The Path of Continuous Self-Defined Happiness
This is the path of individuals who never knew what they wanted to do and continue to find success and happiness post-graduation by creating opportunities on an ongoing basis. Success and happiness in this case are self-defined.
My Cornell transformation could be best described by looking at my proposed majors, philosophy and religion, and what my degree said when I walked across the stage, geology and environmental studies. Pretty much polar opposites!
The first course that gave me purpose was GEO 105 Marine Science, instructed by my future adviser and friend, Ben Greenstein. The topics and conversations I experienced in this class made sense to me, and were compounded when Ben approached me after the class and asked if I’d be interested in going to Australia with him to study coral reef systems. Um … yes!!! This would be the first of a handful of study-abroad courses that played the biggest role in shaping my transformation as a human being.
I traveled to Australia, New Zealand, and the Bahamas to study various topics of geology and marine sciences, where I saw the results of massive tectonic plate shifts and observed the famous K-T boundary, an interval preserved in the rock record that indicates a meteorite struck and killed all the dinosaurs. In all of these places, a major opportunity for personal growth was meeting the locals and getting to talk with them.
I also traveled to Italy for my Roman Archaeology course, which allowed me to run a lap around the Circus Maximus—where the ancient chariots once raced—and walk to the top of Mount Vesuvius to look into the crater of one of the most famous volcanic eruptions.
When my time at Cornell ended, I took a position as a staff geologist for Geosyntec Consultants in Santa Barbara, California. Here I got the opportunity to clean up contaminated sites where our clients hoped to develop housing, schools, and the first public park in the city limits of Los Angeles in over 100 years.
Next I pursued a career in teaching. One of my last courses at Cornell had been Educational Psychology.
This course, along with my four years’ involvement in Cornell’s Lunch Buddy and Elementary Reading programs, helped me realize a passion for working with children. I found myself in Denver as a certified environmental educator responsible for leading groups of children on educational excursions at different city parks. When funding ended for my position, I moved to Hawaii to work with the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, a historical society that preserves buildings and artifacts, where I helped to curate the Lahaina Heritage Museum.
After finishing my projects in Maui, I pursued my life goal of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Once again, my best memories were those of spending time with friends and people of all backgrounds that I met along the way. My hike was cut short when I experienced heart complications due to Lyme disease, and I headed back to Iowa to be closer to family for the first time in eight years. I started working as a server for the new, award-winning, Lion Bridge Brewing Company, and it was surprisingly satisfying. My ability to communicate with different types of people was my biggest asset. The owners began to see these traits and offered me the opportunity to work as their wholesale distributor to other bars. I am now the head of sales and delivery for an award-winning brewery in my hometown. I may tap kegs in bars, but I also understand how complex draft systems operate, which involves an understating of cooler temperatures, dissolved gases, and friction of materials used. Working as a salesman is actually quite fun for me.
The key to my ability to keep redefining myself has been the diversity of my coursework at Cornell and the diversity of people I worked with—whether in athletics, work study, or class—and the feeling that I was always able to ask questions of others. I never felt like I was a geology major at Cornell, but that I was a Cornellian who majored in geology. I was in plays, a social group, sports, attended after-hours art classes, and tailgated choir concerts (yes, that happened). This all helped me develop as a person who can see there are many opportunities in this world in which one can make a stimulating life. Keeping a positive attitude will ensure the right scenario will present itself, and I have no doubts that I will be able to learn whatever skills are needed to be successful—success being a subjective term that only matters how I define it.