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the Last Word

Defining Your Own Success


Last Word photo"When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that
happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they
asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down
'happy.' They told me I didn't understand the assignment,
and I told them they didn't understand life."
– John Lennon

Success. What is success? I believe you can create your own
success as long as you first know how to define it.

I entered college as an accounting and finance major, but I quickly realized that was not the path for me. Not even a full semester in, I decided to switch my major to philosophy and psychology; I still didn't know what I wanted to do, but I figured I would discover that as I went along.

I loved philosophy. Questioning things, examining problems and critical thinking spoke to something within me. Psychology spoke to my need to understand things, but still was not the right path for me. I finally graduated with a philosophy and environmental studies major. Because of Albright's interdisciplinary nature, I was able to use my former paths to fulfill general requirements so I could still graduate in four years.

It's true that all things happen for a reason.

While I was a psychology major I connected with my adviser, Marsha Green, Ph.D. I would go into her office with a simple question and we would end up talking for hours, parting only when one of us realized that we had something to do or somewhere to be.

As it turned out, Dr. Green had been involved in humpback whale and marine mammal conservation, research and activism since 1986. I was deeply intrigued. She offered a three-week Interim course doing fieldwork with humpback whales on Maui. I had no money to take the class, but I knew I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by. I borrowed the money; it was the greatest investment of my life.

That's when I fell in love. Not with a girl, not with the beauty of the island, not with the wonderful weather, but with the humpback whales. Everything else was a footnote. After being a student in the class, I worked as a teacher assistant in the class the following three years. I even returned two years after graduating to do research with Dr. Green during her sabbatical. I had found something I was truly passionate about.

The largest transition of my life happened in late 2010 when I accepted a job on whale-watching and snorkeling boats in Hawaii. I left my life in New Jersey behind, and suddenly found myself 5,000 miles from the only home I had ever known. For the next year and a half, my day-to-day job was to narrate whale watches. Living on Maui is as amazing as it sounds, and watching the whales every day was a dream for me.

Since April of this year, I have been living and working in Juneau, Alaska, as a whale-watching guide and naturalist. The same humpback whales that winter in Maui waters, journey to Alaskan waters to feed in the summer. Ever since I took that humpback class with Dr. Green, I have wanted to see the whales' feeding behavior in Alaska. I am now living my dream.

These experiences, which began at Albright, have given me the confidence to follow wildlife around the world. The sense of independence that comes with traveling to and living in a variety of places is like none I have ever experienced. After Alaska, my plan is to travel for a month in Latin America and then head back to Maui to meet up with the humpbacks once again.

So back to the question what is success? Success is something that is defined by you. For me, it is living out what I truly want to do. It's following my heart, and not being afraid to take chances.

My definition of success is not going to be the same as yours. Just make sure that whatever your definition of success may be, it comes from the heart, and you will forever be successful…and happy.

"...make sure that whatever your definition of success may be, it comes from the heart..."

- Jon Ciser '08 is currently a naturalist for Allen Marine tours in Juneau, Alaska.

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