The what, how, and why

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” We have all gotten that question at least once in our lives, usually when we were kids. Once you are in college, however, the question normally transforms into, “What are your plans for after graduation?” I remember being a child and always having an answer. It wasn’t until high school when I kept changing my mind on what I wanted to do when I was older. As I discovered new things, I grew a “love” towards different careers, every time changing what I wanted to do. I went from wanting to become a Pediatric Endocrinologist, to a CEO, to a Lawyer in Corporate America, to working for the Department of State and other Federal agencies. I had the where and the how, but I was lacking the most important one: the why. I did not know what I wanted. Quite frankly, I still don’t know what career I want to have. Being at Smith has allowed me to discover more things I enjoy and what my passions are, but in terms of a career, I am clueless. I have found that this is a problem that many low-income students face. Of course I know some low-income students who know exactly what they want to do because they found their passion and purpose, and I admire them for that. But, I also know many who don’t even have a slight clue and this is a problem that needs to be fixed.

At 5 years old, I wanted to be a teacher. That didn’t last much as I realized (at that young age) that I lacked the patience and passion necessary to become one. Then, I wanted to become a famous singer. But, of course, I knew that was not going to happen because, well, I was better at singing in the shower than to an audience. Then, from fifth grade until freshman year in high school, I wanted to become a Pediatric Endocrinologist. And then I noticed that I was not as good in science as I really thought or that good at handling things like blood and needles. After my involvement with a summer business camp, I wanted to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Later, because of the same program, I looked into becoming a Chief Legal Officer. Senior year in high school I was set in doing Corporate Law, so I decided that I was going to major in Economics in college and then attend law school. Once in college, I realized that, while I enjoyed taking Intro to Micro, I did not want to take Econ classes all throughout my four years at school because that one intro class made me a nervous wreck — quite literally, during the first quiz my hand was shaking because I didn’t have enough time to go over the last question. I ended up having an A in that course, but having to go through the struggle that I did was not something I wanted to do all four years.

Somehow along the way I fell in love with Latin American and Latino Studies. I had taken many Latin American Lit courses as well as Portuguese and a government course in the U.S. and Mexico Border. At that point I thought I was going to double major in Government and Spanish. Then, I tried to take an American government course and I hated it (even though it was just the first week of class). I realized that I really enjoyed all of my courses from the Spanish and Portuguese Department. I was conflicted on declaring LALS as my major because it was not a “practical” major. However, my Government advisor and many other people told me that the major doesn’t matter. At first, this was concerning. How is a major that I work on for four years not going to matter? But I realized that what matters is the skills that I gain from the courses I take and the outside activities I take a part of. I decided to follow my gut and declare my LALS major.

Coming home meant inevitably getting that other terrifying question: “But, what are you going to do with that?” The truth is that I do not know. And I will probably not know any time soon. I LOVE my major and the fact that I am learning politics, economics, society, culture, and languages… all in one major. Maybe I do not do anything with it in the future or maybe I do. Maybe I get a Master’s in Latin American Studies after Smith. Or maybe I don’t. Whatever the case, I know I have learned many useful things.

Anyway, back to the after-college uncertainty.

This past winter break, EMERGE had their annual Winter Summit for Scholars. One session was led by the amazing Judy Le from TakeRoot, an organization that helps young professionals develop skills and knowledge to become leaders. In this session, she talked to us about the “what, how, and why”. She talked about how a lot of times, we focus on the what instead of the why, the result instead of the purpose. It was in that moment that I realized all of my plans for future careers — I will publicly admit that I had Plan A, B, C, and D that all led to different careers in different industries, but all leading to a top position — were all about the what and the how. But, there wasn’t any why‘s… not even one. I figured that if I did not have a purpose for those careers, no matter how high my position was, I would not enjoy it. After all, what is life without a purpose?

Even though I still have no idea what exactly I want to do with my life or what career to have, I do know that there are two things I want to accomplish at some point in my life. And surprise surprise, they both have a purpose!

The first thing has to do with college access for low-income and minority students. Because of my personal background and my internships, I know the need to educate students on the opportunities that are out there for them, no matter their background. However, I want to also help with plans for after college graduation, like talking about grad school or fellowships or internships. I guess it’s that I feel as if I have not been exposed enough to different grad programs or fellowships available. Or maybe it’s the uncertainty of what I will do 2 years from now.

The second thing is unrelated to the first. This past semester I took a class titled The Bronze Screen: Latinos in Cinema. The class was about the representation of U.S. Latinos in the industry, as well as the difference between the “by Latinos, for Latinos, about Latinos”. During this class I realized that the entertainment industry has built many stereotypes for Latinos, and well, other people of color as well. Movies that I’ve seen all of my life had stereotypes during most of the film and I had never realized this. One of my goals is to take down the stereotypes of people of color and other minorities in movies and TV shows. Additionally, because of lack of representation, I would work to help diversify Hollywood. *GOOD* representation matters.

Do not ask me how I will do these two things, especially the last one. I simply have no idea. I probably will not even find out how until years from now. Maybe I create my own organization or company that somehow incorporates both things. Or maybe a company that focuses on the second thing while I contribute my time and money to organizations that focus on the first. I could even work in college access first and then switch to entertainment or vise versa (those would be some interesting switches). The truth? I don’t know but I am willing to work hard to figure out my path.

A lot of times, low-income students who have not been exposed to different careers and possibilities go towards the medical, law, or business fields without having an actual purpose. Obviously this is not always the case, but I know it has happened and it continues to happen. But something that I have learned and continue to remind myself is that there is no rush in finding your “true calling” or your passion or your purpose. One thing’s for sure: I now have my why and I will find a what and how that fits my purpose. The “what are your plans after college?” question still terrifies me. But hey, at least now I have my two why‘s!

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