My mother always said that the meaning of life exists in helping other people. She lived this philosophy by spending 35 years teaching infants with disabilities in the crowded farmworker homes of Watsonville, California. She built her life around helping these families and her own.
She also instilled a belief that I could make a difference with my future. Our family wasn’t wealthy, but I knew I was lucky to have complete freedom to choose my path. I thought of this when I came in second for a non-profit job I applied for, and asked my interviewers if a Master’s degree would help. “With a Master’s degree, you could run the place,” they replied, so I moved to New York to earn a graduate degree in non-profit management.
Living and studying in the country’s most expensive city, I went into debt and passed on the city’s luxuries. Instead, I spent long days connecting elder jazz musicians to health care and employment, and longer evenings in class.
Today I work for a nonprofit dedicated to the eradication of sex slavery and the empowerment of its survivors based around the vision and life’s work of survivor and activist Somaly Mam. The organization is young and operates like a startup, forcing me to create new paths, challenge myself and take risks. My role has shifted a few times and I recently put fears aside to make my first ask for major financial support for the organization. My courage was rewarded: The resulting check was many times more generous than I’d hoped.
Among many misconceptions about a career in nonprofits is that it caters to people who are lazy or unqualified for corporate jobs. I approach my job seriously, applying the same rigor that I would to a corporate position. I consider it a privilege to tackle this global issue and to support a change-maker, and I know that each hour spent cultivating donors means that many more skills training courses for women in the centers or education sessions in the brothels.
Sometimes I think I sacrifice more than I should for this job, and my husband worries when I answer emails late at night or get stressed. After our wedding last summer, I went to Cambodia for work instead of on a honeymoon (we’re planning one now). I recently turned 30 and we’re starting to discuss whether to have children and how that would even work in our small Brooklyn apartment and busy lives.
But in the meantime, I will continue to lean in by embracing opportunities where I have the potential to make a real impact and where I can positively affect the lives of other women and girls. I’m making my work my mission, and I’m following in the footsteps and philosophy of my mother.