April 27

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Through the Looking Glass

A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I traveled to the UK to get together with the other half of my team for a 2-week meeting. Over the weekend, we went out to explore a hipster area in London – Brick Lane, and visited a few thrift stores. We bumped into a vintage hat shop and were approached by the seller who, after noticing our non-UK accents, asked us what we were doing in London. “We’re here for work,” I said. “Ah, what do you for a living?”, he asked. Before I could answer, my boss jumped in with a very spontaneous joke – “we make dreams come true!” We all laughed, and the very confused guy had no idea of what we were talking about. Well, jokes aside, there is a lot of truth in that (corny-ish) statement.

Here’s the thing: I work at a team that leads the PULSE Volunteer Partnership, which enables GSK employees to leave their jobs for 3 to 6 months to work full time with NGOs from many parts of the world. Since its inception, PULSE has empowered almost 600 employees from 57 countries to work with 103 organisations in 62 countries. Quite a lot, eh? Now, stare at those numbers for a few more seconds and think about what inspired each one of those 600+ employees to take this leap of faith, leave their comfort zone, and dive into the unknown. Imagine, also, how many people they touched and impacted through their journeys, and how many lives they changed for the better! This is not just a corporate/ leadership development/ rotational venture (whatever you may label it) programme: it’s a life-changing machine! And, after watching folks come and go from their PULSE missions, this year I will have the chance to do it myself =).

The US-based PULSE team (I'm on the left) and the hats we bought at the vintage shop in London

Some of the US-based PULSE team (I’m on the left) and the hats we bought at the vintage shop in London – we look great, right? =)

In August, I will leave GSK (and my comfortable apartment in Philadelphia) to join the Humanitarian Leadership Academy Center in the Philippines. Sponsored by Save the Children, it is an initiative that aims at enhancing natural disaster preparedness in different parts of the world. I can’t wait to start my project; the process of getting ready for it, though, has been a little bit weird.

Picture this: I’m part of the team that coordinates the programme AND a participant at the same time. I hope that, by the end of this prep process (in which I’ve delivered and attended the same training sessions), I don’t go mad by switching hats all the time (a Mad Hatter, ha). Last week, for example, I caught myself sending reminders for volunteers to send us key information about their assignments, and only after the deadline I realised that I hadn’t taken the action myself – #fail, I know.

I’m also having to face the infinite questioning from my family (especially my mother, as I’m an only child) as they keep asking me if I am crazy for, once again, traveling further away from home (I moved to Philadelphia from Brazil 3 years ago). I mean, they’re right, it is a little crazy, but good crazy. I will be helping people, living a dream, and, why not, changing the world (yay me, haha).

So, as I came into the office today, I couldn’t be more certain that I had made the right choice. This is the right time to do this, and life’s too short for me to sit and wait. Until August comes, I will keep on wearing double hats (coordinator and participant) and counting down the 100 days I have left in Philadelphia. I’m doing this, mom & friends & colleagues, and it will be amazing! And if I ever question myself about this adventure, I will go back to a quote that stuck with me from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”:

“Have I gone mad?”, the Mad Hatter asked.
“I’m afraid so,” Alice answered, “You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret: all the best people are.”