In this episode of the career interview series, we are joined by Rohan Pessoa, a high school Guidance Counselor. Rohan’s parents emigrated from Jamaica and he was the first generation in his family to be born in America. When the time came for him to select a college, his parents were unable to offer much guidance. That experience combined with a summer youth job at a job office sparked an interest in social work and a desire to help others.
Leaving home for the first time to attend college in Maryland was initially difficult and required some adjustments. Rohan eventually found his way and things became easier once he settled into his major and a living situation that worked for him. Returning to New York, Rohan knew he wanted to be a Guidance Counselor and enrolled in grad school and worked in various adjacent positions in preparation. Though at times progress seemed to slow-moving, all of his experiences combined at the right time to prepare him for his dream job.
- Adjusting to college can be difficult academically but also on a social and personal level if you’re away from home for the first time. Living on campus in the dorms might help some but customizing your home environment in an apartment might be better for others. Consider getting involved with groups on campus to keep busy, meet new people, and otherwise get help adjusting.
- Sometimes things happen the way they’re supposed to happen. We might have a life or career goal that we are pursuing but which seems to remain slightly beyond our grasp. We might be able to envision it but what we view as obstacles or sidetracks get in the way. But when we achieve the goal, we realize that what seemed to be an obstacle in our journey at the time is now actually helpful. The things that seemed to be obstacles or sidetracks have allowed us to learn, grow, and obtain the skills needed to achieve our goal and be successful beyond it.
I think we see this in terms of dating being practice for marriage. Where we date people and realize what we value in relationships and partners and hopefully how to be a good partner. Part-time jobs and internships being preparation for your career where you learn how to conduct yourself in a work environment, what you need to thrive in a work environment, and how to apply the things you’re learning in school to the work environment.
By all means, strive for your goals but be sure to take the time to learn from the journey along the way.
- Do what’s best for you and realize that everybody does things in their own time. Comparing yourself and your progress to friends and family members can be a burden. This is especially true in the age of social media. But we are individuals and everyone has their own path or journey in life. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re seemingly not as far along as the other people you see.
- It’s important to understand your family history and the sacrifices that your parents and ancestors have made for you. But its also important to instill confidence in the youth so they feel comfortable thinking outside of the box. Parents who are working hard just to survive can sometimes raise their children in fear, shackled by insecurities. We have to break the cycle and teach our kids confidence instead of compliance.
We are joined today by Rohan Pessoa. Thank you for joining me. If you can give me a brief overview of your background. Where are you from? What were your interests as a kid? Where did you attend school? Things like that.
From Brooklyn, New York. My parents are from Jamaica, so I was the first person in my family born in the States. Both of my parents are from Kingston and my grandparents, my grandfather is from Saint Elizabeth, so he still lives down there. So most of my family now is in Saint Elizabeth and some in Kingston.
Tell me a little bit about growing up in Brooklyn and what you were like as a kid.
I was a pretty quiet kid. Pretty kind of, you know, to myself. Very family oriented. I didn’t really, I feel like I didn’t really come out of my shell, I guess you can say, all the way until maybe even college. I would say through, you know, middle school, high school, I was kind of more shy, reserved. I had a group of friends, but I didn’t really kind of become more, I guess you can say extroverted until college.
So you were a little bit shy and reserved as a kid. What were your interests or like your favorite subjects in school as a child?
In middle school I was really into science. My science classes I usually did the best in. And then towards high school I more so did better in English. I noticed that like writing papers came kind of naturally to me. But as I got older and science got a little bit more difficult, like chemistry completely just turned me off of science all together. Physics. I didn’t do well in physics. So I started leaning more towards English. And then outside of school I was like a huge basketball head. Like NBA would be up to like three o’clock in the morning watching NBA games and replays of NBA games. I was just obsessed with basketball. And I also played chess too. I was into chess.
What kind of a student were you? And then what schools did you attend in New York?
