Walking Forward, Backwards

By: Andy Alvarez

With each module, Fellows dig into readings, exercises, conversations, and reflections around a theme. November/December’s theme = Educational, Life and Career Pathways.


When I was in Kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said a firetruck. When I was in middle school, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be and I said an architect. In high school, I was asked once again and I said a registered dietitian. Fast forward to today, and I feel like I want to be a multitude of things. In module two of the Urban Futures Lab, we were asked this question in a different way: what might our life purposes be?

Attempting to foresee the future with anything is difficult, let alone for your own life. We started this module with an exercise to locate our life purposes, guided by Roland Navarro de Ros, and I am glad we did this because I’ve never really had the opportunity to think about my future in this way. The exercise helped me to see that throughout my life I have been thinking about my future from a one-sided perspective. I have always thought about which career I wanted to ‘have’, rather than why I wanted to be in a specific career.

I had an eye-opening moment during this module’s supper club when Roland shared his life experiences. Although he studied Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara, his primary work focuses upon technology and software. In order for Roland to constantly work towards his life purpose, he had to find something that he was really good at, and which he could turn from an 8-hour workday into a 2-hour day, allowing him to pursue his passions in his free time. He’s demonstrating this balance with his current work, using his tech experience as a base to support his passion of serving the Philippines global diaspora – a concern that connects back to his studies and heritage. Out of the whole module, that one single moment has stuck with me the most.

For a while now I have been thinking about switching career paths. I was enrolled at CSULA as a nutritional science major and have invested three and a half years in that field, but I now feel like building a business would be a better opportunity for me. Why is that?

Well, my trajectory has been a difficult one. I have never been a really good student or one who enjoys being in an academic environment. Also, due to certain life obstacles I have had to take a break from school and have been more focused on work. For about three years I have been working non-stop. I am truly grateful, however, that life challenged me in this way because it has allowed me to see a different and positive side to a section of the workforce that is often overlooked. When I was applying to jobs, for example, I would see that my peers would have difficulty securing employment due to a lack of experience. I am fortunate enough that through hard work and networking I have been able to work in environments where my co-workers possess college degrees.

Being in that environment can sometimes be bitter sweet. It’s intimidating. When those around me are sharing their school experiences, I am sometimes left to wonder what my life would have looked like if I had been able to complete my studies. I used to get nervous before introducing myself in front of large audiences because I thought that I didn’t belong in those situations. It’s only been recently that I’ve embraced my own role, realizing that I must be doing something right and that I have valuable skills that I can bring to the table.

This is where my life purpose comes in. Drawing on my experiences, I believe that there aren’t currently enough opportunities for adults to develop their professional skills after graduating from high school. There is also a lack of mentorship at that level. Internships and mentorships are usually attained through an academic environment, but what about those young adults who are outside of that? What are they left to do? What are their ambitions? Are they comfortable in their environment? Do they want to travel and expand their experiences? Are they okay with staying in the same place?

These are questions that I wonder about regarding the people in my social circle, and they are questions that apply to me personally. From growing up in East L.A and my deep connections with the community, I know that this can be a tough stage of life for first generation Americans. Due to our concern with traditions, we can easily get too comfortable and conform to an expected norm.

My father is one of my biggest role models, and in business I want to finish what he has started. In Mexico, he was part of the first generation of nutritionists, working statewide in San Luis Potosi as the overarching nutrition specialist who would help people in both rural communities and large cities. He always talks to me about how he enjoyed helping out those who were in need. Rather than staying in the office, he would make an effort to go to the small pueblos and knock on doors to educate farmers – on sanitary needs, on what might be toxic to consume, on what might not be safe to eat. Today he works in transportation and logistics, but he still follows those same principles about helping others and treating people fairly.

The Urban Futures Lab is helping me to reinvent my family tradition by pushing me to think about questions that I did not previously consider. I want to study business because I believe that it is a career in which I can grow. More importantly, by developing a business of my own I can define exactly how I help those young adults that I mentioned. In the same way that Roland balances his time to become a “super connector” for other people, I want to be able to connect young adults with career opportunities to facilitate their growth.

At Public Matters, witnessing how a social enterprise can operate as a business to undertake meaningful work has allowed me to think about the impact that my own future business might have on adolescents. I am grateful to be working on Greetings from East LA because it allows me to grow as a mentor and connector within my own community. I want to create positive change in my community and challenge its negative stigma. Through projects like these, I am both learning and paving my own path.

Being an Urban Futures Lab Fellow is truly a blessing. It is a program that allows me to grow both personally and professionally within a business context. Alongside project-based work, I am gaining insights into how initiatives are constructed, how networks are developed, and how change is made.



Blog Post #3 // Learn more about Urban Futures Lab.