overcoming feeling stuck
Leith: [00:00:00] Yeah, I'd love to start my conversations off by asking what sort of community you grew up in? And how did that feel?
Sara: [00:00:08] I grew up in Vermont. Burlington, which is like the big city of Vermont. I thought it was a big city at that time. It was in relation to everything else in Vermont. I'm just really middle class. I guess you could say suburban neighborhood, but there's no city to be a suburban so residential area. Parents are really involved in school and sports and all that kind of stuff and we moved there when I was 18 months or something. And so I did all of my childhood there through high school. So I had some close friends from like, elementary school all the way onwards. Kind of like small town, but not super small town in a really nice size and Burlington is you know, liberal, outdoorsy, all kinds of good stuff that I have a lot more perspective on now that I've left. By high school, I kind of knew that also a bit. I mean, that's the short version of growing up time. It was nice. I have two younger brothers and my parents are still in Burlington.
Leith: [00:00:59] Oh, nice.
Sara: [00:01:25] We still go back there sometimes.
Leith: [00:01:28] Well, now that you're talking about going back to I guess, to the New England area, there'll be able to see you.
Sara: [00:01:35] Yeah. Should be great. I think moving to Maine is like kind of going back home. As close much closer than we have been since I finished high school really. We did live in New York City for five years. But that's like its own universe. And it's pretty hard to get in and out of it sitting in traffic. And so yeah, I didn't really feel like I was home in New York. So, it's kind of a deliberate move back to that kind of lifestyle a little bit. I don't know if we'll stay there long term. But we're excited to do it for like a period of time, a defined period of time and then see what happens.
Leith: [00:02:20] Oh, yeah. So even just jumping ahead since COVID, has, you know, descended on us. It's been a year now, I'm realizing. What changes have occurred in your life?
Sara: [00:02:41] So many think that's the case with so many people. But ours is a bit unique because we were living outside of our home country, with jobs that were the reason for us living outside of USA, right. I mean, the biggest one is that I lost my job last June, towards the beginning of everything, which just shook up our entire life plan or medium-term life plan. And that actually turned out okay now, in the end, so I can say that. There was a good six months where it was super tough because things were already tough and that just like the last like you've got to be kidding me.
Leith: [00:03:39] Tell me a little bit about that job.
Sara: [00:03:41] Great.
Leith: [00:03:43] Yeah, you're in Kenya obviously.
Sara: [00:03:46] I'm in Kenya now. So in 2017, I moved from New York, actually, to Uganda first. So I could take a job with a nonprofit there. Mostly so I could stay working in my field without so much trouble.
Leith: [00:04:01] In your field being?
Sara: [00:04:05] Agricultural development, working with small farmers, smallholder farmers, Africa, I was working in Africa and Asia and Latin America, but all out of New York City for a different nonprofit. And that was great. I mean, I did that for five years, I got to see the world learned a lot like leading the agriculture strategy for this NGO. Then we had our first child. I went back for a bit, but it was 40% travel, so it was not going to be sustainable for me.
Leith: [00:04:39] Yeah.
Sara: [00:04:41] And I was just tired of sitting on an airplane really. So yeah, and that had been like a goal all along, but it was hard to figure out how to do that and get it something my husband Greg could do for many of the places that I might work. How do we make that work and then we have a baby in the mix. And so it's like, where can we move to. I ended up getting a role with an organization that I had wanted to work for forever, is actually a big part of the whole thing. I had known about them for maybe six or seven years and interviewed years before, but the timing wasn't right to move to Kenya at that time. One place we were working then and so kind of put it on hold. And then interviewed, again, managed to get a job for both of us, which was kind of the exciting part and a town that seemed family-friendly enough. All this a lot of things had to come together, but they did so on paper was like my dream come true.
Leith: [00:05:52] Wow.
Sara: [00:05:54] And is it already like a competitive place to get a job with and all of that, right. So that was exciting. It was a big was lot to get together but we moved. Our son was like 18 months at
the time, first to Uganda, and ended up being there but a year and a half and then moved to Kenya in February of 2019.
Leith: [00:06:26] Oh, right. Okay. So right before the Pandemic.
Sara: [00:06:28] Same organization.
Leith: [00:06:29] So 2019. Okay.
Sara: [00:06:30] A year before.Yeah. That was basically because everything fell apart in Uganda.
Leith: [00:06:30] Okay, for you or the organization?
Sara: [00:06:43] Oh, it's both. What I thought was going to be this dream job was not to be really tough. So it was like a newer office of the organization, which I thought was going to be exciting. Sure, startup land, I can handle that. But it was very stressful because they were trying to make things work. And they also had people in leadership positions that weren't doing what they should be doing, including the person I was reporting to. So I got put in this first time I've been in a position where I felt like I didn't agree with a manager or manager didn't agree with me. And I was trying to figure out how to navigate all that while also being new to the country new to the organization, getting a family settled in.
