In January, four months before my 38th birthday, I quit my job and moved from Madison, WI to Bordeaux, France. My partner Eric had been offered a 2-year contract as a medical physics researcher through CNRS (the French equivalent of the US National Institutes of Health) and I got a one-year renewable visitor visa to join him. I wasn’t allowed to work for pay with my visa, but I could live legally, take classes and volunteer. After 15 years in the working world, I found myself in a new place, looking for ways to use my skills and find fulfillment without a salary. At about the same time, my mother was recovering from six months of intensive chemotherapy following a stage IV cancer diagnosis. To our joy, her condition stabilized, allowing her to consider a return to work, though we knew she’d never go back to her 10-hour days as a regional library administrator. My father, her primary caregiver, was also facing a career pivot: as a 63-year-old print journalist, he could find only limited work despite 30 years as an investigative reporter. A few weeks after arriving in Bordeaux, I met a French woman named Florence who was in the process of creating an intercultural nonprofit. With great generosity, she invited me to co-found Réseau d’Echanges Interculturels, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing together people of different backgrounds for dialogue and exchange. My mother’s diagnosis had already led me to wonder before my move: What are we doing with our daily lives and can we do it better, in a more fulfilling and sustainable way? Is there a way to define what we do for a living, to be more present in our daily work? The Holstee Manifesto, which I saw one afternoon when a friend posted it to Facebook, pushed me toward an answer. Do the things you love, it implored. Live your dream and share your passion and the rest will follow. I bluntly asked myself what I loved most and found that it was writing, teaching and community organizing. And so I went forward with the nonprofit, a decision that has proved enormously rewarding. As for my family, we continue to struggle with applying these bigger truths. Like many, we are beset by bills, emotional demands, and debt. My mother’s cancer returned in April and she is now preparing for another six rounds of chemo. My father continues to live project-to-project. But we are making progress: my mother has begun a blog to document her journey for others; my father is gearing up to offer his own writing workshops to our community in southern California. We are doing what we love and sharing our passions for a greater purpose. It’s an ongoing project, to redefine something as central as our life’s work, but one that we now know is both possible and essential.

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