So for elementary school I went to like a really small privately run West Indian school in Crown Heights called Arista Prep. It was like literally like straight from the West Indies. Like all my teachers were straight from the West Indies. Like teachers used to hit us the whole nine. Like they operated as if we were in Jamaica or Guyana. It was only like maybe 15 kids in the class so from kindergarten to like fifth grade, it was the same 15 kids that just kept moving up, moving up, moving up together. And then after that I went to public school. I went to Hudde in Flatbush and that was kind of a shock to my system. Because I went from this really sheltered, strict, private school to like Huddy. Which was kind of wild. Like people were like fighting and kids were cursing out teachers.
It was just, I just remember feeling like, is this real life? Like what is happening? And then went to Hudde for about a year or so and then went to [Phillipa] Schulyer for seventh and eighth grade. And that was also a different experience for me cause I was by far the biggest school I’ve ever been in. And then went to Brooklyn Tech for high school, which was over 5,000 students. So that was kind of a shock too. But after I graduated high school, I went to Morgan State University in Maryland. Got my bachelor’s there in social work and then came back to New York. I went to Brooklyn College and got my master’s in education and counseling.
So actually let’s take a step back. Did you have your first job during high school or did that come later, like part-time or what have you?
First job was through summer youth program. I worked at I think it was called The Job Center. It was pretty much where people went to get their like benefits, whether it be food stamps, other benefits. I was about 14, I believe. So through summer youth I was about 14. Did some office work. But it really opened my eyes up to kind of the world. Cause I was always, I feel like I was kind of sheltered in a way because I was in this small private school. And you know, so being exposed to like that world of things kind of opened my eyes. Like it’s real life happening out here. So that was my first job.
Were the things that you liked about it didn’t like, or I guess did it open your eyes up in any way to what the working world might be like and what you might be interested in in the future?
It definitely…It was kind of weird because like I had, there was, I remember people used to come in kind of angry, agitated. They were like standing in these lines all day waiting. So now I’m this 14 year old kid and I have these like grown parents, like, “Where’s my check?” And I’m like, “I’m sorry miss. I’m just a summer youth worker. I don’t really know what’s happening. I don’t know how to help you.” But it more so opened my eyes to how many people were really struggling out there. And I feel like that kind of helped to plant a seed for me in addition to some other things in terms of like me wanting to get into the helping profession. So definitely contributed to that a little bit.
And so you mentioned that after high school you then went on to study at Morgan State. What was your high school experience like?
High school…it wasit also helped to expand my horizons a bit because that was the first time I went to school with people who didn’t look like me, you know? Brooklyn Tech was very diverse. It was a lot of kids from a lot of different backgrounds. So it kind of opened my eyes to kind of different experiences and how other kids experienced the world. So it was, it definitely helped to kind of shape me and shape kind of my worldview now. So that for me, that’s how it impacted my growth.
And then making the transition from high school to college. What were the experiences along the way that led you to Morgan state? What was your decision process?
So I actually joke about this a lot because it was a very bad decision process. So at the time like my parents kind of were splitting up and they didn’t really know a lot about the college application process. I was kind of…My college application process and I joke with this ’til today with my friend. Like my best friend was my college counselor essentially. So I just did whatever they did. We went to school from, we were, you know, in like elementary school and we kind of kept in contact. So I was like, all right, wherever they go to college I guess I’m going. Because I had no…And Morgan State was the only school I applied to. I didn’t know that you’re supposed to have a list and backups. Cause I didn’t really, Brooklyn Tech was so big that my guidance counselor didn’t know my name, didn’t know who I was. So I didn’t really have a lot of guidance in that process.
And so you go through the process, you select Morgan State. How was the transition going from New York to Maryland and then also going from high school environment where in New York I take it you would have been living with your parents and things like that to now being out of state and essentially on your own for the first time?
Right. It was, it was tough. It was very tough. I didn’t realize how much I disliked to change until I went to college. Like that first semester, almost that whole first year I was like depressed. Like legit depressed, I didn’t really like to get out of bed. I was always sleeping, you know, always in the dark in my room. Like I didn’t realize how much the change would really impact me until, you know, I got into the situation. Even though I had my two closest friends with me, it still was a really hard transition for me. But it eventually got a lot better.