Leith: [00:07:38] Oh, man were you an ex-pat? Or were they all locals like Ugandan over there?
Sara: [00:07:45] No, but I know a lot of the management teams were ex-pats. But there was also a lot of Ugandan staff. So it wasn't so much that kind of cultural challenge, although there was that to an extent. That was a really big learning experience for me, which I now value, at the time didn't.
Leith: [00:08:14] Can you elaborate on that?
Sara: [00:08:16] Yeah, I mentioned it before. The biggest thing that came out of it was I realized how much I depended on manager approval to feel like I was doing a good job. And I didn't have any idea that I've been doing that for years and years, because I always had manager approval. Like, I've always succeeded in school and all the positions I had, you know, Sarah, you're doing a great job. Keep it up. Can we give you this new challenge kind of atmosphere? And I expected the same thing. And then what happened is that I walked into a situation where I slowly realized that a lot of things weren't being handled the way I thought they should be. And there was even some mismanagement, corruption, just sloppiness, things I was very uncomfortable with and I think would be uncomfortable within any kind of situation. But this is an organization that's meant to be serving people who have very little and like, there's a lot of potentials to really help them right. And so you mix those two things together, and so I ended up really overworking myself to try to solve the problems. I wanted to fix things that I saw weren't right. And instead of getting like a lot of pat on the back, and thank you and oh, great tell us more about what you're doing. I wasn't getting that. So that was problem number one. So then I just kept working harder to try to get it really, which meant, you know, not sleeping enough. unhealthiness not having time for family, all the things you can guess and then also tried to bring it up more specifically with my manager, like country director, and was very surprised that I wasn't listened to as I expected. And that started making me doubt like, everything I was seeing the way I was interpreting things. It's like, I really think my interpretation of this is correct, but they're not agreeing with me. And who am I to say, I just got here, they've been here for longer. I've been in this field along but they've been here in this office for longer, so maybe I am wrong. I'm like enough, the more times I kind of heard from them that I was wrong, it starts kind of like sinking in and I started losing confidence and it's tough. So what happened, in the end, is that I actually asked to transfer as things were just getting even tougher, and I realized that it wasn't going to get anywhere. And after that, all shook out, both my manager and her manager, were asked to leave. For all the reasons, I said, and the things that I was kind of trying to blow the whistle about all came out exactly as I said, they were going to. Like all the math I had done to predict this is how we're going to end the year financially came out to be correct, even though they said that's impossible, that won't happen. So like I was vindicated on paper in the end. It also wasn't as helpful as I needed it to be until much later because those people left. And then I still never had anyone who I had worked with who said, oh, yes, like, thank you, Sarah, you're right all along, or thank you for all the work you did. It was a funny situation where the people who are disagreeing with me left and then other people left so a very quickly moving staff situation with being in a startup role.
And yeah, I was lucky enough to get a role in Kenya, and the people in that office kind of knew my work heard what I was saying, and knew the situation enough to say okay, yes, like, you can definitely contribute to this more established work that we're doing here in Kenya. Despite the fact that you have no direct references from Uganda, because everything seems so challenging there, we'd love to hire you and see what you can do for us here in Kenya. So I kind of made that move is like a little bit of a leap of faith because I had wanted to work for this organization for so long. I was hesitant to give up on it after such a rocky experience. I didn't want that to be the story.
Leith: [00:13:04] Right.
Sara: [00:13:05] I got my dream job it turned out not to be. Everything was really hard and I left frustrated. You know, that was the story of the end in Uganda. Right. And I was like, I don't like that. I mean, I started applying for other organizations as well. But I had the option to keep working for them just in a different country, the different team all they're changing. I was like, okay, let's try that. Let's do it. I definitely carried some baggage over though. So it was like, was a good move. But it wasn't a clean slate kind of move. That has been so challenging.
Leith: [00:13:47] So you've stayed within the organization and just sort of moved to Kenya and started up there in February of 2019. And how did it go there? As you said, you made a leap of faith. So was that worth it?
