And now we return to our regularly scheduled programming…

By Caitlin Kelly

We’ve printed, framed and hung a few of my Nicaragua photos.


Jennifer — the blogger who was on our team — and I have scheduled a phone meeting to plot our next adventure.

Jennifer and I at the beach; our translator, Dixie, takes a break
Jennifer and I at the beach; our translator, Dixie, takes a break

I’ve finished my malaria pills and my stomach, after a quite rough week, is back to normal.



We’ve left behind glowing red hibiscus for bare brown branches, 33 degrees Celsius (98 F) for 33 Fahrenheit, soft sunsets for pelting, cold wind-driven rain.

“Real” life begins again.

I wish it wouldn’t!

As many of you fellow travelers and adventurers know, re-entering “normal” life after a profoundly moving, challenging and fun adventure, whether personal or professional, can feel really unsettling. As one friend, who knows Nicaragua well after serving there in the Peace Corps and writing several country guidebooks about it, wrote: “Double culture shock. It sucks.”

My greatest challenge now, after 30 years working in journalism, isn’t money. We have no kids and have saved decently for what we hope will be a retirement with health to enjoy it.

It’s challenge. Or lack of it.

I tweeted the other day my motto: Challenge is my oxygen.

By which I mean, I feel suffocated by the tedium of much of the paid work I produce, even for Big Name publications like The New York Times. I work hard and do it well, but learn very little new about the world, or my craft or myself.

I know a few of you:

Cadence who recently moved to London to start a whole new life and career,

Charlene who ditched her life in Australia for life on the road,

Elizabeth who ventured to England for love, and marriage to the gggggorgeous John,

and Beth, who ditched advertising for teaching “littles”

have each made some major life shifts.

I admire your bravery and boldness!

I’m not sure what my next steps will be, or if they’ll head in a new direction or if that will even be financially possible.

I do feel enormously grateful that WaterAid chose me to join their team and tell some of their story. I hope add more of this sort of paid work — overseas, using my language skills, working in a team, working on projects that actually make a real, quantifiable difference in others’ lives — to my life, even a few times a year.

We’ll see.

How about you?

Are you ready for — or have you recently made — a re-set in your own life?


27 thoughts on “And now we return to our regularly scheduled programming…

  1. thank you for the kind words, caitlin. it sounds like you may be on the precipice of a new direction. your water aid project was meant to happen at this time for some reason. perhaps to offer you a new perspective and to open you up to things that lean in a new direction. it will be interesting to see what develops. these points in life seem to frequently present opportunities we’ve never imagined for ourselves. )

  2. I sent John your link after telling him over coffee that you called him gggggorgeous John. He’s just waking up over coffee and looked sweetly and slightly embarrassed.

    I’ve done a lot of leaping in my life which required feeling the fear and going forward anyway, but the move to England to be with him is one that felt peaceful and right from that day on Helland Bridge only eight weeks after meeting online.

    I’ve made major changes for sure, some which affect me financially (a blog post in itself) in both good and bad ways, but I have never for one second doubted my decision.

    1. You make a good point about fear. I was scared of many things pre-Nic: weird transportation, our unknown team, what the heat would be like, if I would get sick, etc etcetc. It was still fantastic in every way. It’s too easy to let fear over-ride our adventurous spirits.

      The day I married Jose I was so calm even the minister commented. I knew him and knew who I was marrying. That helped.

  3. I enjoyed your posts about Nicaragua so much and am sure you were the right candidate for WaterAid because of your curiosity, enthusiasm and humility. I haven’t done a re-set, but I’m always on the lookout for a new challenge. I divide my life between Guanajuato, Mexico and Northern California, and I love the contrast between the two cultures/ languages/ environments. Also I volunteer with an agency that has sent me to diverse places (Kazakhstan, Paraguay and Ghana) to teach/ consult on leadership development and HR issues.
    Two other things that keep me challenged: 1) always working on Spanish, a lifelong process; and 2) physical challenges. Learning a new sport or physical activity puts me “out there” on the edge.

    1. Thanks for the kind words…

      What an interesting life you have created! Which agency is that? I think there might be one that does this for journalists and should look into it.

      I’d love to re-boot my Spanish; it was once strong enough I worked as a volunteer interpreter for Chilean refugees seeking asylum. I agree about sports — I took up golf last year and am still eager to try ice hockey and rock-climbing (indoors; the real thing strikes me as too scary.) Two years after my left hip replacement, I feel strong enough to do stuff like that now.

      1. The agency is They usually look for people with agricultural expertise to provide consulting on a variety of topics for US AID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program. But every so often, they need someone with a business and/or HR background. I have taught conflict resolution, leadership skills (in Spanish, and yes, my Spanish is good, but still! teaching and facilitating is another matter!) and organizational development. They pay all expenses, a per diem, while the volunteer offers his/ her time and expertise. I don’t see a lot of journalism assignments, although my husband, for a similar organization–– just finished an assignment in Bangladesh interviewing and taking photos for a booklet describing innovative farming practices.

      2. Thanks very much for this.

        I’m not in a position to take much unpaid time off (unless it’s for my own re-charging), but will explore these. Sounds like you’ve got some great work going!

