“If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?” 

For me, it would be empowering students to achieve their highest potential by fighting hunger, combatting climate change, pursuing equality or eliminating poverty. Because they’re the change makers of our future. 

Born and raised in the Netherlands, I moved as an international student from the other side of the ocean to Los Angeles in 2015 to pursue my American dream. As a nutritionist, marketer and social entrepreneur with two Master’s Degrees, experience at global and local companies and the World Health Organization of United Nations and knowledge of 6 languages, I sacrificed everything for my education and career to move to the city of Angels, ready to ride the waves of the ocean (I quite literally wanted to learn how to surf as well).

Inspired to start a global journey and make a difference, I arrived energized and happy, not knowing what it would take for me to find my purpose and start creating a legacy. 

Today, I am a lecturer at CSUN as well as UCLA Extension and work as a Climate Leader at CSUN’s Institute for Sustainability, in the first-ever Cal State University Sustainability Center, among its 23 established campuses across California.

In my upcoming TEDx Talk at California State University, Northridge on November 17th, “Find your purpose to create your LEGACY”, I will explain how my self-developed 5-T framework helped me find my purpose to propel me forward to where I am now. Here is a sneak peek into some of the major points I’ll share during that talk:

Travel, Trial, Tribe, Teach and Thrive. 

– Travel: I grew up traveling as a young girl to many countries within Europe and was privileged enough to broaden my horizon during those trips. Meeting peers in different classrooms as a study-abroad student to working in multinationals opened my eyes to different cultures and perspectives. My trips to the Middle East were particularly challenging emotionally as I faced women inequality. I started feeling passionate about empowering women to leverage opportunities around the globe, since so many of us will never get those opportunities. It made me want to lead by example.

When it was time to take the ultimate leap of faith, I bought a one-way ticket from Amsterdam to Los Angeles. Although I enrolled in a study program (UCLA Extension), I had no idea what was waiting for me here. Learning to drive on the 405 in traffic (I drove a bike and took public transportation back home), sky-high rental prices, lawyer fees, and a culture shock were just a few of the inevitable barriers that I faced. It took me a few years to find the work-life balance to be able to study, work and travel at the same time. Now I’m an avid traveler within California, checking off many local destinations that were on my bucket list for a long time. In my case, traveling took me across oceans, but it could literally be a trip to the other side of the city (think of Venice Beach versus Hollywood versus Beverly Hills). Make sure to visit a new spot every day, even if it’s a coffee shop down the street, or a shared space office. You’ll never know what sparks your interest and who you’ll meet next.

Trial: You need to grind to find opportunities to volunteer and network as much as you can. It’s not enough to join groups on Facebook and connect with industry professionals on Linkedin. I had to fight to learn the laws, regulations and educate myself to understand how to succeed in Los Angeles with zero connections. You’ll try, you’ll get rejected, and you’ll try again. Every ‘NO’ I heard meant that I had a chance to walk a different path and start a new journey (how many trials and errors can one take?). Figuring out your way through work permit issues and resigning from your job, rehiring the new person and training them to take your spot and go back to school because your permit expired, isn’t exactly a walk in the park. You just need to keep trying and stay motivated through mentally challenging your thought process, not allowing negativity to hinder your productivity and long-term vision of the goals (aka thank you business school and Tony Robbins for teaching me persistence).

– Tribe: I can’t thank my mentors, peers and friends enough for providing me with the community support to keep me going at times when I was ready to give up: “You’re an international student, how are you going to teach?” or “We would like to work with you, but we’re not sure how that would work.” In order to develop, pitch and teach a new course in sustainability, I had to start the process a year in advance and count on my instructors and a new network to help me learn the ropes, get the course approved and find enough students who are interested in learning about social entrepreneurship. Find your tribe members and create a community. Build coalitions, gather resources to move forward and get support for causes and projects you believe in.

– Teach: I studied at UCLA Extension (UCLAx) and started guest lecturing to my peers to help them get hired and advance their career. I developed a course at UCLAx to become a lecturer and became a UCLA One mentor. Today I co-teach this Strategic Social Impact class, focusing on forming sustainable businesses, with my former mentor Joseph Hartnett, who was my first instructor when I first arrived, and now we are colleagues and partners in empowering students to join the social revolution. I also teach a Digital Marketing class and a Foodservice Management class at CSUN, guiding over 100 students per week to learn lessons that can’t be found in their textbooks. 

– Thrive:  I found a job in Higher Education to make a difference for other students. This is my passion and makes me thrive in my job. I currently teach 3 classes at different universities in addition to my job as a Climate Leader, fighting to create awareness among our future changemakers to take climate action and be the change. When you believe in your mission, you wake up refreshed every morning and feel empowered to make a change. Because every action makes a difference, and every new person we educate on global issues, is another ally in the fight against some of the largest challenges we’re facing in the world. What makes me thrive the most is when someone tells me;

“I never looked at it that way, thank you for opening my eyes to this issue. I really feel empowered to make and be the change.”

My wish is that nobody gives up on his or her dreams. When you find your purpose, hold onto it or find the resources to pursue it and create a legacy. Whether you’re a student, working professional or transitioning into a new career, I believe this advice can be useful to anyone, in different stages of their life. 

Because we aren’t just students, employees or job-seekers. We are THRIVERS.

Comment #Thriving2018 if you recognize the journey one way or the other. I would love to hear from all of you! 

Warmly, MK