Sara: [00:14:02] Yeah. It was a better and a much more normal kind of team. I think I was asked to lead growth into a new part of the country, which did mean I was actually the only ex-pat in the area I was working. I was leading an office. So like teammates that I had that I worked with more we're in a different part, we weren't together in person. So different challenges, but less like emotional support. I think because you got to had it worked. I was really banking on Kenya working. I was like, oh, now this is going to be what I had planned. I will say that the planner in me has also had to like completely re-evaluate, or like, just disintegrate. A couple of years, last few years, I mean, I had this idea that we're going to move to Uganda, we'd stay there for five years, and I'd like slowly grow. And my job would get to know the community, we'd have this wonderful family experience. And then we'd go home. That was the idea. I was like, Uganda didn't happen like that so can retry in Kenya, maybe it only is three or four years since we've been here for a bit now, but it's okay. And then, when we moved to Kenya, I was pregnant with our second son. He was two in September 2019. So things were pretty good. But it was definitely a really interrupted experience. We went there for a few months, I came back to the States for my maternity leave. I just started getting going on the job. We just started to meet new people in our new town, that kind of thing. So we were in the states for four months. And then in January of last year, we flew back to Kenya. But the goal of not leaving, not moving, not
making any job changes not doing anything in 2020. Like everything has been too fluid. We need to stay put as a family of now four. Second time in three months at that point so as you can imagine, that didn't happen.
Leith: [00:16:28] Well, we all know how that year went, I mean the last year has been.
Sara: [00:16:33] So that's the lead up to this to 2020 for us. So yeah, there in January we're just starting getting settled back in. It was like getting into a new job again. I was mostly liking it. Honestly, it still was not my dream job but it was okay. Like, life was okay, getting more interesting. We're starting to learn the place. And then March, within five days, we had to make a decision to leave. I went from like, oh no, maybe you might want to consider leaving Kenya and going back to your home country because things might get challenging. Like, we strongly suggest we get on a flight now within less than a week, and so we had to make that call. I resisted it very strongly.
Leith: [00:17:19] Because you were just so determined.
Sara: [00:17:41] I was so determined. I was like no, this really can't happen.
Leith: [00:17:44] Because the job has to pan out.
Sara: [00:17:46] It has to pan out so this is what we're supposed to do. I mean, it was lots of little things to us like we just got the house finished being set up. We just finished sleep training our baby you know all this I was like we can't do jet lag right now. That's gonna you know, little did I know the much bigger things that we're gonna happen. But yeah, I was so determined that this was our plan for 2020 and then every 24 hours like a new thing would come. We started stocking up our pantry with like, staple food we stocked our medicine cabinet. We are like preparing for lockdown and civil unrest. And then Greg and I kind of looked at each other like you know what, we have a four-year-old and a four-month-old. Wait, what are we doing? We should probably take everyone's advice and as we weren't even in a capital city we're in a smaller town so no one knew what was gonna happen. But we didn't have any home in the states like so we had to just get on a plane with our suitcases and go stay with family again. Just what we had done during maternity leave yeah before so it's like we knew once we did that we might not get back soon because they were closing the airports down. We were on the last flight out of Kenya before they shut down and they shut down until August after that. So right that's the end of that plan.
Leith: [00:19:22] Do you just leave the job or you just carry on the job from the US or how did that work?
Sara: [00:19:29] No, I carried on. I mean, both of our organizations went remote. Greg was working for different nonprofits at that point. Everyone went remote even our field staff which is kind of a remarkable story but yeah so that I was doing the job you know, from a like makeshift office in my in-law's house in North Carolina. You know, that felt weird, I think for a large majority of people that shift to remote around March or April last year. I think doing that, but also trying to manage a program that's in a completely different world basically, feels hard. You are talking to people about the farmer training in Kenya, and you're sitting in suburban North Carolina looking at like a golf course. It's challenging on your mind.
Leith: [00:20:29] Yeah. So you talk a lot about, like this perfect job that you had in your head? And what exactly was that? Or what do you realize now that you were looking for that maybe? Like, was it's more in your head or wasn't available or you just didn't find?
Sara: [00:20:57] Yeah, I mean, I think that any organization from the outside, you're going to have a certain view of it, especially if it's something that you like, value, or think you like the ethos of. And then when you get inside, there's always more complicated than it seems right? From their website from maybe the marketing from whatever the pitch is. So there was just some of that, honestly. It's like, oh, this organization does this and this is exactly what I care about. So, therefore, I'm going to love working for this organization. I think my view was kind of as simplistic as that. Some of it was that they do that. But I don't know, there's a lot of things going on behind the scenes that I didn't love, like how they're getting carried out. And I think just the work culture was not what I expected at all. That was not something I've put any thought into. I think I'd maybe I just been lucky in my few jobs before that to get a good team culture and like work culture. So now I know how important that is. And yeah, it was very competitive and say, like, negative, but a lot of emphasis on feedback. And by feedback, they usually meant like, sharing what you should be doing better.
Leith: [00:21:07] Like negative.
