Updated: Dec 5, 2021
Growing up, I often felt pressured to decide on one career I would stick with for the rest of my life. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” became a constant reminder of society's expectation that I strive to be one thing. Even though I would answer the question, I never felt like my response encompassed all my hopes and dreams. Some days I felt like becoming a veterinarian or the President of the United States, but above all, I just wanted to make an impact. I wanted to leave a legacy behind. Like many other children, I wanted to grow up and make a difference.
After high school, I applied to colleges without a clear vision of what I wanted my career to be. I had enjoyed my senior year psychology class, so I began declaring that as my major. I figured it was a broad enough topic that was bound to put me on the right path. After skimming over a magazine article, my mom gave me the idea of studying to be an Animal-Assisted Therapist.
I was famous for loving animals, so it seemed like the perfect career to combine my newfound passion for psychology and my long-held affection for animals. I soon went all in, declaring a minor in Animal Science and supervising a research project on animal-assisted interventions. Soon enough, my undergraduate years were coming to an end, signifying that it was time for me to think about my next step. I had glowing recommendations and, thanks to a few internships, a jumpstart. My accomplishments looked great on paper, but I graduated feeling like a failure.
Despite having everything I needed to build a strong career in animal-assisted therapy, I already felt burned out. The spark that first attracted me to the field was beginning to dim. I knew I had to reevaluate my plans, so I decided to take a gap year. I needed time to clear my head and reflect on what my passions truly were. After all that hard work, I had yet to find my purpose.
I felt lost. I longed for the feeling of certainty. I kept worrying that my four years in undergraduate studies were a waste of time and money.
My parents came to the United States to provide a better life for my brother and me. If I did not take advantage of my blessings, I would disgrace their hard work and sacrifice. I wanted to honor the fact that they invested in me. I knew I would never forgive myself otherwise. Yet, amid so much guilt, I questioned my instinct to stick with my chosen career. How could I dedicate my life to something that no longer excited me? My life was at a crossroads, and the time to make a decision was running out.
Throughout my gap year, I read articles and books, worked a few part-time jobs, and traveled overseas by myself for the first time. I pushed myself to learn and experience new things, in hopes that something would bring me a sign. I yearned to discover another passion. I assumed that the more I forced myself out of my comfort zone, the more likely I would find an answer. One day, on one of my usual rabbit hole-like online searches, I came across an article on the sixth mass extinction currently afflicting our planet.
I instantly began to search more on the subject. I could not believe that this was the first time I was hearing about something so substantial. Countless species were on the brink of extinction, yet it felt like no one was talking about it. I had to find a way to spread awareness for the plight numerous incredible species were facing. This epiphany pushed me to return to academia and join the conservation space.
Although I still consider myself a wildlife conservationist, my story continues. In 2020, during the Black Lives Matter protests after the murders of George Floyd and Breyona Taylor, I found my second purpose: advocating for justice. These demonstrations were occurring while I was fulfilling an internship with an international animal welfare organization. There, I learned about the concept of One Welfare, a philosophy that highlights the connections between the health of humans, animals, and the planet. I realized that a career in wildlife conservation alone would fail to incorporate the bigger picture.
Social inequalities correlate with the degradation of land and bodies of water. In my fight to protect nature, I must recognize the communities first and foremost impacted by its destruction. Historically marginalized peoples, who have had their land stripped from them and their water sources contaminated, can no longer be forgotten. By combining my two purposes, I found my role in the environmental movement. I now consider myself a climate justice advocate. In the end, I refused to stay in a single lane. I finally realized that the only thing I want to be when I grow up is true to myself. Living a life I’m proud of, regardless of where that leads me, keeps me on my destined path.
My overall goal is to lead a life of compassion, which will likely vary in appearance as I get older. Thankfully, I no longer have to try to fit in one box or category. By combining my interests and giving myself the space to evolve, I can take part in work that feeds my soul. My life has been full of rich experiences that have gradually transformed my perspectives, desires, and goals.
Refusing to accept life's twists and turns was ultimately diminishing my potential. Some people find their one true passion and stick with it until the day they die, but this isn’t always the case. Life is full of opportunities, so we should be encouraging each other to stay curious. We need an open mind to embrace all life has to offer. When we accept the inevitable, we are bound to end up in places our younger selves would not have dared imagine. Take it from me- the best things await outside your comfort zone.