Featured An ongoing thirst for knowledge

An ongoing thirst for knowledge

Relationships: Work

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Photos by Lauryn Hottinger

An adventurous spirit and minimalist tendencies have allowed Mary Elvin to have a different relationship with work than most people have.

She left her most-recent job as a healthcare consulting firm administrator—which she loved—when she felt an urgent need to do some things she’d been putting off.

She gave six months’ notice, during which time she made a list—the sort of list most of us have rolling around in our brains but don’t commit to paper and ink.

But when Elvin said goodbye to coworkers in December 2015, she tackled her list. She spent time with family and friends, got healthy and fit, cooked and traveled extensively—including returning to South Africa, where she’d lived many years ago.

Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

Living frugally and saving money allowed Elvin, who lives in Portland, to take the time.

“When I told the woman I was working with at an outplacement service what I wanted to do, she said, ‘Go for it. Many people have that desire, but few do it.’”

So she did. That’s how Elvin, 60, has always related to work. In her 20s, she quit working for a CPA firm and bought a one-way ticket to Israel, where she volunteered for a nonprofit and made lifelong friends from 27 countries. Next up was six years in Durban, South Africa, working as head of accounting for a shipping company.

Family, especially aging grandparents and siblings’ children, lured her back to Maine in 1995.

“Coming home is always nice, but my family and friends had no frame of reference for how I’d been living. I mean, I had to walk out of a Hannaford shortly after I returned because buying a tube of toothpaste was so overwhelming with so many choices!”

So when an opportunity to help friends start a business in Oklahoma cropped up, she jumped at it. In a year, she was back in Maine to pursue a college degree in business administration.

“One of my missions was to put myself through college. I’d had great jobs overseas, but knew I’d never be able to work at those kinds of jobs in the United States without a degree.”

Her diploma led to the healthcare consulting firm, where she stayed 12 years until her desire for adventure resurfaced.

And now, she’s hatching a new plan, volunteering at Maine Medical Center while figuring out how to merge her experiences and skills with a passion to work hands-on in the healthcare industry.

“I have an ongoing thirst for knowledge,” Elvin says. “And I’ll know what I’m supposed to be doing next when it feels right.”

Patricia McCarthy worked for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram for 23 years, was publisher of The Cape (Elizabeth) Courier for five years, and has been a freelance writer and editor for 35 years. She has three daughters, lives in Cape Elizabeth, and also has a photography business (patriciamccarthy.com).

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