“What do you want to be?”, “What do you want to do with your life?” and “What do you do for a living?” seemed to be the common inquiries on discovering one’s career path. People ask these questions at parties, schools, encounters and networking events. On the surface, it is simple. For a lot of people, though, it unveils a long journey to reconcile oneself and their worth.  As long as I can remember, the focus on what one does for work has always been strong. Part of it is my own passion for meaning and relevance. Another part is being a daughter of Filipino immigrants who both meet and defy the expectations of both the model minority myth and Filipino cultural expectations.

I have developed the drive for finding meaningful work since I was a teenager. I also developed the need for significance and leadership in my work as well. It came from wanting to find my place in the world as an autistic Filipina woman. It came from seeing my mother’s example of carving her own path as someone who started her own financial and business consulting firm in the US. It also came from seeing how unfulfilled dreams negatively affected the maternal side of my mother’s family. The ultimate drive at that point was “how can I survive and I prove my worth in a way that honors who I am?” It led to a lot of exploring.

When choosing a high school, I really wanted to attend a high school that had the humanities magnet program. We found a high school that had it, but it did not have a comprehensive special education program. We later found a school that had both a magnet program and a good special education department. At the time, I thought I could be a lawyer like some of my relatives from my father’s paternal side, which informed my decision to be there. However, after being in the law and government magnet program in high school and to an educational leadership trip to Washington D.C., I realized that I was not cut out to be an attorney as much as I loved learning about politics. I even participated in a certified nursing assistant training program during our winter and summer breaks from school. It ended up being in vain when my speech and debate tournament is also on the same weekend as the CNA exam. I chose to attend the tournament to give my original oratory speech over participating in the exam. When I got to the next round of the exam, I was not able to pass it.  By the time I was going to college, I had already made a lot of pivots in my career interests and passions. Somehow, I knew that both seeking growth and honoring what’s important to me will be an anchor on my pathfinding journey to meaningful vocation and work. Little did I know that I would be spending over a decade being tested on that and facing the challenges that were being brought up.

Before entering college and into freshman year, I was not completely clear about my path because I changed my mind several times before finishing high school. However, I was clear about what I am good at and what I like, so I majored in English and Communication Studies. My concentrations were  writing and media studies. At that point, I just wanted to find a way to become a writer. I connected with a few progressive professors in my majors. I also experienced the wider living and learning community. During my involvement with an Asian American student organization, I also developed a passion for justice, community development, and social change along with writing, media, spirituality and art. By the time I graduated from college, a lot of my passions became clear.  Finding paid work that would support me in that ended up being more of a challenge.

At age 22, I thought I made it. I struggled fitting in at elementary school with my mother fighting for me to be mainstreamed and still have special ed services and IEP. Then, with a help of a one-on-one aide and afterschool arts program, I found a way to socially and academically succeed in middle school and high school. I was able to graduate from college. I even got my first marketing internship at a film marketing company, which later became my first paid freelance gig. I got a few more internet marketing internships that became freelance gigs for a while too. 

However, I could not break through the job market. What ended up happening was that I worked with my mom’s business as an administrative assistant and social media marketer part time while getting few social media and personal assistant side gigs for years. I got into internships related to marketing, public relations, ministry and leadership over the years. I also worked part time as a tutor and afterschool program leader for a while. I eventually got a full-time work as a community liaison and professional cleaner at an urban farm and community building enterprise that offers short term lodging as one of their services. It was one of the few times where I experienced some job stability and growth. We really make a priority to build community, create good work and foster transformative relationships with each other in the workplace.  Sadly, due to gentrification, they were pushed out and relocated. I lost my job. Then with a friend’s referral, I landed at a vacation rental management company, working as a part-time cleaner to upkeep and set up vacation rentals. The precariousness of my career building made finding paid writing work a challenge. It felt like another anchor got broken off from the ship. The whole journey hit my self-esteem and sense of self really hard.

My ongoing pathfinding journey and drive to live out my calling was an up and down.  The combination of the precarious job market and disability exclusion in my workplaces made it hard to build my career. Half of the time, I felt like a failure for not being able to support myself and others financially with the gigs and jobs I got. I often wished that my internal compass and the Holy Spirit would just give me the answers on my terms. I questioned myself many times on my worth. To be honest, I felt a lot of internal conflict within myself. Both of my parents have professions that gave them ability to support themselves and me. I recognized that having parents that supported my humanity and well-being that are not tiger parents is a huge privilege that I don’t take for granted. It made my journey easier to bear. Yet, the lack of job options in addition to the economic and social realities stung me. At this point, the only thing I can ask myself is “who am I?”

While these challenges have been tough, it did not put out my drive and passion. I sustained my passion through reminding myself that my existence is both a form of resistance and a vessel of God’s grace. Reminding myself that my career and vocation path is meant to serve my purpose and who I am, not the other way around. Seeing people around me find ways to reconcile their heart for justice with creating a business or career that supports what they felt called to do often refuels my spirit. These truths anchored me through the storms that went through my way. I am at a place in my life where addressing intergenerational trauma and resilience will be one of the main keys to getting closer to creating meaningful work for myself. It will also be a way to heal the internalized model minority myth that my body carries.  I am closer to resolving my internal conflict; I am at the moment enjoying the ride.

  • Katherine Kwong is a curious creator based in Brooklyn. When she isn't helping customers at Warby Parker, she's interviewing people about their favorite children's books for her in-process podcast. She appreciates a beautiful bookstore, the Diverging Editorial Staff, and well-sharpened pencils