I believe in taking risks – that we all need to take risks in our lives – I believe we need to get outside of the comfortable boxes that most of us live in and follow our dreams, our hopes, and push ourselves to be better. I’ve often wondered what it was that drives me to be the person that I am and I believe that this person is a result of the risks that I’ve taken in trying to figure out who I am and what I am doing here. By here, I mean most everywhere and everything that I’ve done throughout my life – my wife recently told me that even before she knew me, she knows that I have always wondered what I’m doing here. After my father died two days before my twentieth birthday, I spent a semester abroad in Brazil – while I was there, I knew I didn’t quite fit in with the other students because of my loss and I wondered what I was doing there – I found that the risks involved in studying medicinal plants along the Amazon River filled me with fascination and satisfaction. I then spent three years trying to figure out what to do next, because as I’ve often said since returning, the culture shock of coming back to the USA was harder than living along the Amazon. During those three years, I often asked myself “what am I doing here?” as I worked mundane and boring jobs that offered little challenge, but I’ve since figured out that those jobs and working with people whose only risk involved traffic jams and boredom have taught me just as much – that the risks and the rewards are worth the fear, the loneliness, and the angst because without the risks we all just move along, from day to day, and never understand what other people are going through. Throughout graduate school, during a Master’s and PhD in two different, but related fields, I often wondered what I was doing there – were the long hours, intense exams, and frustrating research worth it? I convinced myself that because my mother died of breast cancer and I was searching for medicines for breast cancer from plants that the struggle was worth it. As I grew more removed from the grief of the loss of my mother, I wondered again, “what am I doing here?” I recently finished my schooling and accepted a postdoctoral job in Panama – in another country, another language, another culture. Talk about risks! But as I sit on a boat in the Caribbean Ocean, putting on my mask and fins and checking my scuba gear, preparing to collect algae to test against tropical diseases, I realize that all these risks have gotten me to a career that I love, with meaning, purpose, challenge, and most importantly fun. I believe that we are all capable of extraordinary things if we only accept the risks that go along with following our dreams. I believe that asking ourselves what we are doing here, helps us to focus on the amazing capacities in all of us.
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