How a city girl found her purpose in the African bush

Updated: Jan 23

Finding purpose is a marathon, not a sprint

To question "what makes my life meaningful?" may seem ridiculously open-ended and massively ambiguous, but, at some point in life, we’re probably going to ask it of ourselves.

Maybe you question it because you're stuck in a rut and don’t know your next move or maybe you’re totally smashing it right now (go you!) but, whilst your life is ticking all the boxes, something still feels like it's missing…

With searching for a meaningful purpose, comes some serious soul-searching and self-reflection. My girl, Chels, actually wrote a killer blog on this not so long ago - check that out here.

Searching for that elusive ‘purpose’ can be a life-long journey so don’t fret if it hasn’t clicked into place for you. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

I accidentally found purpose through charity work. It sounds awful to say it like that - like I should have expected to, just because it's charity. There are so many places to look for purpose (and we’ll come to that later), but I found it where I did – through charity – and I’m going to share some of my story with you.

“If I have ever seen magic, it’s been in Africa”

In my early 20’s, a series of life changes left me feeling a little lost with no real commitment to anything and no clues as to what I should be doing with myself. So, I totally bailed and just straight-up left the UK to travel. But, wow, what a marvellous idea that turned out to be.

After being away from home and moving around for over a year, I ended up in a place I’d never expected (THAT is how all the best adventures are, change my mind) – a rural village in Zimbabwe.

I volunteered for a conservation charity, African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) . A conservation charity aiming to save the African Lion from extinction with a holistic approach that considers the entire ecosystem and empowers local communities. The scale of work undertaken by ALERT was (still is) enormous - from far-reaching research studies into flora/fauna and other wildlife (not just lions) to conservation education in local schools, medical support in local hospitals and providing sustainability to local orphanages. And that's aside from the physical labour of working with the lions, hands-on, every day and recognising that they're just a small cog in something much larger. Their extinction will send shudders throughout the continent. ALERT's task was relentless.

My eyes were forced wide open and, after 6 life-changing weeks there, I came home to London. But as soon as my flight landed, I realised I had left something behind – a piece of my heart.

Goodbye glamour, hello budget

Now, at this point in my junior marketing career, I accepted that I’d probably have to take an unpaid internship to get into a job. Well, damn it, I could do that in Africa too. And I couldn't shake the feeling that I had more to give - I wanted to personally invest. So, I went back to ALERT as a marketing intern, dividing my time between two project sites in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

I was able to marry my marketing skills to my love for ALERT, donating my time and knowledge in a charitable way. I grew such compassion for ALERT and their unflinching devotion to the promises they had made to the communities, environment and wildlife.

Being totally immersed in the community, it was impossible not to be awed by the extraordinary entrepreneurship of the local people - what they lacked for in resource, they certainly made up for in spirit! I'll never forget their optimism in the face of very real hardships. I apply their approach to everything I do now.

I did a lot of good - assessing and improving their communication opportunities, increasing funding and running other marketing media - but, selfishly, they gave me more. I shared a tiny room with a mongoose called Moya, had to dodge snakes in the showers and was kept up most nights by a herd of wild buffalo grazing outside my window - I'd never felt more fulfilled.

Oh, the stories I could tell you from my time in Africa... but those are for another day. Today, I just want you to see how a girl accustomed to the bright lights and glamour of London found grit, determination, resolution and resourcefulness in the most unlikely of places.

To find your purpose, think about this…

If you want to know where to start looking for purpose of your own, you don’t need to leave the country like me. Chances are you’re already showing your passion for something without even realising it. Take a sec to think about that and explore it.

Here are some questions to make you think:

- Has anything happened to you or a loved one that turned your world around?

- Are there any injustices in the world that you feel strongly about?

- Do you already donate time or money to any causes?

- Does anyone say to you “you were born to do this…”, “you’re so good at this…” – start listening to that feedback!

- What are your interests? What do you love to do? I.e. maybe you love horse-riding – well, there are plenty of organisations that offer this as a form of therapy.

And that, my friends, is purpose.

You’ve probably heard that age-old saying; “no-one can do everything, but everyone can do something”. Sorry for the cliché, but it feels true to me. I have family who live in Zimbabwe and South Africa, the state of their reality is very different from mine, in the UK. They 'warned' me that I shouldn’t hope to ‘change Africa’, because I couldn’t. That may be so, but I know I did make a difference, if even a small one and if only for a while, to some very real people.

And that, for me, makes every mile and every minute worth the effort. If you can say the same, then, my friends, you have found purpose.

About the author

Ruby is a freelance marketeer, with 7 years of marketing experience under her belt (from start-up agencies to media titans) and a solid background in marketing strategy framework, content marketing, copy-writing and all things digital. If this blog intrigued you and you wanna know more, drop her a message because she could talk to you for days (joke, no joke).

In summer 2021, she is set to launch her first website: Ruby Writes. If you want to follow her ramblings (and support a small dream), sign up here. Or follow her blog account on Instagram, @rubywrites_

“Nothing posted yet folks, but hang tight because, I’ll make certain that (come summer) it will sure be worth it!” – Rubes x

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