If You’re Not Working to Help Other People, You’re Going to Feel Like Something is Missing
Jennifer Clark (1997)

For me, one of my biggest goals is to always be learning something. It doesn’t have to be academic or professional – it can be an interest, a skill, an appreciation and understanding of a different culture, etc. – but I’m not happy if I’m not pushing myself to do something new and difficult. For example, when I was practicing law, I started taking courses at night towards a humanities Masters degree. It didn’t have anything to do with my career, but pushing the boundaries of my intellectual comfort level helped me to think more creatively and look for ways to do things differently.

In my professional life, I was the Executive Director of a nonprofit called the African Dream Initiative, an organization dedicated to transforming the lives of children in East Africa who have the talent and motivation to succeed but lack the opportunity. As the ED, a big part of my job was planning for and guiding ADI’s staff, students, and program. Before joining ADI, I practiced law at two big law firms, and it was always really important to me to seek opportunities for service there. I took on a lot of pro bono cases in addition to my regular work, and represented victims of domestic violence, asylum seekers from other countries, natural disaster refugees, and other people who needed legal help but couldn’t afford it. And, when you’re enthusiastic about helping other people, it motivates the people around you to get involved, too. At my law firms, other associates and paralegals saw how rewarding my pro bono work was and started volunteering to work on my cases. One of my proudest moments was when a friend told me that the work I was doing with ADI had inspired him to create an organization dedicated to empowering LGBT youth in his home town of Calgary.

I don’t think you can separate joy from striving for justice. One of my high school teachers was the first person to tell me that the definition of “justice” was “right relationships.” Although the language was confusing, the sentiment was one that seemed obvious to me: if you’re not working to help other people, you’re going to feel like something is missing. And I think part of the reason it seemed so obvious was how The Woods community had established such a strong connection between service and happiness. To give only one example, one day in middle school, Mr. Maloney told my class that he’d reserved a few spots for student volunteers to hand out hot meals with a mobile soup kitchen that weekend. Instead of just asking for volunteers, he told us that anyone who was interested in going should write a paragraph about service and that the writers of the best paragraphs would get to go. By making volunteering a prize, he reinforced the idea that service to others was a privilege – something to aspire towards, and something to take pride and find joy in. And the lesson stuck, driving me to a career in the nonprofit world and one of the most rewarding callings I can imagine.