Sara: [00:22:44] Yeah, constructive feedback, so they can learn and grow. But if you hear a lot of constructive feedback without any positive feedback, it's not fun for anyone. And so you have a lot of, you know, it wasn't just me, I realized slowly that most people I was working also were unhappy, or were trying very hard to succeed in this world. And in that work, a cultural world that was created, and not also getting the affirmation that we're working towards, which means everyone's just working and not feeling good about themselves. And that kind of team culture is just really unpleasant. It was, you know, it's a growing startup kind of organization, everyone has, like more than they can do all the time. There's always more to do, you can never get near, like half a dozen things done that you feel like you should be doing. And I think some people thrive in that environment. I've found it hard, like not fulfilling at all. Like, I want to feel I accomplished something at the end of a week and not like, I'm just always behind that we're never doing things the way they should be done because we're always rushing. So yeah, culture, I think was a big part of it. And that's something that when everything changed in 2020, and I was like, well, now I know I have to think about what I want to do next much earlier than I thought I was going to. But you know, once I finished crying and yelling and everything else, had some very helpful people talk things through with me. I was able to say well, okay, this is actually an opportunity. I did have severance pay. So it was really an opportunity. It's like I don't have to work for six months. Like, I figured out what I want to do next. I mean, it's also being a mother and doing homeschool and didn't have a permanent home for us. So I would say it was quite that simple. Sit on the couch and daydream ideas, you know, for 12 hours kind of retreat, but I had more time than it would normally have when I'm transitioning from a job. And a lot more need to really think about what I wanted to think about what was important to me, because of everything that had happened.
Leith: [00:25:40] Well, and you spoke about your habit of pleasing and sort of getting validation from managers, and how did that play into sort of this, all this change and how your perspective on what you want to do next has evolved.
Sara: [00:25:58] So that's been a little bit of a personal journey, for sure. I think that in my work in Kenya, I had a manager that I think I was happy with what I was doing, but also wasn't like, super affirmative, either. And it took me a little while to realize that was actually just because she didn't understand the work well enough to give that kind of feedback to me, because I actually knew more about it than she did. It was a very slow realization that I didn't know what I was doing. I did have value and I didn't need someone else to tell me that. I mean, honestly, my husband was good about pointing that out of the beginning of the times that he was pointing that out, I kind of just said, well, that's nice. But I see that you cannot care what your colleagues are manager, you don't take it personally but I do take it personally. And so I can't not take it personally. I mean, that was where I started with. And then that kind of slowly sunk in. I worked with the therapists starting last April, which was actually a perk of the job that I didn't know existed until then, they all went remote, and they started offering it to everybody who kind of had to leave their locations and everything. But I used her for way more topics than just that one. So she was amazing about talking that through with me. And then I think also something about COVID kind of just making nothing as expected anymore. Nothing was as we had planned it, none of my expectations were as they were going to be that year really caused me to think about how it's all a lot of it is just comes down to you and your decisions and what you what you do. What do you want to do on a weekly basis on a daily basis with your next year? And we were making so many decisions ourselves at that point. Everyone was like, how do I handle this new challenge and this new challenge? You know, it's a lot of it is mindset, I can decide to be upset about this. And just like hide in this guest bedroom I'm staying in or I can decide to think about it differently. And that was a really slow shift, honestly.
Leith: [00:28:46] Yeah. Did you find you had to sort of mourn the old Sara and sort of like, honestly start a new self-image?
Sara: [00:28:54] Yeah, mourn. It's actually a really nice word for it. I mean, I was mourning, like the loss of the job and the loss of the idea of what our life was gonna be like, during this time period.
And then, yeah, I mean, I think a lot of our identities wrapped up in our jobs, and how we introduce ourselves to people. And what we tell ourselves about what we do and why we do it. And like, my part of it has been, you know, I work for a nonprofit over here in East Africa doing this because I like it, you know? Yeah. And also part of it probably was like that. I'm good at it. Because people tell me I am something like that. Right. You don't say that part out loud. But I was definitely there. And yeah, I had to like, kind of start over. Like I am now a 38-year-old, professional woman and mother who cares about your food, security and nutrition, and climate change and because I'm passionate about that I can choose what I want to do with it, and let's go from there.
Leith: [00:30:14] Okay, so when somebody asks you what you do now, how do you introduce yourself? Or has that changed at all?
