18: A Detour to Bolivia

18: A Detour to Bolivia

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

A Detour to Bolivia

When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.

~Barbara Bush

Once upon a time, I had an amazing job. I went to work every day enthusiastic and eager to enjoy my job. Then I’d do it again the next day just as excited as the day before.

This wonderful ride lasted about eight years. Then things changed. My dream job became a nightmare. Swinging-door leadership turned our once congenial and cooperative staff into disgruntled and disgusted employees. As for me, I was a walking pity party, inviting family and friends to listen to how miserable my job and life were. You can imagine how popular I was.

About that time, something I considered insignificant happened. I had recently returned from an amazing six-week exchange trip to Mexico and presented a program to the local Rotary club that had sponsored me.

My minister was in the audience that night. After the program, he came up to me and said, “Linda, I didn’t know you could speak Spanish. You know our church sends a medical and construction team to Bolivia every year. We’ve never had anyone who could speak even a few sentences of Spanish. I’d like you to think about going with us this year.”

I knew about the trip — and I also knew the trip was rough, rugged and not my kind of travel. But, to be courteous, I told him I’d think about it.

As he left, he said, “I’ll check back with you.”

He did. At 8:15 the next morning, he was sitting in my office. He told me the plans for that year: staffing a medical clinic and working on a church in Colqueamaya, a poor village high in the Andes Mountains. He said, “We will float a river on a raft, walk to and from the job sites and sleep on straw mats. Maybe there’ll be latrines and maybe not. It’ll be exciting, and I know you’ll enjoy it!”

I listened politely, but on the inside, I was rolling my eyes and thinking, “No way.” At that time, I was a sissy, prissy traveler. Camping and roughing it were for my husband and sons, avid campers and backpackers. I told my minister I would think about it.

In spite of my travel misgivings, I began to consider going. The idea my minister had planted began to flourish. I thought, “I’ll go on this trip so I can put some time and distance between me and my job. Maybe it will help me decide what to do.”

I decided to go on the trip for very selfish reasons. It would be a break from my job and unhappiness. I made a deal with myself: If things were better when I returned, I would know that I was the problem and I would have to leave the job.

My husband and sons thought, “They’ll life-flight her back on the first plane. She won’t make it. She can’t handle it.”

But I did make it. I surprised myself and amazed my family. I loved the experience!

On the trip, we experienced all the adventures my minister had promised and more. I worked with people who lived in extreme poverty. Most were herders or subsistence farmers. They lived in adobe brick houses with thatched roofs, slept on hard-packed dirt floors with a few blankets for warmth, and often ate only one simple meal a day. In spite of all this, they were happy, even joyful, and lived as if they had no cares in the world.

Their happiness puzzled and confused me. They had nothing and were happy. I had everything they didn’t have, and I was miserable.

I took a long, hard look at myself in the mirror. What I saw was not pretty. I asked myself, “What’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong with you?”

The truth was ugly. I was all about ego, status, money and show. My priorities were upside down. I had some serious thinking and changing to do.

When I returned to my job, another surprise awaited me. Instead of the situation being better, it was much worse. I hadn’t considered that possibility. My decision to leave the job was easy; the financial consequences were not. Fortunately, my husband was supportive, and we downsized before it became popular.

I didn’t have another full-time job for two years. My 4,000-mile detour to Bolivia had derailed me from the fast track and the road to fame and fortune. I had many moments to consider what I had learned on the detour.

I realized that money is only a thing. People — family, friends and relationships — are more important than things. I learned that for me, a simple life is best. I am now blessed with less. My current job pays much less and has few perks — and I’m happy. Interestingly, the people around me are happier too!

Another plus — I’ve learned to rough and tough it with the best — and I like it! I go back to Bolivia as frequently as I can for a refresher course on what’s really important in life and for the right reasons.

So, if you find yourself on a rough, rocky road in life, keep putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe you’ll come to a detour like I did that will lead you to simple, happy experiences and adventures in your life.

~Linda E. Allen

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