You had some difficulties transitioning into college and adjusting to that first year. Was there something in particular that happened between the first and the second year or do you think you just got used to being away at school and everything that was going on?
I think I got used to being away at school and then also that first year I was in a like a dorm situation. So, roommate, dorm The dorm rules at a lot of, well at my school and at a lot of HBCUs were very restrictive. And at that time Morgan State, the campus was just, it just had very limited resources my first year. And then going into my second year there was a lot more opportunities to join different situations. We, me and my friends, moved into more of an apartment style kind of dorms. So it gave you a lot more freedom. You met more people that way. And then just the atmosphere changed. And also, you know, just me becoming more comfortable with being away changed and it just became a lot better experience.
During that second year you now have a bit more independence. Or at least you have sort of a more real world living situation where you aren’t like on campus. Or not on campus but you’re not living in dorms and whatnot. You have like an apartment. Sounds like at that point you also became more involved with things going on on campus. Were you part of any organizations or groups or anything like that?
Well, I had joined a…there was an organization on campus called Morgan MILE. I believe it’s Male Initiative in Leadership & Excellence. So Morgan MILE really opened my eyes to a lot of things. We did a lot of community service work, we took trips we visited different universities to represent Morgan State. One experience that really stood out to me was we went to New Orleans like right after Katrina and we did a lot of Katrina relief kind of things. So that was like something that really stuck with me. And then in addition to that, socially I had…me and some of the friends that I met at Morgan who were also from New York, who were also West Indian, who are also into dancehall the way I was. We kind of had like a dancehall crew. So we kind of were starting to kind of do that, throw some parties, you know, under our crew name and it kinda just helped me to meet other people.
How did you go about selecting your major or at what point in college did you select your major? Did you go into Morgan State knowing that you wanted to like focus on social work or is that something that developed while you were in college?
So freshman year I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew that I liked helping people but I didn’t really know what that meant in terms of a career or a major. So actually my freshman year I went in as like liberal arts general studies. And then I started to take like online career inventories you know, those things, you go online, you answer questions. It kind of tells you what majors or what careers might be good for you. So what kept coming up was like counseling, education, social work teaching. That kept coming up. And I eventually kind of narrowed it down based on what Morgan State offered, which was social work. So I, you know, ended up selecting my major as social work, knowing that I eventually wanted to go into schools long-term. But when I did my research, I realized that there is no bachelor’s in guidance counseling. So I knew that I had to eventually get my masters in that, but I started off with just my bachelor’s in social work. So that’s how I came to that decision.
How did the experience in college where, let’s say, once you selected your major and you’re now working towards, you know, completing that course of study. How did that compare to the more generalized education or the experience that you previously had in high school? And prior to that?
I think once I got into my social work classes more so the end of sophomore year I realized that my grades significantly improved because for the first time I felt really connected to what I was actually studying. It didn’t feel like I was doing things just for the sake of memorization for exams. I felt like the information I was taking in, it was like genuinely going to help me in the future and connected to what I was interested in. So once I started taking those major classes, like it really kind of motivate me to do well and to really put the time and effort to do well in school. Which before I feel like in high school it was more so try to get decent enough grades that your parents won’t be mad at you. Like that was really my only motivation back then. So in college it definitely changed.
Being away at college, off in your own where essentially you don’t have your parents looking over you, you know, making sure that you’re going to class on time or getting your work done on time and whatnot. Compared to when you would’ve been in like high school or prior to that, when you had your parents around looking over youWere you already like a very responsible student or were those skills that you had to develop on your own once you went off to college?
Well, to go back a bit, in elementary and middle school, I was like a very, very good student. Like always got straight A’s. Now I noticed, I don’t know if it was because I was just focused on other things, but another part of me feels like Brooklyn Tech really was that rigorous. Because once I got to Morgan State, things really didn’t feel that difficult to me in comparison. So I think to prepare us for that next level because I feel like once I got to college I felt like this is not like as stressful as high school was academically.
