Why did you choose your job? Is it the family business or is it something you dreamed of doing since you were a child? Is it something you never expected to do, but somehow here you are?
Before I even knew what a veterinarian was, I wanted to “fix animals so they could live forever.” I was lucky enough to grow up with animals in my life since birth and quickly formed a bond with all of our four-legged family members through the years. Two years into my biology degree at college, tragedy (or fate?) hit, and Organic Chemistry forced me to re-evaluate my life goals. At the time I was convinced my world was falling apart, but little did I know I was finally heading in the direction—it just took some painful shoves from the universe.
I soon realized I should make a career out of my volunteer experiences, and could spend my days helping people in my community and around the world. I studied political science and history, studied abroad, and later went on to study environmental sustainability and international development as part of my Master’s program, picking up communications skills along the way.
I choose to work in this field because I truly believe storytellers can change the world. Films can affect policy change. Books can start conversations that challenge long-held personal beliefs. Images can spark a nationwide protest. There are no limits to what storytelling can do, and I’m proud to take part.
As we celebrate Aggregate’s third birthday this month, I asked some of my colleagues why they choose to do mission-driven work. Check out their answers below.
Two of my role models—my mother and my grandmother—have always taught me to stand up for what’s fair and what’s right. Watching their tireless efforts led me on a path of mission-driven work that began in childhood.
As a community activist and Local School Council president, my mom dedicated much of her adult life to fighting for other families in our blue-collar Chicago neighborhood. As a kid, I spent many nights watching contentious school board meetings, and my mom always encouraged my involvement. As a very opinionated sixth-grader, I began writing columns explaining the issues, such as open versus closed campus, to my elementary school audience—often opposing my mother’s stance.
My grandmother is a Holocaust survivor who, at the age of 18, moved to the United States alone and started a new life, having lost her parents at Auschwitz. Through all these struggles, she has maintained a powerfully positive attitude. Although it is difficult for her, she is dedicated to telling her story, giving dozens of talks each year, and ensuring her message of tolerance reaches as many people as possible.
I come from good stock.
Though my goals fluctuate and evolve from day to day, there are three things that will always remain: be relevant, be present, and be helpful. I’ve spent years traveling for work and for pleasure, from the poorest countries in West Africa to towns ravaged by tornadoes in the Midwest, and I’m sometimes consumed by how unrewarding this world can be, how many stories there are to tell about it, and what more could be done to change it.
When I was 18 years old, I traveled to Accra, Ghana, and spent the summer living and working in one of West Africa’s largest refugee camps—not so fondly referred to as Little Liberia. This was probably the most transformational experience of my life, and one that kept me on a path of altruism and philanthropy. Now, I am always searching for ways I can connect with the people around me and foster creative projects that serve a purpose for the community.
They were the people for whom John Steinbeck wrote and Woodie Guthrie sang. Dorothea Lange captured their lives on her Graflex camera. My father was among the migrant workers in California’s Central Valley following the Dust Bowl. He was an American tri-racial born to a 15-year old single mother and lived in deep poverty throughout his childhood. Against the odds, he went from being a migrant worker to being a well-respected researcher and scholar in his field. Stories like his don’t come about without the agency of many people who believe in social justice and creating equal opportunities. Most were not as famous as Steinbeck, Guthrie, and Lange, but the impact of their collective actions had a profound effect on my father’s life, and the lives of subsequent generations. All of those people have died, and recently, my father, too—but their powerful examples building an egalitarian society live on in a very personal way for me. That’s one reason I consider it a great privilege to do mission-driven work for fairer and better futures.
In college, I took a class that was essentially Protesting 101. Our soft-spoken but brilliant professor used the The Battle in Seattle as our central lesson in understanding grassroots organization and decentralized power. Throughout the class, I discovered how people with little power were able to amplify their voice, make a ruckus, and be heard. It was one of those sticky ideas that roll around in your head and keep surfacing in unexpected ways. It didn’t move me to become an anarchist but it did shift my trajectory for the work I would do.
The kind of work I do generally helps make other people look good, and I don’t want those people to be in it for themselves. It’s a much more meaningful use of my time to offer communications support to those who are helping others be better at life. Sleep comes easier if I can contribute to building sanctuaries and springboards for those that can’t always do it on their own.