Sara: [00:30:29] Yeah, I mean, I've had to say a lot in the last six to eight months, I'm in between jobs. I lost my job due to COVID. We're working on what's next? That kind of stuff, which people obviously understand. But like the who am I kind of introduction? I think I say that I work in agriculture and climate change and that I'm going to be starting a Ph.D. in that soon. And luckily, I kind of got to them what I want to do next, what's gonna make me, what kind of life combination of things like a chance of ticking a lot more boxes, and a realization after not so long, last year, and then started, like planning that step. So I've been able to share that like, as it slowly developed, and that feels good. I'm trying to figure out what's next. But I think I want to do this, you know, rather than saying, which people certainly do say, sometimes, like, I don't know what I'm doing. I'm figuring it out, you know, some people can say that with confidence, I think. But it's hard. It's been, an evolution for sure and I think even as I've started working with this woman who's going to be my advisor for my Ph.D. work, therefore, basically, like a manager or boss, what I was very careful about making a choice. Like just kind of, without even be able to put words behind it, maybe like looking for certain attributes and who I wanted to work with next. Because I knew that culture and like, communication style were really important to me as much so is like that content. And then, also, even as we started working together, like I, I can catch myself now when I'm looking too much for a great job with this kind of feedback.
Leith: [00:32:50] Yeah. But that awareness doesn't go away.
Sara: [00:32:53] I am aware of it, though.
Leith: [00:32:55] Yeah. Right. Which I think is so valuable, so powerful, because at least you can catch like you're saying, catch yourself and be aware of what you're seeking? And do you really want to go down that road and make those choices?
Sara: [00:33:13] Yeah. And also that, you know, I've chosen to do this Ph.D. work, because it's the topic is really interesting to me. And I want the research to like, go along lines that I care about. So it's even more important not to get too much wrapped up in. Oh, my advisor thinks this particular paragraph is interesting. So I should try to do more of that. So she'll be happier with my work. Especially when you're doing research. It's not what that doesn't help you. Like you have to at least stick to the things that you think are interesting, or else you'll end up with a topic on a whole different track, that isn't actually what you want it to do, to begin with.
Leith: [00:33:54] Oh, well, that's interesting. Because you're forced to follow your own curiosity versus somebody else's, or I think that's hard. That's a lesson I've had to learn along the way.
Sara: [00:34:05] It is hard because you can't let someone else say, oh, yes, I like this particular framework you're taking with it, like, go do more of that. Which when you're young, especially I think of the beginning of a career or like, or adult life, time period at work. That's kind of what you do more so unless you happen to be in a really like, independent creative field or something. But you're following or you're looking for advice, affirmation, or guidance. So you get to a certain point, it's like, alright, my ideas are good. I should trust that.
Leith: [00:34:51] And how did you start to trust your own ideas and get to that place? I feel like that's like, I don't know, for me, it's been a long journey to do.
Sara: [00:35:01] Am I fully there? I'm not sure.
Leith: [00:35:04] But the journey continues.
Sara: [00:35:06] Yeah, how did I get better at it? Maybe part of it was also, like, stepping away completely from the work I've been doing, like physically being so removed from it. So then when I talk talked about it, what I was doing to anyone that I might actually interact with within North Carolina, I realized I am an expert in this because you're so compared to anyone else I was going to talk to in that world. So that I think maybe that was one interesting aspect of it kind of puts it in a different perspective. Otherwise, you're so wrapped up in this microcosm of what you're doing, where everyone knows something about it, and everyone thinks it's the most important thing happening. And then you get pulled out of it. And it's like, oh, there's this whole world out here and 99% of people, had no idea about my work plan for the week. So no, I think some of the questions that this therapist is working with probably asked definitely helped just make you check your assumptions, or like your mindset about things. So if I say something that has a non-self-promotional tone to it, having someone there to say, well, you know, why are you saying it like that? Like, why would you doubt your knowledge about this, or why? And just kind of asking, why if you go down that kind of mindset. And then you'd kind of think, oh, I don't know, I'm saying it like that. Yes. Because it's gotten ingrained in my head, especially with some of the people I was working with and Uganda edit. You have to kind of, I mean, actually, the way she talks about it is like retraining your mental wheels, to think differently. Because you're like, networks in your brain actually get used to telling yourself a certain thing. But it's not the truth. It's just the thing that your brain is saying.
Leith: [00:37:19] Yeah, it's amazing. The stories they tell each other, I should say.
Sara: [00:37:24] Yeah and having someone point, some of those points out such that some of those are stories that I'm telling myself, and then you think about it and say, oh, yeah, there is a different way to tell that story. And if I retell it enough times, in this different way, I started to believe that version.
Leith: [00:37:46] Right. Can you speak to an example?
Sara: [00:37:49] Oh, yeah. Like the way, I was telling myself for a long time about what happened in Uganda, like, Oh, I worked really hard, and nobody recognized it. And then I finished that work without anyone realizing that I did a good job, you know, kind of narrative. Like, I can tell that story differently and say, I did this work in Uganda that was not what I expected. But I learned from it. You know, how to catch when things aren't going well. And also next time, I know, new ways of sharing that with people who make decisions. So that it doesn't come off as complaining that comes off as like, informative. I learned new communication techniques, and I learned something about myself from this experience that I had which is also true. Not like, oh, I worked hard and nobody cared for like, I learned something new and I can do things differently next time.