Let’s talk a little bit about your transition out of college. What was that like for you? What was your decision making process when like you were coming towards the end of your time in college? Like let’s say senior year and you’re now looking forward towards your post college career or pursuing additional education. What was the thought process at that point? Or I guess what was the journey at that point for transitioning out of college or out of undergrad?
Right. So for me it was a big part of the decision was coming back home to help support my mom. Cause at that point my other sister was in college. My youngest sister was still in high school. My mom had gotten laid off so financially I needed to come home to help support her. So I made sure that going to grad school I went back home to do grad school so that I can work and help to support her. And then also just wanting to leave Baltimore. Even though I loved my time at Morgan state, I didn’t really love Baltimore. I didn’t love Maryland like that. So that kind of prompted me to come back. But at the same time it was really difficult because a lot of my, all of my friends who I went to Morgan [with were there] a year or so after I did. So I kinda came back, I went there with all these friends and kind of came back by myself. My now wife was my girlfriend. She was also out there. So I used to like take trips out there literally every other weekend cause I just kind of felt lonely coming back to New York. I just knew I needed to do it.
So you mentioned not really digging Baltimore, Maryland. Was there something in particular about the city that you didn’t enjoy or were you just like, maybe a little bit homesick? What exactly was it that you didn’t enjoy about Baltimore, Maryland?
It was a little bit homesick. But Baltimore is a little dangerous, definitely one of most dangerous cities in America. I’ve had a lot of students, not students, I’ve had a lot of friends who, you know, have gotten robbed. A lot of gun violence. A lot of the drugs were really, really still…The way that the drugs affected like New York City in the 80s, it was still affecting Baltimore at that time. This is like around the time of the show, “The Wire” was out and all that stuff that was happening on “The Wire” was really happening in Baltimore. So it was just very uncomfortable. It was always kind of looking over your shoulder at night. It was just, I had a certain paranoia of being out there that I just did not enjoy. So I’m like, nah, I gotta go.
You leave Maryland, you come back to New York. What was your…what were you doing then? And then did you go straight into grad school? Did you start working? A little bit of both?
I went straight into grad school and I was working. I was working at aso my grandmother used to work for a place called Church Pension Fund. There was like an insurance company, so she ended up getting me a part-time job there and I was going pretty much full time for grad school during my first year. That was the initial transition. But then eventually because I had to do my internship, which took up a lot of time, I had to quit Church Pension Fund. And I was working part-time doing retail, doing kind of other jobs here and there. I did a Census Bureau job. Just any way I can kind of get money when I was in grad school, I did. So for grad school that was the main priority.
So you’re now in grad school, you know, working towards this goal of becoming a guidance counselor. And you just finished studying undergrad. I mean I haven’t attended grad school, but from what I understand like some people find high school difficult and then other people find college difficult. But even having completed undergrad there’s still I guess a difference in the rigor of undergrad versus grad school. Did you find that to be true. Or do you feel like it was pretty comparable to the previous educational experiences you’ve had?
Hmm, it wasn’t that rigorous to me maybe because it was mostly [inaudible] I feel like my strong suit so it didn’t feel as rigorous. Cause college even though I was doing my social work classes, I still had to take statistics and chemistry and history of whatever. Like things that I really wasn’t interested in or things that required a lot more math or a lot more science. But grad school was literally just all about education, counseling, writing papers and I feel like it came easier for me. So it really didn’t feel that rigorous in comparison to some of my friends who might’ve went to grad for like something more math or science heavy.
Did you attend grad school for two years or was it like a bit more than that?
