I know what I'm passionate about but I don't know how to get there
June 23, 2012 10:31 AM   Subscribe

The other day, I had a moment that was both a moment of clarity and a moment of existential crisis. I'm having some difficulty with figuring out how to take my life from where I am now to where I want to be and I could use some guidance, some advice (sorry for the long post).

When I graduated high school, I was sixteen and very unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. However, I knew three things for certain: 1) I wanted to travel, and often; 2) I wanted to help people and work in service of others; and 3) I wanted to write. My original plan was to join the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps after finishing college.

My time in college was near-disastrous. I wasn't socially, emotionally, or mentally ready for it and I did very, very poorly. It took me six years to graduate and I did so just barely, getting a 2.34GPA overall (3.4 within my major, English/Nonfiction Writing). I had also developed a drinking problem during my time in school that developed into alcoholism. When I graduated, I was still actively drinking and I had no sense of purpose, no hope, and felt that I was a waste of life. I was suicidal, prone to self-injury, and had more or less given up on everything. I still held ideas of joining the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, but they were distant ideas at that point.

Fourteen months ago, I had my last drink. Since then, I've made a number of steps towards my personal recovery. I've started writing again (and I even sent out a piece for possible publication for the first time ever, something that terrified me). I've started reading again. I finally left my home state, moving from Des Moines, Iowa to Austin, Texas, a decision which has ignited a lot of these thoughts and actions to do something with myself at last. And I've also started thinking about that old question, what I want to do with myself and where I want my life to go.

Earlier today, I was watching a documentary (Urbanized, to be specific, which is about urban planning and city design/development) and I felt this rush of emotion and it became clear that my original desires had not changed. In fact, they had intensified. For a time, I had pursued anthropology in college, focusing on globalization and development. It was in that field that I felt most personally/professionally inspired and spurred to action. My drinking cut off that avenue of intent before it really got started. But watching the documentary brought about a resurgence of those thoughts and ideas.

This is what I want to do: I want to work towards the betterment of the lives of others. I want to work towards improving education for at-risk youth, improving living conditions for the impoverished, improving the lives of people who have been pushed down and forgotten about. I want to work towards bettering the lives of people that need it the most. It became suddenly clear to me today that what I want to do with my life is the same as what I've always wanted to do.

I come to Metafilter about this because, in the wake of this realization, I find myself at a loss on how to get to where I want to be from where I am. Before I got sober, I had spent the last several years in a pattern of total self-destruction. But even sober, I'm not sure of how to achieve my goals. I still have a powerful desire to join the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, to find work in an organization or a career where I'm devoted to helping others. I still feel this strong want to help others. But I both don't know where to begin and have this fear of taking the first step, a fear of both success and failure.

I try to fight this irrational, self-defeating fear and the thoughts that it's too late in part by continuing to remind myself that I'm only 24, that I still have plenty of time. But I struggle to deal with the fact that my poor performance in school can't be changed and that places like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps have pretty firm GPA requirements that start at a 2.5GPA. When I think on these things, I get frustrated and hopeless with my lack of knowledge on what to do to get into a career of serving others that's why I'm posting this. I'm looking for advice, personal stories, anything to help me get to where I want to be. I don't know how to do it. I don't know what to do. I'm hoping y'all can help. Thanks.
posted by Modica to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
But I struggle to deal with the fact that my poor performance in school can't be changed and that places like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps have pretty firm GPA requirements that start at a 2.5GPA.

I can't answer your bigger-picture question, but I am pretty sure that this is not correct for the Peace Corps in general, though it appears to be true for at least the education program. I think you need to make sure you aren't setting up barriers to yourself that don't really exist.
posted by Forktine at 10:45 AM on June 23, 2012

There are thousands of opportunities to improve other peoples lives without going through the Peace Corps or Americorp. They just don't carry the same cultural capital on your resume.

Start by doing. Habitat for Humanity, work in an after school program, get Non profit experience, help them fundraise and learn grant writing.

Do informational interviews with people whose work you respect and ask THEM how to develop your skills and experience.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:50 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many many people have less than stellar undergraduate experiences that they rebound from.

You can too.

It sounds like you need some more concrete information about your options and what you want to do -- right now it's all imagined. Both the possibilities and the potential barriers.

So - get some information! Austin is a great city for exploring the kinds of things you're interested in. For example, you might try attending some of the lectures at UT's Community and Regional Planning Department (within their School of Architecture). I've met some students there and have been very impressed with their involvement with a number of community-improvement projects. Even if "planning" per se isn't your thing, you might hear about some projects and people that spark some more concrete ideas for you.