Leith: [00:39:12] Did you find it hard to change that narrative? Like, did it take a while to find a new one?
Sara: [00:39:16] So hard. I know. Do you want to say into the sec like, oh, she was able to say a different sentence and like, everything was great. I definitely don't remember the number. But there's something that I've also that heard in therapy, and I've tried to look it up to about like, the number of times, you have to do something different to create a new habit. I don't know if you've ever read anything about that. That's like 40 or something, it's a lot.
Leith: [00:39:51] Yeah.
Sara: [00:39:54] Forty times is an example, do something differently. I mean, something more, like easier example is like you always every time you get up in the morning, you always like hit the snooze alarm or something, is that your habit. And then you want to make a new habit of like getting right out of bed and stretching, first, any kind of new morning ritual, whatever it is, like, you have to do it enough time. So then it just becomes natural. But you can't do it twice, and then expect your body and your brain to just do it easily. You have to do it many times. There's research on it and I'm not probably explaining exactly right.
But the point is, which made me feel better is that it takes a long time. And I also got frustrated with myself a lot in the last few years when I was like, okay, that is behind me. I'm moving on. Why do I not feel better yet? Like, logically I'd moved on. But then there were still things that were creeping up, there are still things and like, you know, my behavior towards family members and friends from like, just the ramifications of being stressed and not confident for even a year and a half. But it was a profound challenge that I went through. And then it took much longer to come out of it than I thought it would be right? Like physically, I'm like, this is fine. I've moved on to something else. I knew like, I'd thought I put it behind me. But it's it takes a while to get into a new mindset and move from being like a pleaser or looking for affirmation from others for like how you get your confidence. Like, I think I probably had that approach for over 30 years so think that takes longer to shift, right?
Leith: [00:41:54] Yeah, for sure.
Sara: [00:41:58] Both of those things at the same time.
Leith: [00:42:04] But having that awareness must feel so much. Like, I found just the awareness is the first step. Feeling empowered that I can make those choices. Then it takes a while to shift that mentality, but least you know you can?
Sara: [00:42:22] Yeah. Now I can. I've done it in small increments already. And that builds the yes, I can do this, because it's good when you do it, like, okay, keep working towards that. Yeah, the awareness is huge and I think there was a while I was like, I don't know the way out of this mental space. So, like, my life plan dissolved, and now where do we go from here?
So yeah, I was also thinking, when you were talking about, like, the impact the pandemic is had on all of us and particularly like, professional women. You know, I think my experience has been very specific, since there was like, the change of country, the loss of the job, all of that. But, you know, something I was also thinking about with, that's maybe more cross-cutting. I've also noticed a lot of my friends and last year is there’s been a new think on priorities. So I think as a working mother, you already get like a really big hit of I want to be doing something I care about. Because if I'm working, I'm not at home with my family. So you're making that conscious decision every time you do work, whether you leave the house to do it or whatever. Like and if you have a job that you don't like, and you go back after maternity leave, it's like, well, why am I doing this? Like this doesn't make any sense. And then now, it's become just like, I don't know, amplified, maybe. It's like, we have to think about how am I going to spend my time? Because if I'm spending my time at work, like, I'm not able to be there for my children, maybe. But then also women are making a lot of additional decisions like do I worked, I cut my hours so I can help my children with their homeschooling. So it happened with remote learning so that I can cook more because the restaurants aren't open. It's just like, it's a whole nother set of like, additional questions. That I think that also got thrown into the mix of like, what I want to do next, like why I really need to care about it needs to be important to me. And my interests, because if I'm not doing that with my time, then what am I doing?
Leith: [00:45:18] Yeah, you're questioning everything? Yeah. Like, that's exhausting. But so great, you know, on a personal level and for your family, I think.
Sara: [00:45:20] That's good. I mean, in our case, I think the like, the end result has been great. Really, like, I'm excited about what I'm doing next. I think like are, we found a way to live in the US again, without me having to be on an airplane all the time, which was kind of a big question mark, before. The pandemic situation has made it even easier for my husband to work remotely, which gives us a lot of options about where to live. I mean, and I did because I was out of work for a while. I homeschooled our four-year-old for months and had that time with him, that was not easy. I don't want to do it again. But like, also super interesting. I valued teachers in a whole new way. And I got to, like, say more about how his brain works and how he learned, watch him or how to read and you know, something that never would have happened. So I know the end result is good. I think there's some evidence having friends that I have not gotten to that, like, what comes out of this conclusion yet? And I'm just watching all that unfold all around the world.