So initially with counseling it’s two years. And then to become a certified school counselor in New York, you need an extra 30 credits beyond that two years. But they give you five years to complete the extra 30 credits. So once you finish the first two years, you get your provisional guidance counseling certificate, which you can use to get employment. But to be a guidance counselor in the Department of Education, you need to get that extra 30. So I did the two years. You had the option of doing the extra 30 right then and there or waiting and coming back. I did the option of waiting and coming back because I needed to work immediately to kind of help my mom out. So I did the two years, got my provisional certificate and then I didn’t get the extra 30 until five years after that.
In the period in between where you completed the, let’s say, the two year training program and then when you got your additional credits were you able to work within the field in that time or were you like working in a different field?
Kind of adjacent to the field. Because getting into the Department of Education is very, very difficult, especially for guidance counselors. You literally have to like know somebody and the stars have to align for you to get a job. So initially those first couple of years I was working at different nonprofit organizations doing academic counseling type work. So I worked for Harlem Children’s Zone for a little bit. I worked for Good Shepherd Services. I worked for an agency out in Washington Heights. So it was a lot of kind of jobs that I was just adding to my resume and just gaining skills that would eventually help me once I did get an opportunity to join the Department of Education. So I did a lot of academic counseling jobs. A lot of internship supervisor type jobs. It was always working with youth between the ages of 16 to 21 to make sure that it was aligned with what I eventually wanted to do.
You eventually ended up going back and completing your additional program requirements to get your certification. Once that was complete what was the process for you finding your first job? Like you said it could be really difficult to get into the Department of Education there in New York as a guidance counselor. Were you able to immediately transition into becoming a guidance counselor or were there additional positions along the way that you had to pursue?
The last position I had before becoming a guidance counselor, it was at Good Shepherd Services as a college and career counselor. And so when I eventually went back to school to do the plus 30 credits, in addition to that, you were required to do an internship.
So in New York City they have these night school programs called YBC which operate from 4:30 PM to 9:00 PM. So I did an internship at a YBC program in George Westinghouse Campus while I worked during the day. So pretty much I worked like 8:30 to 4:30 at Good Shepherd as a college and career counselor and then went to YBC to do my counseling internship from 4:30 to 9:00 and did that for about a year.
And in that same building, there were several schools. Because of the way New York city is now, all the large schools are now broken down into like small schools inside of one campus. So I met a principal at another campus. I mean, at another school in that same campus. And eventually he told me he was looking for a guidance counselor. So about six months after I finished that internship, he called me in for an interview. It went really well and funny enough the selling point seemed to be that I went to Philippa Schuyler cause he went to Philippa Schuyler. He was obsessed with Philippa Schuyler. So that really helped me get the job. And that was in 2014 when I became a guidance counselor for the DOE.
Having pursued like this career track for several years. You knew you went to undergrad. You then went on to grad school. You worked at nonprofits in between. Went back and got your additional credits. What was the experience like, I guess, what was the feeling like to finally be in this position that you’d spent so long pursuing? Did it turn out to be everything you expected or you know, how did you feel once you finally accomplished that goal?
So for me, I realized once I got into the position that, you know, everything, the time, the way things happen, they happen the way they’re supposed to happen. Right? So, I mean, I remember in that five year span of looking like grateful [but] frustrated that I wasn’t starting. But once I actually got the job, I realized I wouldn’t have been able to do the job if I didn’t have all those other jobs along the way. So like the skills that I gained from a lot of those other nonprofit jobs and those college and career counseling jobs, really helped me to get this job and helped me to do well at this job. So I realized that if it would’ve went the way I wanted it to go, which is to get that job straight after grad school, well I probably would have crashed and burned. Because I wouldn’t have had the skills that I developed at those other jobs. So once I got into it, I realized like the timing of this now it makes sense in my mind because all those other skills that I learned I apply them every day.
What’s it like on a day to day basis to be a guidance counselor? I guess what are the day to day responsibilities of being a guidance counselor? Granted, there’s no average or typical day, I’m sure, like things change and whatnot, but just an overview of like a day in the life of a guidance counselor.
