Note: The following is a story about my life, but in sharing it  I hope it is inspiring and that perhaps I may help you in your quest to find your path! 

Passionate People

I am a SUPER senior at BYU. In fact, I am about to become a SUPER SUPER senior, ha ha. And as much as some people may wonder, why the heck have you been in school so long, I can finally see the reasons and see how all the experiences I have had over the past 5 years in school have molded and shaped me and brought me to the place where I am today (and it is a very good place)!

I feel like all the seemingly random things I have done over the years are now like threads coming together like a beautiful tapestry and it is amazing to see. I realize now that things that seemed “random” at the time are in fact all part of the greater whole and plan, that make up my life!

For MANY MANY MANY (you get the point) years, I wondered WHAT the heck I was “going to be when I grew up.” I liked so many things, I enjoyed so many things, I was good at so many things, that settling on one major or course of study, was  TORTURE!!! I took career test after career test, I talked to all kinds of people, I prayed, I pondered, I fasted, I cried in frustration, I took all kinds of classes and still I didn’t feel PASSIONATE about one thing. (I don’t know where I got the idea what I only needed to be passionate about one thing)!

When I got back from my mission I finally settled on Psychology (which at that point was my third major) and felt that it would be a good basis for future work or education. But then again, I STILL didn’t know what exactly I was going to do when I had said Psychology degree. I began to look into Masters and PhD programs but nothing felt quite right. I gave up on the grad school idea after searching for months with no luck!

Then during Fall semester 2010, I took an Organizational Psychology class, and I loved, loved, love it – mostly because we had an awesome grad student (Rebecca Cañate) who taught it, and she let us “run wild” creatively (which I thrived on). I felt engaged and that the things we were learning were not only helpful educationally, but personally as well!

On the last day of class, she told us her story – about how she came to be a PhD student in Psychology and how she was now moving on to do an MBA and how people thought she was crazy, but how the path we take to what we want to do may not be the typical path, but that it didn’t matter how we got there. She encouraged us to be flexible in our plans and ot be passionate about something. After class I asked her to help me figure out what I was doing with my life and after I told her, “I want to do something to help Africa,” she told to look into Social Entrepreneurship (I didn’t know anything about it, but I figured I’d look into after finals).

Then, just a few days later, on the last day of final exams I got an email from the Students for International Development (SID) club on campus, informing me that there was an on-campus internship opportunity through the newly formed Students for Social Entrepreneurship (SSE) organization. I realized this was no coincidence! When I went to apply for the internship I knew little to nothing about Social Entrepreneurship, but I spent the next hour researching and reading up on this exciting field of work. I had to answer four essay questions as part of the application process and I answered them in a remarkably short time. I realized I wanted, no I NEEDED, this internship and experience! I realized I WAS going to be a Social Entrepreneur someday. I didn’t know what I would be doing, when, or how, but I knew WHY!!! (see the TED talk by Simon Sinek: Start With Why!)

So that is what I have been doing this semester. I was assigned to the Acumen Fund team and we recently had a BYU Weekly segment done one us. (Watch here and skip to minute 8).

Below is one of the essays I wrote as part of my application to the Students for Social Entrepreneurship internship.

Tell us why you are interested in social entrepreneurship and/or why you are passionate about making a difference in the world.

“Growing up in South Africa, I saw a lot of poverty around me. It began really impacting me as a teenager as I saw the types of lives that so many lived and I felt something was not right with it. I had small jobs throughout high school, and my family was by no means wealthy, however we had enough to be okay.In South Africa, the unemployment rate is extremely high. There are many without housing and food. This results in alot of begging and crime. It is not uncommon to see shoeless and/or shirtless children (and adults) standing on street corners and at intersections with signs or outstretch hands and pleading faces. When there is so many in need it is difficult to see how YOU can help or make a difference. It is something you are faced with daily, in your own struggle and yet, I found myself even as a teenager often giving away the little I made to these people who were so clearly not as well off as I was.

Many people, in addition to standing in the roads, come knocking on front doors asking for food, money or work. Occasionally they are selling things they have made. My family had a policy of giving as much as we could to those who knocked. While we couldn’t afford to give money to all who knocked, we always offered them food or something to drink. I’m not sure I could ever count how many sandwiches I have made, or fruit or cans of food I have handed to outstretched hands. With only a few exceptions, their reactions are the same… relieved eyes, grateful words and humble nods. These frequent experiences touched my heart and made me grateful for what I had. Furthermore, I have several memories and  experiences that I will never forget and that have changed me, perhaps more than I even realize. There are too many to mention here, but I will share one.

There was a man who would periodically knock on our front door. And it happened that I would always be the one who answered the door when he knocked. He was not a beggar like so many others, he was an entrepreneur. He has the biggest smile and happiest disposition even though his job was selling garden signs that he personally made and then sold door to door – rain or shine  – every day! I’m not sure how much success he had, but the I doubt he was raking in the big bucks. I think it was his smile and his attitude that started our friendship. Every time he knocked we would have a conversation, and while I only purchased two signs from him the first time (perhaps for the equivalent of $4 each) he still knocked on our door periodically and I’d offer him a drink or and apple or we’d have a short conversation. I learned he had a wife and several children. I learned that he was a faithful man, a good man. He became my friend.

I have not seen him for many years, as I have been at BYU, but occasionally when I talk to my family on the phone, they will tell me he came by the house and wanted to say hello to me, or know how I was doing. Today as I write this, I feel a bit emotional at the memory of this man, but at the same time, I feel gratitude for our interaction. I also feel a strong desire to learn more about social entrepreneurship so that I can use all the opportunities I have had in education and in life, to go back to South Africa and help men and woman like him, to grow and develop their skills and businesses.  And I believe that even something as small as this will make a difference, even if it is slow – it will be sustainable. And I believe I will see what man again one day and be able to tell him how much he inspired me to make a difference, because of the difference he made in my life!”

What I want to say today is – follow your passion, your dreams and do what brings you joy and happiness and what allows you to share your talents and serve others! Finding out what your passion is, is not as hard as you think. Take some time to be quiet and you WILL know in time!

Go well!

~Ruby (aka Jacqueline du Plessis)

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