Seizing an Opportunity

Goodbye for now, America.

On Saturday, I’m leaving the United States for a year. I’ll be trading Washington, New York, and Boston for Montevideo, Istanbul, and Kuala Lumpur. Business trips to Chicago will become a month in Belgrade, while trips to Florida and Colorado will be replaced by Buenos Aires and Ho Chi Minh City. Thanks to a program called Remote Year, I will have the chance to spend a year living and working overseas with a group of 75 people from around the globe. It is a humbling opportunity, and a privilege to be selected from among 75,000 applicants.

In many respects, this is the absolute worst time to leave the United States. I’ve built a deeply fulfilling personal network and a robust, supportive professional network. At 26, I’ve already found some degree of professional success, most recently as Chief Operating Officer for an innovative nonprofit working to bring technology and government together.

Just about every journalist, activist, and civically-engaged citizen in America has made the case that the 2016 elections have historically high stakes. As someone who has been deeply committed to, and made a living in, politics for most of the last four years, I have grappled with the concern that sitting this cycle out is selfish, or at the very least self-centered.

So, why go?

Most of the limited success I have achieved in life so far has been a result of taking big risks and pushing myself well beyond my comfort zone. When I wasn’t happy in my first post-college job as a paralegal at a major DC law firm, I quit two days before annual bonuses were due in order to move to Manassas, Virginia and take an unpaid fellowship on President Obama’s reelection campaign. The next year, I chose to forego law school in order to help an extremely impressive guy with no political experience run one of the toughest primary campaigns of the 2014 cycle. For most of the race we were down by as many as 54 points; our long-shot victory and status as the year’s only Democratic primary upset wasn’t really assured until Election Day. Then, after everything worked out in improbable fashion, I left politics and went to work for a civic technology nonprofit in order to improve my leadership and business skills.

Any of these decisions could have been major career setbacks. None of them turned out that way, thanks to considerable luck and a lot of hard work. But even if they hadn’t worked out, I would unquestionably have become a better person for having tried.

So this Saturday I’ll be putting my life in two bags and hitting the road. I will spend one month each in twelve cities across the globe, doing consulting and advisory work for nonprofits and some writing about national service. I’m proud of the work I will be doing, but it’s work that can be done anywhere. The truly unique opportunity I have this year is what will take place outside of office hours: the cultural immersion, language barriers, and general challenges of living and working in a strange, different place each month.

Don’t get me wrong — traveling around the world is pretty awesome. But I know from experience that it will also push me mentally, emotionally, and physically beyond what I could ever hope to achieve in a year back home. And that makes it the right decision for me both personally and professionally.

There are many people, and a few things, I will miss dearly while I’m gone. The last few weeks of saying goodbye to friends and family have confirmed the former, while my fiendish mobile data usage is a daily reminder of the latter.

Life, and the opportunities it presents, looks very different for each one of us. All I can hope for is the wisdom to see opportunities when they present themselves, and the courage to seize them.

I’m seizing this one. I’ll let you know next year whether it was wise.