  4. Caitlin, I really get how you are feeling right now. I had always done one thing: marketing. But when I made a quick decision to quit a few years ago, I was out of my comfort zone, struggled, but through the experience I know who I am and what I stand for as a person. Sometimes people assign their identity to what they do for a living–because it’s easy to do. When you stop? Wow, what do I stand for? Without the last few years, I’d never know: Kids and People and Nature. Advocating and prioritizing activity and health and balance while aging. This is important to me. Not marketing some company’s products. Funny I went back to marketing last month part-time and after the client meeting I drove home in tears: Why did I go back? I felt the same way as you: nothing can compete with something life-changing like raising a child. Or thinking about what’s important to you–obviously seeing something in a whole new light like you did in Nicaragua is the same way. Anyway, I’m determined to get that paycheck but not let it consume me, and if it tries, it’ll be much easier now for me to just say no, because I have lived without that paycheck for awhile now and know I don’t need the material “stuff” like I used to. Perhaps you can make a goal of writing about, or taking a trip advocating for issues truly in your heart, just for you, Maybe writing once a month, traveling once a year? Or whatever time-frame seem doable. Even if unpaid now, perhaps your resume of work in this more enlightening area will open up new doors for you with time.

    1. Thanks…

      Jen I and I have some ideas and we’ll see if our work this week is persuasive to other groups as well. WaterAid may have some more projects we can work on, but it’s major $$$ investment on their part, and I know that.

      We have a mortgage for quite a few more years and my husband’s job never offers decent raises, so the pressure remains on me to bring in $ beyond the bare bones if we’re to have any fun at all. NYC-area (where we are going to stay, for a variety of reasons) just costs a shitlioad in boring things like road tolls and trainfares…they keep rising 10 to 15% every year.

      But we’ll see…

  5. Nearing retirement I contemplate about “Am I ready for it?” As much I think I am I realize I like the structure of routine and still have a passion for teaching. Yet, I don’t quite get the rebound I once did from vacations. Contemplation is definitely becoming more “go” than “stay.”

    1. All true! I have no routine per se, and am weary of making it all up alone every week — this is my 8th year working alone at home freelance.

      I love writing, still, but not writing stupid stuff.

      Not sure what I would/will do beyond work, but knowing I can’t be this bored AND working.

  6. I used to travel around India and with friends who worked in different Non-profits would take me along to visit their field sites. I visited a leprosy slum in Bombay regularly, basically just to talk but ended up teaching fabric painting to women with stumps who all the same, tried and did well. I wrote freelance too but just could not do any piece without three months research so naturally earned very little. But I moved about with terrifically dedicated people and met many ordinary folks in my country whose troubles were great but were finding ways out and many of my friends were really helping them find these means. I love your blog, maybe it’s the one I love the most. I look forward to your projects. Cheers.

    1. What interesting work you’ve done!

      I wonder if any project I’ve worked on has required three months’ research…only my books, which usually take 6 months’ reading, research and interviews.

      So glad you are here at Broadside and finding it of interest!

  7. lrose

    I have recently stumbled on your blog and am looking forward to further exploration on this topic…as well as others, of course. I am a combination of all of the above and so I am more than a little interested about the subject!

  8. anotherjennifer

    I’m so with you, Caitlin! I’m glad to hear your stomach is better. Looking forward to plotting our next adventure!

  9. Ezekiel Votts

    I happened upon this blog as I have done missionary work for my church both in the USA and abroad. It is challenging, but extremely rewarding. One thing I am worried about somewhat is retirement. I live in Greensburg (near Pittsburgh) and while it is not NY, the prices of everything has increased. I made the mistake of using more savings than I should have for my work. I wonder what is considered to be an “adequate” amount for retirement. I am in my late forties and I am not getting any younger. I would not change my experiences for anything. I will likely keep my “trips” to more rural areas of the country that need help. Very thought provoking post…..

    1. I’m glad you stopped by.

      It’s a very tough question when you have a passion for lower-paid or unpaid work and also wish to stop working at some point. Retirement is costly IF (as many of us will) we live into our mid-80s or even longer but have stopped earning income in our 60s, as is traditional. Very few people will be able to survive on $1,200 a month fro Social Security alone; if you have a pension (?) coming, you are in better shape, but most of us will also require additional savings. There are many calculators on-line to show what you might need…It also relies on whether you also have a spouse (and their SS) and their pensions or savings as well.

  10. You sound utterly rejuvenated by your trip away, ravaged bowels and all. Here’s to more opportunities in this vein 🙂

    PS, you have a twitter account? What’s your handle???

  11. Welcome home, Caitlin. “Double culture shock” indeed! I certainly understand that phrase. But how good that you went and had an eye opening adventure. Isn’t it a luxury every time you go to your indoor privvy- without any chickens?

    When my daughter commented that the outdoor bathroom at a Baku dacha had no door, it was a revelation to a 15 year old American kid from the city. No electricity means no doors, simple as that.

    Thanks for the reminder that we can make a difference where we choose to go. Glad you’re feeling better! I can sympathize… 😉

    1. Thanks! I actually sort of miss having a hen roosting beside the bowl. Companionable…

      The privies in Nic all had doors that close, for privacy, and the indoor ones usually had a curtain.

      It is a relief to feel better. I suspect a combination of heat, exhaustion and a diet with almost no fruit or vegetables did it. I did lose some serious weight, so that was well worth it!

  12. Thanks for the link! I’m getting more aggressive about some of my projects and (gulp) upping my rates here soon. This has been such a ridiculously packed with changed year. But I’m loving it!

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