This is a guest post by Paula Orrego, a 24-year-old anti-bullying activist.
People and their individual histories fascinate me, especially their stories of how they got to where they are today. As someone who has debated her potential career paths for some years now, I am particularly interested in hearing about those “Aha!” moments when people realized they had found their calling.
Most of the people I have talked with, however, seemed to have known what they have wanted to be since they were children. There was never an “Aha!” moment for them. They never had to figure out what they wanted to do in life or where they fit in the world because they already knew where they fit.
My path in my life has not been quite a straight line; there have been many twists and turns (including a couple of U-turns) to get to where I am today, and I imagine you may have taken a similar path.
My “Aha!” Moment
It all started when I went to a private, all-girls, college-preparatory middle and high school. When I entered as a sixth grader, I thought I was called to be a teacher. After all, my parents are school teachers, and I had been helping out in their classrooms ever since I was little. I loved being an unofficial assistant teacher, and I wanted to take the next step!
All throughout those seven years, however, I got a taste of real-world problems that I had never known. I came face-to-face with all of the main types of bullying: verbal bullying, physical bullying, cyberbullying, relational bullying, and sexual bullying. I faced racism and classism. Dealing with these daily, traumatic experiences changes a person, especially someone who had previously had a sheltered childhood.
I soon learned I was not the only one at my school dealing with severe bullying. As bad as my experiences were, some girls had it worse, like an older friend of mine, who was pushed by bullies into the street in front of our school.
When I realized that other people were dealing with circumstances similar to mine, I felt angry; when I learned that teenagers, who were just as old as I was, were taking their own lives for circumstances similar to or even worse than mine, I was infuriated. Speaking from experience, it was maddening to live without a single person talking to you all day, and if they did, it was usually to say something to purposefully get under your skin. This living nightmare should not have to happen to anyone else. Unfortunately, I did not know what to do to make a difference–how to speak up for myself and others. After all, who would listen to someone as young and inexperienced in life as me?
As my junior year of high school started coming to a close, I began receiving emails from the school about internships and jobs available to us from different companies and organizations. At the bottom of one email, there was one sentence about a little camp called Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp.
I clicked on the link and looked through their website. At the time, YEA Camp was still relatively new, having been founded two years prior. The week-long, overnight camp in California looked for young applicants who were passionate about an injustice but did not know how to make a difference. The maximum age for campers was 17; this would be my last and only shot at getting into this camp, as I was going to turn 18 in August.
I sent in my application, and I was accepted a few weeks later.
At YEA Camp, I learned not just about bullying, but also about other issues, such as animal rights and global climate change. At the end of the week, I was matched with a staff mentor, who would help me create a plan of action against bullying at my school.
During my last year at that school, I not only met with the deans of each grade to discuss the severe bullying problem and propose ways of dealing with the issue, but I also gave a speech in front of the entire school (including teachers and other staff members) about bullying.
My anti-bullying efforts did not stop when I left that school; in college, I spoke about bullying as a survivor and an activist in places such as a high school social justice club, a college child development class, and at an event I hosted within my college campus.
By the time I had finished my freshman year at college, I had experienced my first “Aha!” moment: I would not be satisfied with my life if I did not dedicate myself to fighting the injustices I see in this world and focusing on bettering this place for the next generations to come. I wanted to be an activist.
I am still waiting for another “Aha!” moment, particularly with my future career. I see lots of paths I can take, and I honestly wish I could get four master’s degrees. However, all these potential careers have one common element: helping people. Although I took a path that had lots of twists and turns in my life, I would not have had it any other way, because I am happy with where I am now. I hope you find your “Aha!” moment, and the peace and happiness that comes along with it.