"It's a boy." Born into a predominantly heternormative society and raised by traditional parents who reinforced gender stereotypical behavior, I was encouraged from an early age to pursue traditionally "masculine" interests (i.e., soccer, wrestling, baseball) over traditionally "feminine" ones. To this day, I remember wanting to take gymnastics and dance lessons with my sister, but being too afraid to ask.
Even though I was never the best player on the team, and even though I dreaded having to run laps and sprints every day, soccer is the only sport I ever truly enjoyed. It's also one of the few aspects of my identity that were never put into question or seen in a negative light. In a nutshell, playing soccer during the school year and in the summer competitively made me feel more "normal" and accepted, and it's unsure whether I would have been able to acclimate so well socially without it. That said, if mom never signed me up for soccer, or if my school wasn't within walking distance from my grandma's house, I might have turned out differently.
In 4th grade, I was forced to answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" in the form of a group project. I ended up creating a cardboard model of a veterinarian office, collect with animal figurines and a power ranger wearing a lab coat, and the praise I received by my teacher and peers made me think it's what I was destined to do.
Around the time I started high school, my mom landed a job at Lehigh University in the hopes of not having to pay for my college education, should I be accepted. As if the transition from middle school to high school wasn't hard enough socially, my mom pushed me more academically, causing me a great deal of stress. However, I persisted and triumphed. It's unknown where I'd be now if I didn't get into Lehigh.
During my freshman year, I struggled in my Biology and Chemistry classes to the point where I had to retake both. It was then that I started to reconsider my major and explore other options, though I simultaneously continued to take classes required for Bio majors. Eventually, I would take an Introductory Psychology class that I thoroughly enjoyed. Despite only getting a B in the course, I decided to double major in both Biology and Psychology shortly after.
As I took more psychology courses, my interest in all things Biology and Chemistry waned. However, I wanted to make sure my childhood dream of being a veterinary doctor was dead, and so I became a research assistant in a Neurobiology lab. There, I was bored out of my mind, save the few times I was able to cut the heads off of hamsters in the name of science, and realized I only wanted to major in Psychology. I also realized I didn't care about animals nearly as much as I thought I did.
After deciding to switch over fully to Psychology, I started to explore future career options by working in various research labs (i.e., Social Psychology, Child Psychology, Language & Thought), none of which I stayed in very long due to a lack of interest. By this time, I was starting to become rather anxious and unsure about my future. All I knew for certain was that I wanted to keep learning more about the mind and the psychological processes underlying everything we do as a species.
Near the end of my junior year, while I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I toyed around with the idea of minoring or double-majoring in Spanish to expand my career options and, more importantly, as a way to reconnect with my Puerto Rican heritage, which I never fully appreciated growing up due to the fact everyone else around me was either white or, like me, white-washed. I ended up studying abroad three times, once in Spain and twice in Puerto Rico, and double-majoring in Psychology and Spanish. giving me all the time and experience I needed to get my bachelor's in Spanish. Also, it was in Puerto Rico where I was able to intern at a psychological clinic and seriously considered staying there as a doctorate student of Clinical Psychology.
My initial plan to study in Puerto Rico as a doctoral student of Clinical Psychology fell through in the form of a phone call informing me all the positions had already been filled for the upcoming academic year and that I'd have to wait an entire year. I would have been okay waiting if I would have gotten the teaching assistant job I applied for online while I was in Puerto Rico (because I wanted to explore the possibility of being a teacher and earn money at the same time, as well as new experiences); however, I did not get the job and was forced to think and act quickly. Fortunately, I stumbled across a master's program through Lehigh called Counseling and Human Services, which I figured would make me a stronger doctoral candidate in the future, all the while opening the door to new career opportunities, and managed to complete my application a day or two before the deadline. Because it was such a last-minute decision, I didn't expect to "find my calling" in the program, but I did, and the rest is history.
Five years from today, I see myself as a licensed professional counselor, working as a full-time psychotherapist in a community mental health center or in a school where the need for Spanish-speaking bilingual and/or LGBT-informed counselors is high.