Why I left a job I loved to join the Peace Corps

By Tory Paez
April 5, 2017

I distinctly remember holding the red flyer in my hand in the middle of Miami University's campus in the fall of 2011. 

It was about an information session for the Peace Corps. I was completing my degree in business management and women's studies in the spring. I was going to get a job in HR or consulting. I was even considering Teach for America. 

With the help of the Canadian Embassy and Agenda Verde, we helped our local women's organization, ADATA, build a hydroponic garden as a sustainable food source.
We helped our local women's organization, ADATA, build a hydroponic garden as a sustainable food source. Over the course of fourth months, we completely cleared the land and constructed the structure, as well as filled beds and planted the vegetables.

But the Peace Corps? No. I folded the paper in half and slid it into my back pocket. Peace Corps was two years too long. I had a career to build. If I wanted to “be somebody,” I needed to get started yesterday. I knew I wanted to change the world through business and I needed experience in the “business world” first. Peace Corps simply didn't fit in that equation. 

Fast forward three and a half years: I am working at a technology and business management consulting company, where I’m challenged every day, doing interesting work and even receiving exposure to leadership by leading diversity and inclusion practices within the firm. I love the teams I work with, both my coworkers and my clients. I am flying all over the country, putting in over 55 hours a week. It’s grueling, but overall I am satisfied. 

And yet, something seemed to be missing. 

I can't tell you the exact moment when I decided to apply to the Peace Corps. Instead it was a culmination of small experiences and conversations here and there over time. However, it was a decision that came at the right point in my career. 

I left a job I loved to join the Peace Corps because: 

With a World Connect grant, we completed a trail network project, which includes four different trails around our community.
With a World Connect grant, we completed a trail network project, which includes four different trails around our community.

I wanted to apply my professional experience in a different way. As a community economic development Volunteer, I have been able to apply my knowledge to begin to alleviate community obstacles. With my project management skills, I have been able to partner with leaders on many different initiatives. With my grant writing experience, we applied and won financial support from World Connect to build a hiking trail network for visitors to explore a unique and untouched dry tropical rainforest. I utilize similar design methods I used for past clients here in-site; however, the initial involvement and core interest in the work is driven purely by internal motivation and a vision for a better community. 

I had a deep desire to fulfill personal goals. I realized the things I wanted to accomplish in my life outside of work were just as important to me as the goals I had for myself in the workplace. I wanted to become fluent in Spanish and be able to communicate with my relatives in Colombia. I wanted to live abroad and completely immerse myself in another culture. I wanted to be uncomfortable and challenge my limits. I wanted to see places I couldn't pronounce. And I wanted to learn from other like-minded Volunteers. 

I needed to prove to myself I could do it. I was scared of the Peace Corps. I was fearful of what my experience might be. The “what-ifs” had built up for over three years, ever since I tucked that flyer into my pocket. I had a pile of reasons why not to join, including a solid paycheck, a 401(k) and paid time off. However, I was more afraid of becoming a person I didn't recognize anymore. I did not want to become an individual who accepted the status quo, who stopped questioning inequities and who gave in to pessimism. I did not want to be a person who no longer believed they could directly change the world – or at least parts of it.

Two of our young neighbors play in their family's boat as the sun sets over the Guanacaste mountains.
Two of our young neighbors play in their family's boat as the sun sets over the Guanacaste mountains.

I craved exploration. I was so focused on the path directly in front of me – the one I was following upon graduation – that I was unable to see other paths unfolding. Years were whipping by and I felt like there was still so much I still wanted to do, and it was simply impossible to do so in my role at the firm. I yearned for the time to reflect on myself – on the person I was, the person I am and the person I am destined to be. I wanted to learn about the lives of others. 

I wanted to dedicate my work to others. Completely. I needed an opportunity in my life to live more selflessly. I needed to not just walk a mile in someone else's shoes; I needed to walk for two years in those shoes. I wanted to feel the rub on my heel, the sweat dribble down my ankle and the opening of blisters. I wanted to feel comfortable in those same shoes after a while, once those cuts healed and the padding wore in. I wanted to skip, dance, run and thrive in those shoes. I needed the time Peace Corps provides its Volunteers to truly understand community needs and build capacity. 

Peace Corps Volunteers have the greatest purpose: world peace and friendship. I am completing my job by playing soccer at the cancha, by catching up over cafecito or by building a community garden. I get to focus on the needs of my fellow community members and guide the structure of my own work. I am a resource to help the community overcome challenges and think about solutions differently. And I get to pick up where I left off the day before and seguir adelante

I left a job I loved to join the Peace Corps. And I don't regret it one bit.

Tory Paez

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