Not In Vain

A friend, Rick Orci, posted a question recently: “Anyone taken a year off to find themselves or some such equivalent? If so, what did you find/learn?” My answer was easy – YES! Unfortunately, I could not write my answer in 140 characters or less, so here I am blogging about those lessons. 😉 I hope this will either inspire you to take a similar journey or apply at least one of these lessons to your life.

It was Spring of 1999, I was sitting in a class listening to a presentation about the atrocities happening to women and children in Serbia. My heart was moved and asked myself, “What am I doing with my life? I’m here in this class, but then what?” I have so much compared to others – good health, great friends & family, etc. After this class, I spoke with the presenter, and I asked him how I could help. He said, “Go!” I responded, “What?! Go?!” This interaction brings me to my first lesson.

Lesson #1: Pursue your dreams

Do not overthink things. Ask questions, seek wise advice and then make it happen. Passion is the greatest adrenaline we have. Within a month, I was on a plane to Macedonia helping refugees displaced by the Kosovo War.
Lesson#2: Don’t put too much value on your things

After I returned home, I knew I would be back there soon. I sold all that I had except for a suitcase that fit all my belongings. It is amazing how emotionally attachment I was to my things, but also how liberating it was when I gave them up. I traveled back to Maecdonia and Kosovo three more times that year.

Lesson#3: Kindness and hard work will take you further than intelligence
By traveling overseas, I put my formal education on hold, but I learned more in that year than I could have ever learned in a book or a classroom. Albert Einstein said it well, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Eventually, I received my BS in Global Business 5 years later.
Lesson#4: A hug can heal all wounds and break down all barriers

I was nervous about working with refugees – one reason being that I did not speak the language. I learned that a lot of the women and children there just wanted to be heard. They wanted my compassion. They did NOT need the “Everything is going to be okay” speech from me. A hug spoke more than words could ever could.
Lesson#5: When you empower people, they subsequently empower you.

In the end, these women and children helped me learned more about myself than they will ever know. I also met my husband during this journey. He shared the same passion and ideals, and we hope to be serving again in the same capacity soon.

*Remember – Your actions now create memories that you will reminisce about for the rest of your life.*

Before I go, I will leave you with the poem titled “I Shall Not Live In Vain” from American poet Emily Dickinson:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain.
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.”


  1. I was a peacekeeper in Kosovo in 2002. Things were quieter and rebuilding then, but I learned a lot of the same lesson. It was one of the best experiences of my life. It is true that if you can make someone’s life just a little better, you have not lived in vain.

  2. Wow, what an adventure. And so brave. Not for visiting a dangerous environment (yes, that is also brave) but for following your heart without knowing where you would end up. I’m in awe. Thanks for sharing this.

    Carrie Anne

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