'Always Take the Jump': Finding Purpose Abroad

On August 23, 2016, the Asia Society Northern California Young Professionals Group (ASNC YPG) and World Affairs Council International Forum hosted “Traveling With a Purpose: Changing Careers, Changing Lives," at the World Affairs Council Auditorium. In the panel discussion, speakers Dave Meader, Founder of The Lean Volunteer, Yingzhao “Ying” Liu, Design Director - International at LinkedIn, and Britt Alm, Founder & Chief String Slinger of Love Fest Fibers, discussed their experiences leaving lucrative positions to travel abroad, find meaningful ways to serve, and return to redefine their careers. Following the panel discussion, the speakers as well as Nikolaus “Nik” Crain, Career Development Specialist at PeaceCorps, and Silke Knebel, Strategic Development Advisor at Nonprofit Leadership Services, held workshops where they answered audience questions, shared the lessons they learned, and offered advice.

During the discussion, which was moderated by Brian Reyes, ASNC YPG Chair & Founder/Principal of BAR Sustainability, the panelists each discussed their "aha!" moment when they decided to leave their current careers, risk it all, and find purpose abroad. They then reflected on how these experiences redefined their careers with passion and meaning. For Meader, who spent a year traveling to 28 countries and working on various projects, a large inspiration to take a career break came from the Paolo Coehlo books, specifically the quote, “One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” For Liu, the opportunity cost of not traveling and following her dreams pushed her to take the jump. She believes her experience abroad gave her more confidence and made her a better designer and professional. She reflected and said, “I certainly don’t regret any kind of decision I’ve made in life. You regret what you do not do, rather than what you did.” For Alm, her experiences abroad helped her create a career that married her love for a region and passion for textiles. She emphasized the internal journey that went along with the external journey.

The panelists also gave advice on addressing fears, specifically fears of a resume or skills gap from going abroad, and on taking the jump to go. All three panelists agreed that you need to discern what your fears are and what’s holding you back, deal with those fears, and take the leap. Liu advised to “always take the jump. Do small jumps in your regular life, experiment with going out of your comfort zone, and then bigger jumps will come easier.” She added, “That first leap is the hardest thing, but everything else that comes after that is much easier.” By taking the risk and finding meaning abroad, you can gain an international perspective and will stand out when you come back home, as all three panelists expressed. They also agreed that there is never a “right” time, so address your fears, figure out what’s holding you back, take the leap, and do it now.

Video of the moderated panel discussion below courtesty of the World Affairs Council (59 minutes).