So on an average day I usually meet with my guidance team, meet with the assistant principal or the principal, just about kind of what the happenings of the day are. You talk about what meetings, like if we have, what parents are coming in, what issues we need to resolve with certain students may be stemming from the previous day. Sometimes I’ll push into a classroom to do a presentation about, you know transcripts or academics or sometimes it’s about social issues. So we had, you know, an issue with like bullying and cyber bullying and things like that. So I had to push in to do lessons about that. I’ve had to do lessons about the college application process, what they should be working on now, things that they need to know.
And a lot of it is just kind of problem solving things. So as the day is going on, putting out a lot of different fires. Like, this kid is feeling stressed out about this. Or you know, these kids got into a conflict about this. Or might have to do mediation sometimes between teachers and students. So it was kind of just used to being plugged into different areas where it kind of like just putting out fires as we go. Which sometimes can be frustrating because there’s administrative things that need to be done. But when you’re constantly putting out fires, it’s hard to stick to a regular schedule every day. But it’s just kind of being a presence in and stepping up when needed throughout the day.
And so you mentioned like your timeline working out, right? That you think that it actually ended up benefiting you. Not going straight into being a guidance counselor right out of school but rather having those experiences along the way. Taking that into consideration when you look back to let’s say either when you first graduated from college or even grad school. How prepared did you feel at that point for your career? Like, let’s saythe things that you wanted to pursue. And then is there anything that you know now looking back that you wish you’d known when you first graduated?
I think at the time I thought I was prepared to go right into a guidance counselor job. But when I did eventually get it, five years later, I realized that I definitely would not have been prepared and that a lot of those other jobs taught me. There’s so many skills that I would have missed out on if I would have had it the way I want it, which is getting right into the position. And what was the second part of the question again? I’m sorry.
Looking back now, having had these experiences and having actually been a guidance counselor. Is there anything that you’ve learned along the way or that you know now that you wish you knew when you first graduated?
Okay, got it. I guess I wish I would have been more proactive in terms of just being confident in who I was as a professional. But I know that that just kind of takes time and experience. So now I’m a lot more comfortable in speaking up when I feel like something is not going right or saying more so what it is that I need. Versus coming straight out of school, I was very timid, kind of went along with that. I noticed that I always, back then any job I had, I would usually attach myself to somebody who was more strong willed and kind of use that almost as like a shield so that I didn’t have to put myself out there as much. And then as I got older, more mature, as I kind of grew as a professional, I learned to kind of just stand on my own and speak up instead of just waiting for somebody else to say something and piggybacking off of it. So it’s not that I wish I would have done anything differently because I know it’s just kind of a learning process and I just picked things up along the way that I just needed to experience for myself.
Looking back over the course of your career and then also your college experiences. You mentioned the difficulties that you had in your first year of undergrad. Would you say that you’ve experienced any other setbacks either during your education process or during your career or let’s say things that you strived for that you might have failed at. I guess like shortcomings or things that didn’t quite work out the way that you wanted to have them work out along the way?
Honestly, I really believe that things happened the way they were supposed to happen. And anything that might not have gone my way or might not have gone in the timing that I wanted it to go, I feel like it all has turned out for the best. So like there was a time where I regretted waiting the whole five years to do the extra 30 credits to get my permanent certification. But, then I realized that if I hadn’t waited those five years and did the internship I did when I did it, I would not have met the principal that I met and I would not have the job I have today. So if I did it when I was “supposed to do it”, I probably would still be looking for a job now. So I can’t even say I regret that because I feel like it all worked out the way it was exactly was supposed to work out.
If you take into consideration like your life thus far. The goals that you set for yourself and whatnot. And your personal philosophies. How do you define success?
Success to me is really just about being able to number one, impact my community, support my family, and kind of being able to leave a mark or a legacy on people. That I feel like is most important for me. So there was a time where I was like, you know, going into this field, I don’t know if I’m going to make enough money or I don’t know if I’m going to be able to have the biggest house or the nicest car or whatever. But as time passed, I realized those things really weren’t important to me. And what I find most important is how people talk about you when you’re not around. How people talk about how you’ve impacted their lives or helped to kind of shape their paths. And for me, that’s what’s most important for me. That’s kind of my work and my life philosophy is that there’s leaving an impact on people and leaving the world in a better place than I found it.