Leith: [00:47:07] How did you get to the point of deciding to do a Ph.D.? Like, how did that play out?
Sara: [00:47:20] I think the simplest part of it was that I wanted to have more time to think about, how the work I was doing, like, how should we be doing this kind of question. And when you're doing like, nonprofit, logistics, and like project management work, you don't have time to think basically. So you know, you're just working with these timelines where you're constantly just doing one thing or the next thing and getting products out the door, getting training done getting reports in, getting the next thing going, which I enjoyed to some extent, like it's very fast-paced, it's can be fun. But you do that enough times. And for me, I was seeing like these really interesting questions come up. Like, how should we be working with farmers that climate change and climate change are huge, huge challenges coming? And are we ready for it like, as a community? I don't know. I don't think so. And so, like, that's what I really wanted to be working on. And then through a whole bunch of like, a lot of networking, really talking to people in different types of jobs. Realize that if I got into the research side of things more like would get to think about those types of questions. And I've been resisting a little bit getting too much into research because I thought, had this idea that then I would just be like sitting in an office and reading and writing only. I wish there will be some part of that. But there's a whole area of applied research in this field where you can do research on actual programs, and then try to apply the learnings to programs and try to improve the type of work that I have been doing before. And you have to have a Ph.D. that does it. Like nobody, even though I've kind of worked in that area a lot in a variety of different ways worked with people doing that, as it does, you can't get very far without that degree.
Leith: [00:49:42] So how did you trust yourself that this was the topic and what you actually wanted to study? Did it require any trust or it felt good when you found the decision?
Sara: [00:49:59] Yeah. Some of it was definitely like gut instinct, for sure. Like, sometimes you're like, looking at stuff. And then you're like, Oh, this. This is what I want to do you know. If someone asked me, what is it that you cared about? Or, actually, if you take the inverse of it, I realized I was spending a lot of time saying, Oh, I liked this job in Kenya, but I didn't get to do enough of x. And the X is what I wanted to do. It's like, Oh, I wanted there to be more of this. And then at my first start was like, trying to find organizations that were doing that. So I was spending all this time like Google searching, networking, and this and this, other nonprofits that did more of that particular work, and not finding them. And then I realized, I'm basically trying to, like, I just have to design my own nonprofit, like went down that like, thought road for a while. It's like, actually, I don't want to do that. Lifestyle wise that's not what I wanted to do. But I knew the content of what I wanted to do and then just had to figure out what type of career area can I do that in?
Leith: [00:51:26] So do you know where this will lead the Ph.D.? Are you just starting with the Ph.D.? And then go from there? You have a plan like you'd like to plan?
Sara: [00:51:37] I used to like to plan. I'm scared of planning now. Yeah, we say we plan to like three months increments at this point because anything longer than that feels a Ph.D. program was a longer plan. But I'm actually very deliberately not making a specific, quote, study plan. But I'm open to like, say, in academia. I like teaching and writing, actually. But I haven't actually done that at the university level. So I think I don't want to, it's too early to say. There's also a lot of research institutes in agriculture that I could go into, and there are also nonprofits that have research teams. So I think there's a lot of different ways I could use it. And so I'm not sure yet if I want to, I mean, this research actually be focusing on farmers and the United States we're so excited about because I've never worked with farmers, the United States. I went from undergrad to Peace Corps in West Africa, and then just got on this international, like track after that, which has been fascinating. But you know, I grew up in an agricultural state, I know almost nothing about farming in Vermont. Honestly, besides that, there's a big dairy sector and apples and maple. I know the things that are there, I don't know anything about it. And same with the rest of the United States really know a little bit, but it's not firsthand. And so that's an exciting new thing for me to work on. So I talked to a lot of people, but basically, if I do a Ph.D. in the US focusing on US Army, and then I'll then be able to do either because I have so much international experience, which I'm excited about like that opens up a lot of different options for us as a family too. Like before if I wanted a job in my area, but for us living in the United States it was a travel job because I was managing programs and in like developing countries, basically. I guess I couldn't figure out the way out of that. Besides you know, moving to East Africa, but we never planned to stay in East Africa long term. My plan was to get this particular job and do it and love it. And then I was gonna somehow know what's gonna happen next. So the job didn't turn out for you. And I thought it was and then I had to figure out what was next. But that was okay. Because it came up with like an interesting answer of like, oh, like find a way to be able to live in the US, but still do that, like, topic area that you care about, to supporting farmers with climate change. So farmers in the United States need support with climate change, too. So in this international agricultural world, I didn't have an entry point was the other problem. Even though I had thought about trying to apply for organizations working with farmers, yes, but I don't know that world at all. And none of my networks is in that area. And I hadn't thought of going back to school as a way to switch. But it's a good way to switch it up. That's often what people do them, they want to shift their field their career a little bit, as it doesn't have to be, you know, four or five year Ph.D., but you do some kind of education to like, shift your expertise a little bit so that's basically what this is.
