Getting Around to Changing the World
“I had a dream. . . and I haven’t fulfilled it yet.”
“There was a reason I went into this profession. Then I got buried in the daily grind. Now I want to retrieve that initial motivation and infuse more meaning in my life.”
“I’m just looking for something more.”
Those of us who came-of-age in the 1960’s and speak like this today are the reason demographers, sociologists and psychologists expect a resurgent interest in “making a difference” and “changing the world” as we make the transition from one phase of work and/or home life to the next. As a result, experts say that what would have traditionally been “early retirement” for many will today look more like a new career – in the nonprofit sector. Already the *Wall Street Journal* is chronicling the shift – and warning that “doing good” is not necessarily so satisfying as “doing well.”
Ann McLaughlin disagrees with the *Journal*’s assessment. In fact, she developed her web-based business **NGOabroad.com** specifically to help individuals in transition find the best use of their skills, talents and interests anywhere in the world where they might have an impact on problems like hunger, disease, safe drinking water, the environment, and the trauma of disasters, war and genocide. And she did so in the process of figuring out for herself -- at mid-career -- how to better use her psychotherapy skills to address international ills – how to realize her goal of “changing the world” by helping others change it.
“As a therapist, I’d reached a point where I didn’t want to help people with their pasts anymore,” she says. “I wanted to help people with where they’re going.” There was something more, too. “I asked a colleague, â€˜What are we doing helping people here when 80 percent of the world are have-nots?’”
Determined to marry her professional expertise with this innate helping instinct and a life-long interest in international affairs, she considered joining the Peace Corps, but found her purposes more aligned with the American Friends Service Committee. AFSC would have jumped at the chance to place her anywhere in the world touched by trauma she might help heal. But when they asked her, “What would you do?”, that simple question launched McLaughlin’s exhaustive, 10-year study of “all that’s out there in the world.”
She lined up three professors in international affairs to mentor her and “ate” books. She traveled. She wrote books. She catalogued resources all over the world and compiled massive lists of the different skills needed to effect meaningful work. Only then did she decide to develop **NGOabroad.com** – to put her professional experience and hard-won knowledge to work to effectively match other peoples’ yearning to serve and particular skill sets with the vast, but very specific international humanitarian needs.
What started as a her own personal quest became a new way for her to help others.
“Some people think that making a life transition is like going out and buying a new pair of shoes. They want it to be simple and easy,” laughs Ann. “For me there was, obviously, a long gestation period; a long preparation period as I shifted focus. I tell the people I counsel about life changes that it’s just 5% inspiration; 95% is perspiration.”
**NGOabroad** addresses both with what Ann calls her “one-two punch.” First she reviews each client’s rÃ©sumÃ© and, by phone, conducts an assessment: What interests and excites you? What motivates or inspires you to get into humanitarian work? What skills do you bring to international service? What do you know about how your skills could help in other countries? What countries are you drawn to? What do you know about their history and culture? What is your own cultural background? What languages can you speak? Do you know the steps to take to get you from where you are now to where you want to be?
Then she consults her constantly updated data base of what’s going on in the world and which organizations are addressing, for example, waste water treatment, pollution on the Mexico-U.S. border, slave trafficking in South Asia, or hunger, and she shares all the possibilities, providing as many as 100 pages of information. All for $150.
“I’m a match-maker,” she says. And while she may have what she considers a perfect placement in mind, she says people always surprise her. “People have their own sense of mission,” and she knows it’s important to remember and to respect that. In fact, she doesn’t do placement; she “merely” provides the customized information, knowledge, and preparation to effect a successful, satisfying “Make-a-difference-in-the-world” experience.
There’s no dearth of possibilities. “We have tremendous need,” she says, describing a world “where most of the talent in the north doesn’t even know what’s going on in the southern half.”
Still, McLaughlin’s not discouraged – mostly because of her clients and their hunger to reclaim their oft-deferred dreams. She tells of one, a professional woman who had lived all over the world and worked at the highest levels of corporate and international trade. Even after a long and successful career, what she told Ann was this: “I have so much more to give.”
Don’t we all?
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