So you set out with this goal of becoming a guidance counselor and you achieved that goal. Would you say that the current reality of your career compared to like your hopes and aspirations have fallen short, matched, or surpass the aspirations and expectations that you had as a student? Like let’s say undergrad or even as a grad student?
I would say matched and maybe passed because going into kind of the field or as a student, like ideally looking forward I was like all right, if I can work in hopefully a high school where they are similar to how I was when I was their age and you know, work with people who kind of have similar backgrounds to me that would have been [my] “ideal situation”. And that’s exactly what has happened. So like the school I work in, it’s majority boys of color, majority West Indian background. And it worked out exactly the way I would have wanted it to work out. So I really have no complaints at all.
As we’re nearing 2020, it’s going to be like a new year and actually a new decade. Are there any goals or plans that you look forward to pursuing either for 2020 or beyond that? Like more long-term over the next year or the next few years?
So for me it’s just aboutI feel like career wise I’m kind of set for right now. I’ve thought about potentially pursuing like an administrative license [inaudible] I’m good with. I have businesses on the side that I want to grow some more. So I have a business with two of my best friends called Campus Cards. It’s card game we created just about college life. It’s a game that we, we kind of have our prototype that we’ve already started selling. But we’re making certain tweaks so that we can sell it. Kind of grow it bigger and sell it more educationally. So that’s one goal for 2020 is trying to get Campus Cards to the next level. I also have a side business with my wife. We have an online baking business that has been growing. So trying to figure out how to grow that in addition. And then I’m also part of a nonprofit organization called IAMSHE INC that started that more so in 2020 and impact the community in a bigger way. So those are three things that I’m aiming to kind of grow more so in this year and potentially starting a family as well.
You spoke about the experiences that you’ve had and then with being a guidance counselor, I’m sure that you do it all the time offering advice and guidance to the young men at your school. But taking a more top level view, what career or even just life advice would you offer to your younger self? Like let’s say, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self or any other young person that’s still in school. But let’s say high school getting ready to figure out like their college life or someone that’s in college and getting ready to enter the workforce. What advice would you offer them?
I think what I would say is for them to kind of do what works best for them. I think sometimes we get caught up in doing what we think is the best…Doing what we think is best for us based on what parents say, based on what friends say, based on what society says, based on what the expectations that are set for you based on whatever. Whether it be cultural or you know, whatever.
So I just think doing what’s best for you and knowing that everybody does things in their own time. So I’ve had students who felt, you know, because friends started college before them or their friends did this before them. Or I’ve had parents who’ve put down, like my students who were their children like, “Oh, why didn’t you do this the way your brother or your sister did this.” And it’s just very detrimental to young people to constantly be…especially in the era of social media, to constantly be comparing themselves to other people. Do what works for you when it works for you. Because everybody has, you know, their own path. Everybody has their own time of things and things will happen when they’re meant to happen.
It’s the biggest thing that I wish I would’ve known kind of as an 18/19-year-old. Is just not feeling like a failure or not less than because I’m not doing the way he, you know, is doing it or the way she has done it. So I think just kind of making sure that, you know, young people internalize that from young and knowing that like they have their own path, their own timing and it’s okay to do things on your own schedule.
Imagine it’s years from now and you’re nearing or already retired. Like you’re come in towards the end of your career or you’re already put an end to your career. When you look back over your career, what accomplishments or achievements would make you consider it a roaring success? You know, like your wildest dreams kind of thing versus mediocre or even disappointing?