Leith: [00:55:40] Just quickly, or you just, you came back to the States for four months and then now you were gone back to Kenya, and just to hang out right at this pandemic.
Sara: [00:55:50] Yeah. Sorry, it's a lot to explain. But we went back to the states kind of in like, refugee status mode, really, not knowing what to do next, stayed with extended family. And then finally, the airport, Kenya reopened in August. At that point, I had lost that job that I had. And that was because of budget cuts. And I think I mentioned I was leading growth. So like, that was just one of the areas to cut. But my husband still had a job inside of Kenya. And so we could be here, you know, legally, and we still had our house, we still have the house here, with all our stuff in it. Because we had left so quickly. So we had to get we had to come back for a little while. And so the more we thought about it, it's like, well, you know, we didn't really feel like we had been finished here. Maybe a nicer, less abrupt ending is to come back for, like I said, at least three months, and to say goodbye properly. And, you know, half of our stuff and sell things and all that. But the town we had been living in was because of my previous job. And so he said, Well, now, his job is remote. But it's good for him to be in Kenya. So where we go, so we just chose the beach. As it's beautiful and because tourism is so down here, like, everywhere. All these places are not empty, but close. And so you can get really good deals when we would not be staying where we are for the price that we are. That wasn't the case. And so just another opportunity is like Well, let's go help out that economy. So it kind of feels good. And we're in a really nice spot. Like, let's ride out. Let's wait for the winter to pass. We looked at all the numbers back in August. It's like, I don't think the northeast of the US is where we want to be. And we have really had the luxury of choosing which a lot of people don't so I feel fortunate about that. Like, not without a lot of effort, but no, and I kind of play and all that. But so that may just kind of put ourselves in this Airbnb, just like daily life here is we're saying, like, we're at a much more, like, easy living place. And we were the last two spots who are in Houston, but it's still Africa. You know, we lose power, we lose water, random, all kinds of interesting things happen. It's like a, you know, it's like you can't I fully predict what's going to happen on any given day. So it's like there's mental fatigue, which actually, I guess I didn't mention this before, but that's actually something that someone else had to point out to me. First, the therapist and then also some friends like that some of what was so hard about this whole time was that there was this mental fatigue, constantly draining like there's this background stress living here that you don't even realize how much it's like. They're draining your ability to just have energy for other things. So yeah, this is better, for sure. I mean, I'd have a house and a pool and a beach to go to when you want to.
Leith: [00:59:22] Oh, that sounds lovely.
Sara: [00:59:23] Please, like, the power goes out. It's like, okay I'm going to the beach. Oh my god.
Leith: [00:59:28] I think that's interesting you mentioned that background fatigue. And I can see how living there definitely would have it but I think COVID adds that too.
Sara: [00:59:43] COVID did it to everyone. Well, great for sure. I mean, that's a good awareness I have now too. It's like you just sighs you don't even realize the things like something that I've been to, I started doing like in these last six months, I'm trying to like, rebuild my resilience. Basically, this was a therapist homework, but like, if something like if I have a bad reaction to something or like Greg and I get an argument or like, yell at one of the kids, something that I don't like, what my reaction to something was, like, when you have time afterward and step back, like write down all the things that were going on, and like the three days before that. It almost always it's like, oh, yeah, I didn't even think about I forgot like, Oh, yes, this happened. And like, we were trying and then the car broke down and like that, you know, like, just whatever it is, right? Plus, you know, a lot of the signs like, oh, plus, I was homeschooling, and that's, you know, whatever. This thing, right? Oh, like, and then you're not beating yourself up for having a short temper. Like, okay, that wasn't great. Like, let me try better next time. But like, okay, yeah, like, let's be fair to ourselves.
Leith: [01:00:56] And the acknowledgment of what's going on.
Sara: [01:00:59] Yeah, and writing it down. Feels really interesting. Yeah. It just feels good to like, put it out there. Like, oh, yeah, this is happening.
Leith: [01:01:07] That's great. I like that idea. I mean, they say journaling is supposed to be great is putting pen to paper.
Sara: [01:01:14] Yeah. I don't really have a practice of doing it when you realize that things have gotten haywire. It's like a good intermediate, not full-on journaling.
Leith: [01:01:31] That's a step. I got to let you go but thank you so much.
Sara: [01:01:42] Thanks. It's so great. This has been really fun. Thank you.
Leith: [01:01:46] Thanks for sharing your story with me.