Being in a space of reflection is always uncomfortable for me, but I find that I feel at my best when I am living in that discomfort. I’m reaching the halfway point in my first year with the fellowship, I am starting my goal-setting process at Jumpstart, and in a week and a half, I will be back in Baltimore for my first-ever Alumni weekend. So as I am typing this, I am nose-deep in that reflection discomfort. Hopefully what follows will be helpful for my friends in the fellowship, for myself, and for everyone who has just submitted an application for the 2024-26 fellowship cohort as you head toward graduation and discern if this fellowship is right for you.
As I begin this process, and ask trusted coworkers, friends, and family members about navigating professional goals and my early 20s, I have also been thinking back on some of the things I was told when I started college in August 2019 (a completely different world). I remember so much emphasis being put on what my major would be, how I would plan out my class schedule to help me four years down the line, and what clubs I wanted to participate in to make me a strong internship candidate for junior year. I remember being told that the next four years would be “the best years of my life.” When I look back, I see how unnecessary and harmful that could have been—if it weren’t for Loyola University Maryland’s… shall we say… comprehensive core requirements that forced me to try a little bit of everything and fall in love with learning again. I think we are doing ourselves, and society, such a disservice when we are constantly forward-focused. The purpose of college should not be, and never before was, to set up whatever comes next. College, for those lucky enough to go, is the one time in life where you can learn for the sake of learning. There is no one handing you a curriculum that you can’t deviate from; there are so many options,and through (excuse the cliché) casting a wide net you might just stumble upon your life’s passion.
As someone who was an overachiever, and whose high school extracurricular list looked like Santa’s Christmas list, I entered college with a clear trajectory. I would take a mix of political science classes but focus on constitutional law, take the LSAT, and apply to law school. I had a ten-year plan mapped out which included moving to New York and becoming a district attorney. But at 1:05 pm on my first day of class I walked into PS 101, Introduction to World Politics taught by an incredible political theorist. His charisma, and brilliance, and ability to make his students engage in questions that have been asked for millennia made me reconsider. I walked out of that class still sure I wanted to go to law school, but thought I might need to take some more classes with him (I would go on to take 5 with that professor—ranging from democratic theory to a seminar on warfare). Class after class, semester after semester I was exposed to things outside of my ten-year plan. Loyola required me to take two philosophy classes, the second of which was dedicated to a small segment of philosophy focused on the environment (recall my mention of stumbling upon passion).
But still, my life and career plan persisted until the summer between sophomore and junior year when I was studying for the LSAT and realized I actually had no desire to be an attorney. I cared about the law, sure, and I have research and debate skills, so I could be successful. But it wasn’t what I cared about. I remember walking up to the living room where my mom was watching a rerun of M*A*S*H, and breaking down in tears because I now had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Except I did. I did because rather than restricting myself to taking only the classes that would direct me to where I thought I wanted to go, I discovered that I was passionate about environmental justice and peace studies.
I am where I am today, setting goals for the next fiscal year, and thinking of how I am going to make an impact because of that mindset I took in college. I took the fellowship because it gave me the opportunity to do meaningful work while being part of a network of fellows doing incredibly cool and different work than me. Hearing about Kayla’s work had made me want to rent a pottery wheel, and visiting Sarika and Natalia at their museums in New York City inspired me to spend my Sundays visiting different museums in Boston.
This exposure to difference has been the key to my journey so far. Looking back, looking forward, and looking to where I am now—I realize being present is the secret. Being present connects you to your community. It connects you to your senses and helps decide if what you’re doing serves your passions or not. Most importantly it connects your heart to your mind. So to anyone reading… try everything and your life’s passion will uncover itself.
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