How leaning into fear helped me gain clarity on my career path
As I think about my career path thus far and reflect on the choices I’ve made, there are two major themes that are inextricably linked: follow your interests, all of them, and lean into fear.
I like to think that my story starts before me. It starts with my mother.
My mother has an incredible background — one of strength, resilience, and a fierce determination to raise me as an independent, empathetic, and strong woman. The lessons and wisdom my mother bestowed upon me gave me the courage to always pursue my interests with rigor. When it came time for college, my mother told me, “You can major in ‘poo poo caca,’ as long as you get a degree.” She understood that a college degree would give me access to a world of infinite possibilities that she never had. And now I have the privilege of having two degrees and the liberty to choose a career without the burden of expectations. She empowered me with the freedom of choice.
With my mother’s support, I left the bubble of our small immigrant city in northern Massachusetts and started my college career at Hamilton College. However, it was not the easiest choice. I was notified of my acceptance into the acting program at Emerson College just moments before I was notified of my selection into the Posse Foundation to go to Hamilton College. I was torn between pursuing my passion for acting and my interests in academics. I was terrified of making the wrong choice. At the end of the day, I went with the option that felt like it was going to put me on a level playing field. Reflecting back on this choice, I realize that I was set on a course that at the time, I didn't know I needed.
What I did know was that I wanted to learn more about myself, about the world, and about my place in it. At Hamilton, I found this through majoring in Africana studies and minoring in theater. (Shout out to Professor Mark Cryer, not only for his highly entertaining and challenging acting and theater courses, but also for his down-to-earth realness. I urge you to take a course with him during your college career at Hamilton.) By majoring in Africana studies I learned how to be a good learner, how to be critical, and also how to write with a purpose. (Thank you, Professor Shelley Haley for being ever so patient with me during my thesis writing.) I also learned how to push the boundaries of my own thinking, and of my own potential. Africana studies exposed me to a world I lived in, and yet knew very little about. This was the first piece of the puzzle.
A significant piece of the larger puzzle were all the resources and experiences one could tap into while at Hamilton. In my discovery of self, I took advantage of everything Hamilton had to offer including language courses like Italian and American Sign Language, clubs and organizations like the BLSU, Heat, and La Vanguardia, dance courses like ballet and martial arts. At one point, I even had a hip-op segment on the college radio station. I also took advantage of the internship scholarships through the Levitt Center and managed to get funded for an entire summer internship in Costa Rica and Los Angeles after my sophomore and junior years. I engaged with theatre and dance majors and performed in numerous thesis projects. I worked multiple jobs on campus such as a jitney driver, event staff, lab consultant, and set crew to name a few. All these things that allowed me to build my resume, and yet, by my senior year, I still had little direction. Again, I was met with fear of the unknown. That’s when Professor Heather Merrill nominated me for the Bristol Fellowship. Little did I know how drastically my life would change because of this fellowship.
I had three, maybe four, different proposals that I worked on during the first semester of my senior year. Each iteration of my proposal was about something I was deeply interested in and cared about like dance, culture, education, and hip-hop. However, none of these ideas were strong enough to build a compelling proposal. The lovely Ginny Dosh can attest to all the meetings we had to discuss my ideas, all of which fell flat for different reasons. It was not until I started thinking deeply about interdisciplinary themes that the idea came to me — what if I just apply all of these things into one proposal? This is how I developed the idea of hip-hop theatre in artistic and educational spaces around the world. I had a purpose that brought all of my experiences and interests together. The idea excited me and I immediately scheduled informational interviews with scholars, artists, and organizations who were already doing work in these spaces. It is because of these informational interviews and networking with experts in the field that I was able to build a strong proposal. Through the Bristol Fellowship, I traveled to London, Florence, Accra, and Cape Town. I learned how to breakdance from a world-renowned b-boy, I led workshops with school children, I interviewed Hiplife artists in Ghana, I learned to speak Italian with confidence, and explore how immigrants were using dance to teach history. I also learned that what I love most is working with young people through the art of teaching. I later learned that this interest I had, the art of teaching, is called pedagogy.
My Bristol Fellowship experience led me directly into my master’s degree program at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University where my area of focus became pedagogy, which helped me go from the experiential to the theoretical. After earning my master’s, I struggled to find a career job. For four months, I worked at a 24-hour diner, I performed data entry at a publishing company, and I also did some background work in films to make just enough to get by in the hustle and bustle of New York City. After struggling through countless interviews, I later started working for a non-profit organization as a career coach. I grew tremendously in this role and leveraged my LinkedIn profile to grab the attention of another non-profit organization that moved quickly to get me to join their team. I continued working as a career coach with computer science students across the City University of New York, and it was this experience that solidified my desire to work with college students. Beyond career coaching, I wanted to do more to directly apply my college degrees. This is when I started researching, investigating, and visualizing other options.
The power of visualization is something I learned early in my life. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jim Carrey details how he used visualization to manifest his dream career in acting. He recalls writing himself a $10 million check for “Acting Services Rendered,” which he dated on Thanksgiving the early 1990s. He gave himself three years to make it happen. Just before Thanksgiving 1995, he found out he was going to make $10 million on Dumb and Dumber. He goes on to say, “You can’t just visualize and go eat a sandwich.” His point was that in order for visualization to manifest, you must also put in the work. And work I did. Above my computer screen in my room in Washington Heights, I taped a quote that helped me visualize and put in the work, “Yes, you can live like you’re on vacation every day.” This was the quote that motivated me during the dreaded year of 2020. 2020 was the year I became intentional about visualizing my ideal career and life and working towards it.
I spent over a year speaking with numerous professionals and employees associated with the institution that I had set my eyes on. Despite being in the middle of a pandemic, I had already given myself a year to figure it out and make it happen. I would be remiss not to mention that I had many setbacks during this period, financial and emotional. However, with the support of friends and loved ones, I pushed through and continued working towards my vision. After a series of informational interviews, putting myself on their radar, and waiting for the right opportunity, I accepted a teaching role with the African Leadership University in the beautiful country of Mauritius in Africa. I get to work with teams of motivated and passionate individuals all working towards an ambitious goal — to develop three million ethical and entrepreneurial leaders for Africa and the world by 2035.
Making the transition from New York City across the world to Mauritius to start a new career and a new life filled me with overwhelming fear. But that’s exactly why I did it. I will never have to live with the thought of not knowing what it would be like to follow an exciting path. And while I am still in the early stages of this transition and cannot be certain that this is the ultimate path for me, I can say with confidence, that this experience is bringing me closer to the version of myself that I want to be. Not only that, but I also get to live my life like I am indeed on vacation.