“Ask What Makes You Come Alive, and Go Do It”
On May 19th I got on a plane and flew to North Carolina for the National Solar Conference. I didn’t know it as the plane was taking off, but this was going to be the best trip of my life. To explain, let me tell you how I ended up being invited to the conference in the first place.
My story starts when I was in high school. I was a junior and I had an idea to help my community and our planet. My idea was to convince my school district to run our school buses on biodiesel. Biodiesel is diesel fuel that is made out of vegetable oil! Cool right?! To make this idea into a reality it took a lot. To summarize; I researched about the fuel, found a company that supplied Biodiesel in my area, found a grant writing specialist to help me secure a $10,000 grant to cover my project expenses and held countless business meetings. In the end, I went to my school board, presented my project in PowerPoint form, and earned unanimous approval from the board of trustees. It was such a good feeling! They listened to my idea and because of the fact that I did all the work for them and found a way for it to cost them nothing, they found it very easy to say yes! This taught me the power of my voice, the strength you can muster when following your convictions, and about the way to get things done in a bureaucratic system. After this project was complete, I was flown to Washington DC and given a national award for my efforts by the National Energy Education Development Project (or NEED project). They were such an awesome organization that I came back and worked for them for the next three summers! It was such a highlight of both my biodiesel project itself and my entire high school career. NEED is awesome, by the way, and anyone interested in energy related science fair projects or advancing energy curriculum in America’s schools should look into them! As I said, the award was a highlight for me, but the best part of all was when the buses started getting converted to biodiesel and all the kids at my school started purposefully standing behind idling buses because they smelled like French fries! Haha! Everyone knew about the project and lots of kids stopped me in the hallways and asked me to explain how biodiesel worked. Could they pour vegetable oil into their parent’s gas tanks? (NO!! Ethanol Instead!! hahaha!!) And, were there any other awesome energy alternatives out there like biodiesel? I knew when this started that I had succeeded in every way I had hoped. You see, my initial goals were three fold; I wanted to improve the health and safety of the students, staff and environment, I wanted to save the school district money, and I wanted to create an educational experience for all involved. It was the best feeling in the world to succeed at all three, but little did I know, in terms of my professional career in relation to this project, the best was still to come.
After I graduated high school, I moved to a town in northern California called Davis and started school at the University of California, Davis. There, I met lots of interesting people and had great experiences, but I didn’t talk or think much about my high school biodiesel project at all. I was too busy getting an education and playing sports with my friends! I got all the way to my senior year in college without thinking about my high school biodiesel project more than a few times, but then, April of my senior year, I got a call about it that changed my life. The woman who called me was a representative from the National Solar Conference that was to be held that year (2011) in Raleigh, North Carolina. She told me she had heard my name from someone in Washington DC. She wanted me to give a presentation about my biodiesel project and my success as part of her forum on “Renewable Energy in Schools.” I almost fell over! They were offering me such an amazing opportunity! To be a forum presenter at the National Solar Conference?! “Heck Yes!” I wanted to yell, but I contained my enthusiasm and calmly replied “Yes, Gabriela, I would love to be on your forum.” The ball started rolling from that moment and didn’t stop until a week after the conference itself! Allow me to explain.
May 20th finally came and the conference began. At the conference, I met industry leaders and solar geniuses. I met CEO’s and interns alike. I talked to so many people that I almost lost my voice! Then, of course it was time for my presentation (good timing huh?) I was the first to speak, and I was nervous, but when I stood up and started talking about my passion, environmentally friendly projects and how to manage them, I felt right at home. The PowerPoint had lots of fun pictures of buses and biodiesel facts and pictures of me winning awards, and when it was over, people applauded and looked impressed with my project. It felt good. The other presenters went after me, Glen Kizer among them, and let me just say; they gave me so much hope and inspiration for the future of energy education in our schools! They made up a dream team! I was so honored to be among them. When all was said and done, I was approached by my new idol, Glen Kizer, and he offered me a position working to manage some of his California Solar school projects that needed attention. I gladly accepted (again, choking down the words “Heck YES!”) and we are now quasi business partners. I hope to make him very proud. The best part about the schools I am going to be working with is that, they are all near and around my hometown! I grew up in Watsonville, CA and the schools are all very near to there! I was also offered a fulltime position working for a solar company, after I graduate college, as a project administrator! This is EXACTLY what I have always loved to do!!! These two jobs are my dreams come true! And I didn’t have to change myself or my aspirations in order to achieve them. I just stayed true to my passion, focused intently on what I loved doing, worked really hard to get good at it, and now it’s going to be my career!!
This experience taught me is something that I would like to pass on to as many young people as possible, and that is: as we are growing up, adults sometimes pressure us to choose career goals that are “conventional” and “lucrative.” They generally encourage us to choose jobs that will make us lots of money first, and they try to convince us that that is what will make us happy (the money and stability). Well, I am here to tell you it works the other way around. You can’t look for a job that will make you the most money and think that that will buy you happiness, the best thing you can possibly do is to search the world for what excites you – what makes you happy, what makes you come alive – and start pursuing that! Even if it’s something that you are told will be hard to make money in. Ignore the silly adults in your life who didn’t learn this lesson as children themselves and focus yourself on the passion of your life! I can give you this advice because I learned this first hand. I knew I was passionate about saving the environment. I knew working to save the environment was not going to make me very much money, but I decided to avidly pursue it anyways. People in my life encouraged me to think practically; what would make me money? “Try nursing school or veterinary school, or law school, or become a professional of some sort.” Their general advice was basically telling me to fit myself into a pre-made peg whole. There are careers out there that have specific names and you can even do a Google search and find a salary range for most of them! That makes people comfortable, to be able to label your future career and have an idea of what you will be making, but that type of mentality didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t want to become a peg. I had very particular ideas about what I wanted my career to look like but I didn’t fit into any of the conventional slots! So, I just stayed true to my passion, ignored naysayers and hoped that someday I would find a way to make money with my skills. And now, I have the exact job I’ve always wanted! I get to manage Glen’s solar school projects over the summer and be the ‘go-to girl” for the principals and teachers, which is perfect for me because I love schools and working with green projects! And, likewise, for the new company I am going to be working for, I get to manage entire solar installation projects! From the marketing, to the implementation, to the public relations, to the finances! I am in the exact place I’ve always wanted to be and I am happier than I ever would have been as a nurse or lawyer.
So, my final advice? Stay true to yourself and follow these wise words of Howard Thurman and you will be happy.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs, is people who have come alive.”