I honestly haven’t felt so alive in awhile, career wise, until today when I had a completely amazing conversation with a complete stranger. I had a older gentleman come into my uncle’s furniture store today – Furniture Mattress Outlet in Ranch Cordova, CA (shameless plug). I was covering for his team today since they are out at a funeral (fun fact: I used to sell furniture here after I graduated college while searching for my dream job). Not sure how it even came up but before we both knew it, it was an hour long converasation about today’s health care system, doctors prescribing more medciations than ever, a pill is expected to fix everything, how we should be shifting our focus over to diet & exercise as a treatment plan, as well as education, prevention vs treatment plans, or including health education in treatment plans etc. Before I knew it, 45 minutes had gone by and my body just felt lit up. I have not felt this passionate in awhile. It reignited my love for Public Health and health education.
When I started college, my mom pushed and pushed for me to become a nurse. I was young and I truly believed it was a career for me. Don’t get me wrong, if I did become a nurse back then I’m so certain I would of ended up a public health nurse. But once I finished up at a community college and walked away with 3 associates degree (shameless toot of my own horn), I took a gap year. I applied to nursing school and didn’t get in. Apart of me was sad but apart of me was relieved. It broke my heart to see people hospitalized. I also didn’t like hospitals because I spent so much time in them when my dad was super sick. I struggled to understand why people continued to get sick with diseases that were almost preventable with proper education. There were a ton of educational resources out there but they were not reaching those that needed it. I also realized that if someone is dealing with gun violence in their neighborhood, they’re not worried about diabetes because they’re probably going to shot to death before their diabetes claims their life. Sad truth. There was a need for policy, system & environment changes to occur in order us to do health education work.
Anyways, so at 21, I decided I was going to go back for a public health degree at sac state. Let me tell you, my time at sac state, I met some of the best of the best professors who filled my cup. I was so inspired to go out and change the world, so when I landed my last job, I was ecstatic. It was a job that allowed me to be in the trenches to serve underserved communities. I was doing health education in a different setting. Let me tell you, it was not as easy as I thought. I quickly learned that there were elements of health education that I didn’t learn in school. Relationship building was the key to the work. You had to really get to know the community you were serving, the challenges they were facing and why health wasn’t their priority. I had to forget work plans, state deliverables and focus on the people & their community. I found myself shifting to a servant leadership mindset. I spent more time asking how can I help you accomplish these goals instead of operating with a checklist & workplan I was given by the state. I quickly learned that you can only create change if you really take the time to understand the behaviors and take the work people are already doing to the next level by one simple suggestion. I started to win at my work everyday when I saw small changes. Yes, they were not big changes that the state was looking for but I went to bed every night knowing, I had change the life of one person and that person’s health & life would be different from here on out because of one piece of information I was able to give them.
I won’t lie, the public health work is hard, and it doesn’t pay well. You got to constantly surround yourself with people who believe in the work to remind yourself that this work is worth it and will change the trajectory for generations. However, I did get really jaded at one point because it became frustrating when you go out there, do all this great health education work just for someone to fall back into old habits. This really pissed me off I won’t lie. I felt that my efforts were wasted and started to think maybe I should of listened to my mom and became a nurse. At least, I would be sitting with a shit ton of money right now instead of dealing with grants applications, lack of funding, and lack of support from various government entities. So I left my job when we were dealing with lack of funding. I contemplate various career options that I could go into that would pay well, give me that big house and fancy car. But the more I researched the more I didn’t feel fulfilled. I felt like the least authentic version of myself. I felt like a sellout. It wasn’t me, it was my lust for material things that really brought me no joy.
But today, a lightbulb went off and today I am reminded of why I love the field of public health and why this work matters. This isn’t just health education. It’s changing people’s life. It’s changing the next seven generations life. It’s creating a better world. It’s building community. It’s relationship building. It’s a shitty paying job but it fills your heart. It’s long, tireless days wondering if the work you do will matter because people are going back to old habits. It’s long nights of wondering if you should of gone into a different career. It’s moments where you see a child light up because they tried a new vegetable they haven’t had before and love it. It’s where partnerships allowed a whole community to go home with a bag of groceries. It’s convincing a whole school to implement their health & wellness policy. It’s being a catalyst for change. It’s empowerment. It’s teaching self love & self respect. It’s a desire to leave the world better. It’s human compassion. It’s love. Public Health to me is love for thy neighbors.
So what does this mean for me in the next few years ? Its me going back to school and get my master’s degree. It’s me wanting to teach at a college. It’s me wanting to work for a nonprofit organization. It’s me networking with likeminded individuals. It’s me filling my cup again with the things that light me up and give me warm & fuzzy feelings. I want to do good and doing good makes me feel good.
I hope this post makes you start thinking about what lights you up. Or when you’re talking to people, what makes you feel so passionate. Follow that feeling, make it you’re calling. Stop buying into society’s expectation of jobs that pay well, or that 401k plan. Everything will eventually workout. Just follow that lightbulb. It’ll take you to places that make you feel good and do good.