. Look back on times in your life when you’ve felt comfortable or most yourself. What do these moments have in common? Whatever it is, bring that back and make it a point to incorporate it into your life. You can’t take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
It’s all about roots
Roots anchor, nourish, and support you. Having roots and traveling don’t have to be at odds. If they are within your inner sanctuary and not tied down to one specific place, they can pick up and go with you! With reflection, practice, and patience, they will become strengthened by your memories of the past and the new experiences you have each day. Your personal globalization can help you feel more connected to the world and yourself.
By Jhia Jackson