I sank down in my seat. The room was full of people, and yet, I felt alone. We would sit at the dining room table during the holidays and eat hors d’oeuvres, appetizing ourselves before the main dish was ready. Year after year, chatter would commence about each other’s careers. As my cousins spoke about where they were going to college and what they would be studying, their eyes lit up and so did all those around them. Doctors. Lawyers. Jobs that made money. I would count lines on the ceiling because I knew when it was my turn to share, my future goals would seem meek.
I shook myself out of the daze I was in and stood up straight. It was my turn to speak. Everyone was prepared for me to say something similar—something in healthcare, something fancy, niche, and smart.
“Oh,” I said, “I want to be a counselor.” Originally wanting to be an OBGYN, disappointment flooded their faces. In their heads, they were laughing at me. I knew I would be told yet again that counseling was a “soft skill” and I would not “make anything.” I was not thinking straight according to them. I was great at math and science. Why not a doctor? Why not a nurse? “I don’t know,” I would say as I quickly changed the topic.
“How much will you even make?” was commonly asked. At the time, that question scared me, I thought I would end up starving, never making ends meet. I always felt like I was drowning in the chatter of how proud everyone was of each other. How great of a life they would have, the vacations they would be able to go on, and the houses they would buy. Someone would try to persuade me . . . I did not grow up with money, wouldn’t I want different for my children?
I never really felt like I belonged when I was in these situations. I felt like I was in a movie. I had been shrunk and was running between people’s legs, trying not to get stepped on. Except, it was in these moments that I knew I had chosen the right path.
As I grew older and started to embark on my counseling journey, I realized how much I made had more than a monetary value. I decided to focus my attention on working at schools. I felt I could help children, the future of our world. Help them so they could become those great doctors, lawyers, nurses and so much more. My first paycheck as a counselor was certainly not enough to cover the cost of a lavish house or a vacation to Bora Bora. However, in that paycheck and every paycheck after that, I made so much more.
I made a child feel like they finally had a friend.
I made someone feel safe for the first time in their lives.
I made a family go home with the food, clothes, and toiletries they struggled to afford.
I made a child feel encouraged and supported as they were failing all of their classes.
I made a student feel listened to as no one listens to them at home.
I made a kindergartener feel seen when I was the only one to play with her for a week.
I made a mother feel relieved when I helped her son get the accommodations he needed.
I made a bully learn how to be kind and how to deal with his own personal trauma.
I made a fifth grader feel loved by being the only one who has hugged her in days.
I made kids feel hopeful, encouraged, loved, heard, and validated.
I made them realize their own strengths so they could accomplish anything they set their mind to.
I made students feel confident after they have learned skills to help them cope with their anxiety and depression.
I made school-wide programs to ensure students are receiving instruction in mental health.
I made groups for students so they could learn about others who were going through similar events as them.
I made kids learn to break down walls and barriers to their success.
I made the shy girl learn how to stand up for herself.
Looking at my pay stub, I may never see thousands of dollars. I may never get my dream home or go on my dream vacation. However, I am the richest person alive if I can help others achieve their dreams and goals. Without these supports in place, we would not have the amazing surgeons and CEOs we have today.
I wish I could go back to those Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners and tell myself what I know now. Tell myself all the lives I would change and all the students I would impact. So, no, I won’t make a lot of money, but I will make a difference.