People always ask what you want to be when you grow up. I never really knew. I’d always liked to read and write, so I picked English as a major in college. But I didn’t think that being a writer was a stable or realistic career. I had always been fascinated that dreams of mine often would come true, and I loved exploring other, higher realms of consciousness. But be a dream analyst or a Tarot card reader?
Then came my junior year abroad in Senegal. This French-speaking, mostly Muslim country in West Africa transformed my worldview, my career path and who I was at the core. Stepping off the plane in Dakar, I remember being flooded with the smell of fruity, smoky incense in the air. Kids were selling mangoes, peanuts and bags of bissap (hibiscus flower juice) amid rainbow-colored “car rapide” buses careening about at neck-breaking speeds. I made friends and got invited to their homes for meals — often feasts of cheebujen (rice with fish) in a shared platter. Most of my friends had very little money. But they would insist that we Americans always eat first.
This generosity poured out everywhere. And no one ever asked me for anything in return and still haven’t. Before leaving Senegal, I vowed to give back to society as a gesture of my gratitude. I settled on a career in the nonprofit sector to help other people in need, specifically immigrants or refugees.
At last, I landed in what seemed like my dream job running the Parkside Neighborhood Center in Portland. I would tell myself that this was where I belonged — flexible hours, autonomy, work that mattered. But the anxiety and stress would never really go away, even though I did yoga and meditation regularly. Come Monday morning, I would fall back into that safe and familiar pit of discontent and frustration — feeling undervalued, overworked, underpaid. After I had my first child, I started to look for other jobs. But I didn’t just want more of the same somewhere else in a faulty system.
Finally, after having my second child, I hired a professional life coach and started waking up, realizing what I had been doing to myself, noticing something was wrong in the modern American workplace. I tried quieting my mind in small moments. I listened to the gentle whisper within that nudged me to speak up, to be brave and to trust. I started writing a blog, sharing musings like: How ironic it is that people in nonprofits suffer in their jobs?
My Senegalese friends seemed to enjoy giving and sharing. And they weren’t drained by doing it. Is it because they had a choice and weren’t getting paid? Is it simply a custom ingrained into their culture? We as Americans were born into a capitalistic society. The Senegalese are a communal society — they take care of each other. Can these concepts coexist in one culture like ours?
What about the noble women and men giving so much of their energy, of their souls, in nonprofits? If we could simply thank them more, would their once-brimming cups of good will finally be replenished?
Maybe there is hope for us capitalists. We are tired of going about our jobs in the same old and broken way. We want to feel better, and we are desperate for a solution to help us.
As for me, I decided to leave the nonprofit field for a new mission. I finally gave the spiritual seed that had been planted as a child space to grow — by finding a new career as an intuitive consultant — finally allowing my inner whisper space to get louder and spreading a message: that it doesn’t have to be this way anymore, that we don’t have to put up with unhappy work environments that aren’t fulfilling us. By tapping into the quiet voice of our intuitive self, facing our fears and taking creative, bold risks, we can reach a place and a career that is aligned with who we truly are and want to be.
Rachel Horton White is a spiritual practitioner, teacher of metaphysics and professional life coach. She is the founder of Soulful Work Intuitive Consulting in Portland.