I think for me as long as…cause even even now, even though I’m not that far into my career, I have students who kind of come back. Sometimes it’s students that I didn’t even know were really listening to me or I didn’t really think that I impacted. They come back and they’re like, you know, when we had this conversation or where you used to tell me this, like I applied this and this is how I’m now successful. Partly because of what you’ve done for me or what you told me. So for me, that’s kind of how I measure success. Is that if 30 years from now let’s say at my retirement party, there’s 500 students there and they’re all like, because of you, you’ve helped me now get to this level. You’ve helped me to instill certain things. Like, for me that’s more so what I hope, you know, longterm to look like. For me, it’s not necessarily about money or accomplishments or in terms of like awards or recognition. It’s just more so knowing that I kind of helped people to get where they are today. That’s the reward for me that I feel like I hope I’ll be able to impact as many people as possible.
If you think about people or events, they can be famous or only known to you, so like just people that you personally know. Has there been anyone or anything that’s motivated, inspired, or influenced you and your career or even just in life in general?
I guess when I think about it, there’s certain seeds that were implanted in me from young, from my father. He was never an official educator but he was very big on education. And he would, I remember in my house in the summertime, he would have like all the kids on my block, a lot of my cousins, he would have his own kind of makeshift summer school. Where he’d have, you know, some people are doing math problems. Some people were doing vocabulary words. He would make us all watch like Bill Nye The Science Guy. And make us kind of read these books. And you know, do all these things that I feel like seeing how he kind of took it upon himself to instill that kind of educational value in me [and] my siblings just really planted the seed in me. [Inaudible] So I feel like I would attribute a lot of that, my values when it comes to that from him.
And are there any specific books that have influenced or inspired you along the way?
Well, I love The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of my favorite books and also Black Boy by Richard Wright. Those are two books that I feel like really kind of stood out to me [and] really have stuck with me to this day and have been definitely an influence. Also, Fist Stick Knife Gun is also another book that I feel like really kind of impacted my counseling philosophies.
Was there something in particular about them that inspired you? Was it like a mindset shift or did you see yourself in the characters or something like that? What was it that really spoke to you from those books?
I think in some of those books, just about a lot of the characters, how it was often one person or very few people that might’ve did things subtly that helped to shift their entire trajectory. And for me, that I guess helped to make me realize like if I can say one thing that will stick with a kid that will help them to make this one decision that might impact the rest of their lives, then I’ve done my job. So I think that’s what I related to.
And so with that, that’s actually the last question that I have, but is there anything that you’d like to add or anything you think people should know? Any parting words you’d like to share?
I mean not particularly. Just as a community of people of color, I think we just need to make sure that we are shifting the narrative [inaudible] about ourselves. Shifting the narrative for our next generations. So I just feel like it’s very important for us to know our stories and our parents that how much sacrifices have gone into allowing us what we have today. So I feel like to me I’ve really internalized that and try to make sure that I live my life keeping that in mind. And I think we just have to continue to impart that on young people and give them the confidence to really think outside the box. Cause what I noticed is that with our generation, our parents kind of raised us, I feel like out of fear and insecurity cause they were just trying to survive. And I feel like for us, we just need to kind of break some of those cycles and teach our kids confidence instead of compliance. And I think that’s very important to kind of push going forward cause a lot of other communities are teaching their kids how to dream and think outside the box. And sometimes we shackle our kids with our own fears and insecurity. So I just want us to kind of change that narrative going forward. And that’s, that’s what I hope to do with my kids.
Briefly, if you can sharemethods for getting in touch with you or learning more about the businesses and things that you’re working on. Where can people go to find more information?
The business I mentioned earlier, Campus Cards that’s on Instagram at Campus Cards Game. My baking business with my wife is called 28 Grams which you can also find on Instagram. And the nonprofit that I’m a part of is called IAMSHE INC, which is also on Instagram.
Okay, great. Well, thank you for participating. It was an absolute pleasure to speak with you and to catch up and to get to know about what you’ve been doing.
Learn More About Rohan
- Connect with Rohan on LinkedIn.
- Visit CampusCardsGame.com and follow the company on Instragram @CampusCardsGame.
- Follow the baking company he runs with his wife on Instagram @twenty8ightgrams.
- Check out @iamsheinc_ on Instagram.
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