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Getting Uncomfortable

Getting Uncomfortable

Editor's note: Who doesn't wonder where their passion for HR will take them throughout their career and life?  How far up the org chart will you be able to go?  Will you develop the skills and gather the experiences that will make you recession-proof? Will you be able to one day write your own ticket?  How about if that ticket is to Africa? 

In this first installment of the continuing adventures of Catherine Carr, we are meeting a young SPHR who decides to shake up her life and join Doctors Without Borders (or Medicins Sans Frontiers -- MSF).  She travels from Albuquerque, NM to Kenya to begin a new life that astounds everyone -- but really doesn't surprise anyone who knows her.

One Saturday morning I woke up and decided something had to change.  It wasn’t that I was unhappy.  It was more that I was too comfortable in my self-created rut.  I had been working in and around human resources for most of my career and had recently added non-profit finance to my resume.   I had a job I loved, people I loved to work with and I believed whole-heartedly in the cause of the non-profit I was working with.  So what was the problem?  In retrospect I guess there were no challenges on the horizon, and everything seemed very predictable.  There was just that feeling that it was time to get uncomfortable. 

While the coffee was brewing I let my mind drift over and around the things that made me happy.  It came down to traveling and challenges.  I decided to apply for a position working for an international organization.  I didn’t care what the job was: cook, cleaner, mechanic, it didn’t matter.  Working overseas had been something I always said I wanted to do but until that Saturday I had yet to take a first step in that direction.  Sitting down to the computer, I thought about the international organizations I knew of and only one came to mind.  It was the same one a friend of mine had mentioned in passing earlier in the week, Doctors Without Borders. 

“Perfect,” I thought, “this will be a great place to practice applying for a job. This is a world-class organization, thousands of people from around the world must apply on a daily basis, and I have absolutely no medical experience.There is not a chance in hell I have the skills they are looking for. I will spend the morning knowing what it feels like to apply with an international organization.  There is nothing to lose.  After this practice run, I’ll get serious about it all.”

The next few hours were spent drinking coffee and dreaming away as I filled out the online application.  Afterwards I called mom.  “What a perfect job for you!” she exclaimed with all her motherly support, still wondering in the back of her mind what it was I actually did for a living. “When do you leave and where are you going?”  I assured her I was going nowhere and that I had called to tell her I had thought about it and decided life was just fine and being comfortable really wasn’t such a bad thing.  Jumping back into my rut, I forgot about those Saturday morning dreams.  

Six weeks later I received an email.  Doctors Without Borders was asking if I would go to an interview, at my expense, in Austin, Texas.  I told my friend about the invitation and said it was a nice gesture on their part but I would send an email giving my regrets.  No time off from work, no money for an air ticket, no money for a hotel, I liked my rut and blah blah blah.  My friend called me later.  She found a cheap ticket to Austin.

From there it was one uncertain step after another.  Interview in Austin, orientation in New York, training in Paris, lots of waiting in between steps, and a whole lot of trying not to be too excited.  Nearly one year after that fateful Saturday morning, I called my support crew (also know as family and friends) to let them know I would be going to Kenya and to confirm what their specific support tasks would be. 

While going through the process, I kept waiting for someone to call and say a mistake had been made and that they had confused me for someone else. But that never happened.  Who knew that Doctors Without Borders (known to the rest of the world as Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF) really does need experienced HR and Finance professionals who don’t mind being uncomfortable, like to travel, can manage with instant coffee and cold showers when necessary. Those who want to live outside of the rut.  Professionals who are open to learning about new cultures, living in third world countries and applying their HR and Finance skills to make a difference in the many incredible projects MSF supports around the world. 

In MSF time I am still a newbie as I start a third mission.  After Kenya, I spent a year in Malawi and today I find myself in Uganda.  Despite still being new at this I am here to report that each mission brings with it a whole new set of challenges and at the end, a satisfying sense personal and professional accomplishment.  This of course means that quite often, things are uncomfortable.

My support crew has stopped asking, “What’s next?” because my answer is always the same, “I have absolutely no idea but I can’t wait to find out.”  What I do know is that I don’t live in a rut. I am meeting some remarkable individuals. I am gaining a whole new set of skills. And I get to work with an elite and well-renowned organization that is making huge differences in the countries and communities they work with.  Oh yes, I also know that I am far more careful with Saturday mornings and what I ask for in this life. 

Editor's note:  Feeling inspired yet? Right before Catherine left for Uganda and her third assignment this summer, she sat down with HR C Suite contributor, Martha Finney for a video interview. We've broken it down into six chapters. Altogether it's less than an hour long. So get comfortable and enjoy!







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Catherine has been working in and around the Human Resources field as a generalist since starting her career oh so many years ago. In the more recent years she worked with a non-profit organization that provided support services to children and families in crisis where she began to see firsthand that sometimes people just need help. Currently she is working with Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders ( as an HR and Finance generalist. She travels to the countries that MSF sends her to and does her best to support the MSF staff as they provide the help that is so desperately needed in this world.

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