Also in Austin, Foundation Communities is an outstanding local organization I've been really proud to support for a long time. You might look into doing some volunteer work with them.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:54 AM on June 23, 2012

Can you take some community college courses in Austin to bring up your GPA a little? Maybe you could get a certificate of some kind, just to show, "Hey, I went to college at 16 and I was immature, but I've straightened up since then and I can commit myself to something and excel." You seriously are not the first person to struggle as a young adult, and you won't be the last. Many of us struggled like crazy during those years and have gone on to have happy, fulfilling lives.

Also, I think you should apply to some Americorps programs and see what happens. The worst that can happen is that you get rejected, and if you DO get rejected, you can call up whoever rejected you and ask what you could do to make yourself more competitive. They might say to get a different kind of work experience, go back to school, write an essay about why your grades don't reflect your capabilities, etc.

Also, Americorps isn't the only organization that supports long-term volunteering, either domestically or internationally. There are a bunch of religious organizations that support year-long volunteer projects, plus they put you up! There's Avodah Corps, Lutheran Volunteer Corps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Episcopal Service Corps...those all start in August, so they wouldn't be for this year, but for 2013. But that means you have six months to prepare to apply by volunteering, saving money, etc, and six months to actually get ready to GO if that's the direction you chose to take. They are sponsored by churches but they are open to everyone regardless of their faith background, although I think if you are a hardcore no-church person in whatever way, some of them would be too religious, but you can figure that out as you learn more about them. A lot of opportunities are listed HERE too.

Hey, do you know about handsoncentraltexas.org? Basically, they match willing volunteers in Austin with one-off or continuing volunteer programs. You can sign up for one Saturday morning or for a weekly thing or whatever. There are SOOOO many orgs out there that need help, and it would bring you into contact with people who are doing what you want to do.

Don't assume you're going to fail or that you've doomed yourself somehow. Just take the FIRST STEP. You don't have to get on a plane to Accra tomorrow. It's okay to take a year or even two or three years to get ready, THEN go.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:12 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here is one "blunt truth" I've learned over the years:

Once you have "2-3 years" of actual "doing stuff" (whether this is working or volunteering), NO ONE will ever look at your GPA ever, ever, ever again.

So - I hope that it is not a real stumbling block to your dreams+plans as others have suggested - perhaps some other paths would work.
posted by jkaczor at 1:27 PM on June 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I'm going through something very similar right now, so I don't know if I can give that great of advice.

But for about a month and a half this spring I had a gig as a canvasser for Amnesty International. I had to call people on the phone and go door-to-door to ask for donationa.

I learned a lot from it, and met some people who were very knowledgable about Amnesty's work and human rights globally. Doing that kind of thing, you have to teach yourself about the organization and be able to speak to strangers confidently about it. So you learn a lot, both about the organization, and public perceptions of what "human rights" means (evidently a big part of the struggle is increasing public awareness, so that governments can't get away with shit).

I think it's more important to educate yourself about these issues first and travel later. So this is why I suggest you volunteer for Amnesty or a similar Org.

another small thing I've done which has helped me is (well, do you have facebook?) finding the facebook pages of a lot of social justice organizations (amnesty, David Suzuki foundation here in Canada, local social advocacy groups) and "like" their pages. That way you get their updates in your news feed, and you can actually learn a lot from that.

Also, not all volunteer programs are ethical-- sometimes it's just a way for privileged north americans to fatten up their resumes so they can get higher salaries down the road (sorry for the cynicism). This is why I think getting involved locally is the best place to start-- get involved in causes that affect you or your community, directly, and about which you are knowledgable and experienced. Just a heads up-- as a white male, you will have to be aware of what is known as "privilege" and be careful with ...basically what you say and do, in order to not seem like a jerk.

Lastly, I think your GPA won't hold you back at all. In the arena of social activism, it's action that accomplished things, not credentials. So if you are firm in pursuing your goals, I don't see why your grades should hold you back.

it seems like you've been through a really hard time now like I have and are only starting to be able to have positive thoughts again. But if you can get out of a depressed state of mind (like I've been in too), your thoughts about the past holding you back will eventually dissipate and you'll see an open future in front of you. I think you should do as much as you can to take care of your state of mind and make yourself feel happy and empowered-- so be nice to yourself, eat well, sleep well, and I'd suggest taking up yoga several times a week (now i'm getting onto a tangent---it's just that your question is so similar to my life right now). Do anything you can to get rid of those mean cruel thoughts, so that inspired thought which see possibility can take their place. feel free to message me if you want to commiserate.
posted by costanza at 7:52 PM on June 23, 2012

i've had moments of clarity about my future too, and i just wanted to let you know that you have to be patient with them and not expect them to come often.
the path may become clear in a flash, but it will take lots of time and effort before you reach where you think you want to be.
so be prepared for struggles before you recieve another flash of insight or fulfillment. don't get discouraged if everything is still shitty at first, and don't expect another flash any time soon. is that trite?
posted by costanza at 8:00 PM on June 23, 2012

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