Guest blogger: Joseph (Hyeonjin)Park, BSBA, Class of 2019
Every college student has been told, “find a career that makes you happy.”
Unfortunately, as most college students also realize, finding what makes you happy can be extremely difficult. Even if we know what makes us happy now, how do we know that it’ll make us happy for the rest of our lives? This was a question I had struggled with as my sophomore year came to a close, but instead of starting a search to find my passions, I chose to travel to Madagascar with classmates in a course called, “Sustainable Development and Conservation: Madagascar.”*
I had been working on a project throughout the semester on a four-man team to both improve the lives of the people there and make the country more environmentally sustainable. I’ve always had some interest in social work so I was happy to be there, but the specific project was less than glamorous to say the least.
My team’s project involved burning the feces of a zebu (an animal similar to a cow) to create an alternative source of fuel for fires. One of the methods used to burn animal waste for cooking fuel is pictured above.
90% of Madagascar’s plant life is endemic, meaning those species only grow in Madagascar. As a result, preserving the country’s forests is crucial; and while the villagers know this, their heavy reliance on wood-fueled fires for cooking and heating makes it difficult to do so.
To solve this issue, our team found an alternate resource to use to reduce the amount of wood burned. I spent days cooking animal waste, experimenting with different quantities and methods. After many trials and errors, we left the village with a couple of different ways to burn the feces, and laid groundwork for further innovation.
What was surprising to me, however, was the attitude of the villagers who helped us. We were doing one of the crappiest jobs possible, literally, and throughout the two weeks we worked, I heard almost no complaints. As a matter of fact, I witnessed the complete opposite: the villagers joked and laughed about working with animal dung, and were not hesitant at all to get their hands dirty.
It was amazing to me that the job we were doing had such little influence on the happiness of these people. How was it possible that these people could be happy spending their days burning feces, while back in the U.S. so many people are unhappy with their high-paying, air-conditioned jobs?
Even though I wasn’t able to decide on my perfect career this summer, I realized that I don’t need a perfect career to be happy. I feel comforted knowing that whether my job is as prestigious as working at a Fortune 500 company or as crappy as burning feces, my level of happiness will depend entirely on my attitude.
As a person who continually strives for improvement, I often find myself looking to push myself for more and more, and while that is important, I need to take some pauses and have some fun on my journey. On a similar note, I have made it my goal to balance searching for my “perfect career path” and accepting that it doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect. With this mindset, I feel that my career path is much more free, and that as long as I can strike this balance, I’ll be happy.
*Judi McLean Parks, Reuben C. and Anne Carpenter Taylor Professor in Organizational Behavior, has been leading this interdisciplinary course since 2008 in partnership with the Missouri Botanical Garden designed to improve economic development with sustainable and environmentally friendly projects that range from agriculture to energy in the rural villages of the Mahabo region of Madagascar. Mahabo is located on the southeastern edge of Madagascar, an island nation southeast of Africa in the Indian Ocean.