Should you follow your passion?
To follow one’s passion or not to follow one’s passion is a classic dilemma of fresh graduates. Here’s the story of Nindita Hapsari and how she struggled to finally get her dream job in the field of Environment.
This might be a classic question that most people have had, or probably will have at some point in their lives. There are hundreds of books and articles discussing this matter and why it is, or it is not, a good idea. For those who encourage others to follow their passion, they will say that it will bring them encouragement to go after things that bring fulfillment to their lives. In contrary, for some others, they often want to take a more secure route. This, to some extent, is also reasonable.
I, too, had asked myself this question. It took me a few years to get the answer. Here is my journey.
Growing up in Indonesia, I remember the time when I had to pick a major for college. All of the options considered revolved around chemistry, physics, engineering and all things science. I guess it was partly because the choices were dictated by a conventional selection of jobs that are considered “secure” in this country. Also, all of my family members are engineering graduates. As the result, I slightly felt the pressure to live up to the “expectation” from my family that I now realize was just made up. Hence, during my foundation years in Trinity College Foundation Studies in Melbourne, Australia, I took a chemistry subject with a thought that I would go the chemical engineering path and not become an outlier in the family. However, I struggled. I didn’t understand the concepts, the jargons or anything at all to the point that I had to drop the subject. At that point, I was only left with one option, a subject that I was not familiar with and had no knowledge of called Environment and Sustainable Development.
If I look back, taking that subject might be one of the best decisions I have ever made. This is possibly because a part of me that I had never discovered wanted to dedicate my life to increasing the livelihood of the needy, while saving mother earth at the same time. In short, this decision has led me to one thing I had never discovered before: passion. It is something that, if done correctly, will give me a kind of satisfaction that I will never get from anything else. Not even from money. I am not going to lie that it may not be the most money-making field, let alone to provide me with the most secure job in the world. This is especially the case in Indonesia where what is considered as “success” often revolves around becoming a doctor, engineer, or civil servant. However, it is something that excites me every time I get up in the morning and that is something that I would not have got if I had chosen to pursue a career in chemical engineering.
Following my foundation years, I picked a major in Environmental Science for my bachelor degree and Environment for my masters, both completed in University of Melbourne, Australia. This had opened up a wide range of opportunities, including working at the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) in Victoria, learning from one of the authors of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II (IPCC WG2) that was awarded with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and meeting Al Gore (well, listening to his talk on climate change does count as “meeting him” I guess, I would like to think about it that way). These experiences excited me and constantly reminded me why I chose to pursue this pathway in the first place. The thoughts of being able to contribute to sustainable development, increasing the livelihood of the needy and simultaneously ensuring that the environment is preserved was just comforting. I just thought to myself that, with all of the opportunities that had been given to me, everything would only get better. Getting a job in the environment field would be easy peasy. I mean, what could go wrong?
Turns out, everything.
Following my graduation, I spent nearly one year to find a job in the environment field. Waste management, climate change, renewable energy, manager, analyst, scientist, consultant, lab technician, everything was in my search field. My job search list was getting longer but I was not getting close to securing anything. This could easily be the lowest point of my life.
I remember crying myself to sleep thinking about the fact that I was nowhere near where I wanted to be: making positive impacts to the livelihood of people and the environment. I remember having breakdowns and simultaneously crushing the hearts of the people around me who wanted to see me happy and content with life. At that point I had realized that this passion might not take me anywhere. Jobs in that field were, and still are, limited. What is it that I am trying to pursue? Is it worth it? Will I be making money out of this? Will I be successful in the future? Will I actually get to help people, just the way I intended this whole thing to go? Or maybe I should work in as an accountant. Maybe I should open up a business. Maybe I should just stay home. These thoughts roamed around in my mind like white-collar workers on the New York streets –overwhelming and unforgiving. At some point I felt like I had to give up.
However, there was one thing that popped in my head every time I was down. It is a mantra simple yet powerful enough to propel me forward:
It’s the passion that helps people, so why would you give up on that?
This has kept me going ever since. I knew all along that I would dedicate my life to helping others, to preserving the environment, to safe mother earth. It is the reason why I did two university degrees in that field. It is the reason why I chose to work at the EPA, go out in the field and learn about relevant environmental policies, atmospheric changes, soil and water quality, industrial waste management, and the list goes on. It is my passion.
My road to my dream job has been bumpy. At one point I took up a job in a private sector in the field that was totally unrelated to environment. However, that did not deter me from looking for that dream job. I got up and started applying to as many vacancies as practically possible and to as many different positions as theoretically reasonable. I once applied to a single Non- Governmental Organization (NGO) seven times for varying positions, including intern, research assistant, researcher and manager, and not getting any call back. I participated in workshops, attended events and reconnected to people who might be able to help me out in getting that dream job. I did everything I could, until one day I finally got it.
It took me more than two years to finally get to where I have always wanted to be. And it took me two years to finally get the answer to the question: following your passion is not a must, hell, you do not even have to have a passion. I think it is worth it to have it, even more so to work towards it and even more so to achieve it.
Currently, I am a researcher at an environmental NGO that focuses on sustainable development of farmers, helping them to reach sustainability and certifications, ensuring that they have more competitive advantage in the market while also maintaining high regards towards environmental sustainability in their cultivating practices. Now I know that my contribution to the organization will have lasting impacts on the livelihood of many people. I am finally there, and I am just getting started.
All I am trying to say is, following your passion may not come with the most secure and moneymaking job in the world. It may not even provide you with the smoothest pathway to reach it. Your path may be less bumpy than mine, but expect it to be a lot worse, especially when your passion is not within that sphere of the so-called conventional careers. Depending on how ambitious you are, your path may stress you out and leave you feeling helpless. However, always believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It may not happen now, but if you are persistent enough – and stubborn enough – you will get there and it will be worth it. Once you’re there, you will laugh at yourself and think why you worried so much.
Find a passion that fires you up from within and makes you excited when you wake up. Find a passion that benefits people. Find a passion that you know you can be good at, and in doing so, be bold and courageous but at the same time cautious and realistic.
I wish you a safe and smooth journey ahead!
Dita has a passion in all things environment and sustainable development, and is currently working at Institut Penelitian Inovasi Bumi (INOBU) as a researcher. She is currently working on projects related to the palm oil industry, where she has also assisted stakeholders in developing legality and traceability mechanisms for oil palm fruits. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science as well as a Master of Environment degrees from the University of Melbourne, where she was awarded with the Environmental Graduate Study Awards for academic excellence. Prior to joining INOBU, she worked in the private sector for a year. She currently resides in Bali and enjoys the occasional visits to the beach