“I don’t have a passion!” I remember whining to my mom from the kitchen table.
I was 17 years old, applying for colleges and attempting to pick a path for essentially the rest of my life. (LOL about the passion thing; I may have overcompensated since then.) Knowing how much I love people and enjoy writing, 17-year-old Alysse did a very nice service to 27-year-old Alysse and picked journalism. In journalism school, I met Kate, honed very handy researching and reporting skills, and gained experience with big assignments and tight deadlines—I really couldn’t ask for more.
We both worked in magazines for several years during and after college, grew professionally, moved into our first adult apartments, and quickly wanted more from our jobs—in different directions. In the years I spent at Reader’s Digest, my first post-college gig, I found the time and freedom to figure out where all my passions—education, environment, social justice, people, animals, and more—intersected.
Lightbulb moment: The food system! Since that epiphany, I’ve hustled non-stop to help build a community-based, socially just, ecologically sustainable, nutritious food system for all—starting in my beloved Milwaukee, at Victory Garden Initiative.
But a simmering energy has been the undercurrent of nearly every job I’ve had, and over time it started to come to my attention with more and more clarity. I thought frequently of something I learned from Lisa at Sister Pie: Figure out the basic action that makes you happy, and build your career around that. All along, the thing I have been seeking is spending my days teaching kids. Challenging kids, sweet kids, struggling kids, goofy kids, all the kids. And what better way to influence the future than care for, educate and empower the pint-size people who are going to create it? There are nearly 80,000 children in Milwaukee Public Schools—80,000!!!—so why not pour as much positivity, resources and love as we can into a massive institution that will actually, literally, create our future?
I am extremely excited to share that I will be starting a certificate-to-Master’s teaching program at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee this August. I’ll be a teacher in a year in a half, then I can take a few final credits to earn my Master’s. From then on, you may call me Master Alysse. But just Alysse is okay right now.
(Side note: After I’ve been teaching for about 20 years, I plan to help revamp a struggling school or help start a new one to better serve our community’s children, then join the MPS school board, then run for State Senate when I am about 65. Save the date for November 2054. VOTE ALYSSE!)
However, we’re still in 2016, and lots of my friends—and, I’m willing to bet, lots of other human beings I do not yet know—are currently having their own kitchen table moments. Or they’re trying to figure out how to make the transition from a money- or rank-centered professional existence to a passion-centered one. So from one person trying to make a living doing things that make life worth living to another, here are six ideas I’ve tried:
- Read People with Panache. Word on the street is they have some pretty inspiring, relatable, entertaining stories. (Come on, with amazing women like this and this, can you blame me? #shamelessplug)
- Make a list. Write down all the things that get you happy, excited, frustrated, riled up—even if they feel “too big.” Don’t let yourself look at your phone—just write and write until you can’t think of more things. Then put your list away, and come back another day to examine it for themes or overlaps—and do something about one of those things, even if it’s just reading a book or listening to a podcast.
- Take a class. Have you always wanted to explore fencing? Embroidery? Flower farming? Coding? There are classes out there—in singles and in packages—filled with like-minded people who share your interests. There’s no better investment than YOU. As we couldn’t stop saying last week, treat yo-self!
- Explore longer-term non-degree programs—like certificates or in-depth courses. As I realized my food system calling, I joined VGI’s Food Leader Certificate Program, a 10-month educational institute about the food system, community organizing and leadership. Based in Milwaukee where I live, it had the combination of skill training, leadership cultivation and community I was seeking. Plus, it built in the time I needed to integrate my learning into my life.
- Volunteer. Before I worked at VGI, I volunteered at our urban farm and built gardens during the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden BLITZ. And for nearly a year now, I have been teaching youth education at my church. Unpaid opportunities come with rich experience and provide a relatively risk-free foray into new fields you just might love.
- Be kind to yourself. Whether you’re actively seeking more meaningful work or you’re happy where you are and just need a little something more, remember to give yourself the patience and care you’d give to your best friend. I know Kate does that for me, and I am forever grateful!
Do you have anything you’d like to add to this list? What about inspiring podcasts, logistical questions, things you’ve tried, crazy ideas? Share!