Thursday, June 15

In Pursuit

When I was twelve years old, my dream job was to be a corporate executive. That’s it. I had no idea what that actually meant but I thought Working Girl was a kick ass movie. And I thought having a big corner office in NYC sounded glamorous. And besides, if Melanie Griffith can make it big on Wall Street with her Betty Boop voice, then surely I had a shot. Sing it, Carly Simon, SING IT!

Unlike my other friends who wanted to be doctors or lawyers or engineers…I wasn’t really passionate about one specific thing. The problem was, I liked a lot of things and even excelled at some of them. But there was no singular passion I could point to, directing me towards a clear career path. So I arbitrarily selected business and afterfinishing college, headed straight towards the corporate path. Along the way, I got some great projects, met some amazing mentors and friends, and learned how to put together really awesome power point presentations.

But something happened that messed up my plans. My first summer in the city, I started volunteering with public school students. My motives were selfish—it was a way to morally compensate for my accelerating yuppy hedonism. “Hey”, I thought, “I’m giving back to those in need! Look at what a good person I am!” I was such an asshole. And worse, the experiences with the students inside the classroom revealed what a spoiled brat I really was. Kids in the city were given the short stick--schools were overcrowded, undersupplied, and filled with disengaged principals and teachers. I was floored. No one told me my public school education was a luxury good. I guess I was too ignorant to ever consider it something so valuable.

A fire was lit inside me. I got more involved in public school projects, researched school performance statistics just for the sake of it, and attended talks about education reform. The issues plaguing the urban education system were infinite and complex, but with each unveiling of a problem also provided an opportunity for change—I wanted to help fix things, I wanted to be a part of this movement to improve our schools. This got my adrenaline pumping. Climbing the corporate ladder losts its appeal and gave way to a "hobby" that was slowling taking over my life.

For me, the blatant inequity that exist in city schools is plain disrespectful. Recognizing this allowed me to also recognize my passion to work in this world. I wasn’t prepared to take this leap and make such an extreme change, and believe me, neither were my parents (I recall their reaction being a big-- WHA?!?!??!). But I finally found something that got me out of bed in the morning; I finally found something specific to focus on.

And now, I'm pursuing something I never thought I’d be doing when I was twelve: living in a city that’s not New York (temporarily) and working inside one of the country’s most dysfunctional school systems. The work is hard because the outcomes are real. I’m scared shitless that I’ll make mistakes which I'll inevitably end up making. I wake up every day worrying about the impact of my decisions. And mostly, I wonder if I’ll live to see a change in the right direction. One thing I do know, I don’t wake up wondering what I want to do anymore. This is my dream. And if there’s anything I’ve learned about dream jobs is that you should never confuse them with things you see in the movies, never expect them to be glamorous. Instead, measure them in terms of personal satisfaction. That is what will make the difference.


Anonymous said...

Well done. It isn't every day that someone actually changes something in her life after having an epiphanous insight. Most people forget what they learn from life.

Holly Golightly said...

having something you're passionate about also be your job is the ideal situation... v. cool you found it. i think i'm still looking for it...

but on top of that, am super glad you're here this summer!

Third said...

Congrats! It's hard to reach that level when you have to realize your dreams and, at the same time, reach out for others. May your tribe increase.

betina chan said...

I as well, echo the congrats.. Very few people have a day job that they are actually compassionate about. Here here, wendy!