Megan Blackburn wasn't looking to make a change when she was offered a job halfway around the world...in a field in which she had neither worked nor studied...in a city she had never visited...and with little time to process the decision - but that didn't stop her from saying yes.
In the latest installment of our Trailblazers interview series, the woman behind the beautiful and beautifully written new blog Sharing a Table shares her story of striking out into the unknown and the beauty of living life on her own terms.
How did you know it was time to make a change?
I didn't. I had always wanted to work overseas, but nothing had worked out. I resigned myself to a life and career in DC and made the most of what the city had to offer. It was a comfortable life and I was fulfilled personally and professionally, but then one of those unexpected, once in a lifetime opportunities occurred.
A former colleague asked if I would be interested in working for her in Johannesburg, South Africa. Professionally it was an opportunity to move from a job I had grown comfortable in to one that would be more challenging, more pressure, more responsibility, and more stress. I would have to relocate to a country I had only been to for one day and to a city I knew only from its less than stellar reputation. Besides my colleague and her family, I didn't know anyone in South Africa. After analyzing it from every angle for a week (and generally freaking out), I accepted the offer.
I had to be smacked over the head to make a drastic change and it was only after I made the decision that I realized how necessary it was.
What gave you the confidence you needed to move forward?
I believe you have to seize opportunities when they present themselves and an opportunity like this wasn't going to come along again. I didn't want to look back and regret anything, and that, more than anything, gave me the confidence to accept a new job and move to Johannesburg.
Who/what inspires you today?
I always admire strong people who take risks and do good. Nelson Mandela is a personal hero. He spent 27 years of his life in prison for simply believing in equality. His biography, A Long Walk to Freedom, is a must read for anyone, especially if you plan on visiting South Africa.
Lately, I have been inspired by the countless number of health care professionals who are caring for patients with Ebola, including a friend working in an Ebola hospital this summer. To be on the forefront of that response is incredibly admirable and completely necessary.
What are you dreaming about now?
Going on safari over Thanksgiving. It's one of the best parts about living in South Africa. I can leave town for the weekend and be in the bush surrounded by elephants and other amazing wildlife. Because I know I am only here for a limited amount of time I take every opportunity to travel, and I started a travel and food blog, Sharing a Table. Writing and reenergizing my photography hobby was something I wanted to do, but I never managed to find the time in DC. My photographs are slowly improving and I am hoping to capture some amazing wildlife shots on my next safari.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
It may be a bit of a cliche, but "be yourself" is the best piece of advice I have received. A friend recently sent me an article about how people who love their lives are happiest. She said the article reminded her of me, and while I question whether the findings are backed by any form of research, I do believe that living life on my own terms makes me happy. Sometimes I have to step back and reflect how lucky I am and how all the decisions I have made have lead me to this moment. Usually that feeling washes over me as I drive home along country roads watching the red African sun setting over the distant hills.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you started?
That everything would get done and it would work out. The weeks preparing to move were amongst the most stressful in my life. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and had no idea what was in store for me in South Africa. It was a little like writing a paper in school the night before it is due: it got done because it had to be completed.
What encouragement can you offer someone who wants to make a change but is apprehensive?
Plan, but don't over plan. Then just leap. You only know what you are capable of when you test your limits. Preparation is important, but you have to be flexible and realize that you can't plan for everything.
What book(s) have provided guidance or inspiration for your New Beginning?
The books I read were specific to the change I made - becoming an expat and moving to South Africa. I also devoured a number of expat blogs. Generally speaking, I think reading, researching, and talking to people who have made similar changes can help you adjust as you transition from your old life to your new one.