Zach’s Blog

Hiking for Syria: How I Broke Free and Found Purpose

This is a guest post written by Emily Macias, founder of Strides for Syria and a junior at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. Emily was a student in my workshop, Leading with Authentic Purpose this year.

I broke free and found purpose.

I consider myself a “go with the flow” kind of person. This is often seen as a positive attribute, and benefits me when things don’t go exactly as planned. I don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff to me. However, when it comes to making decisions, this “go with the flow” attitude may keep me caught up in whatever everyone else is doing. A decision like going to college doesn’t seem like a decision anymore, just something that is supposed to happen.

When you go with the flow, you aren’t taken to many new places.

I’m not saying that attending college is a bad decision, because I am so happy to be able to study at a university. I do think, however, more thought should be put into why I am where I am. It’s easy to get caught up in what others want for you, especially with college advisors planning your classes and telling you what extra curricular will boost your resume for your (their) dream grad school. Your parents, even if they aren’t breathing down your neck with their input, still will take the most pride in listing these “on track” accomplishments in the Christmas card, or to the family friends you only see a few times a year. There are bumper stickers that say “my student is on the honor roll at Some Middle School” but if I had to make one for my parents it would say “my student is drinking 3 cups of coffee a day and staying up until 1am doing homework after a full day of classes and work, who cares if she got a C in calculus?”

College doesn’t make for a great bumper sticker. My pre-med advisor tells me that if I want to be competitive for medical school, I have to get a 3.5 cummulative GPA, have 1000+ hours of experience in the medical field, be involved in a club or some type of extracurricular, but “…make sure to not stretch yourself too thin!”

Asking why

This past semester, I started asking myself why I was doing so many things to enrich my resume when I could be doing things to enrich my life. I felt like I was following a path that others had laid out for me, and I wasn’t willing to follow it anymore. I was interested in the medical field because I wanted to help others, but there are many other ways to accomplish that goal.

In middle school and high school I played soccer and lacrosse, and while I wasn’t always the best on the team, I was usually the fastest runner. My dad used to tell me that I would always make the team regardless of my technical skill, because you can teach someone the rules of the game and how to play, but you can’t teach them how to run. This lesson applies to more than just sports. As a pre-med major, I am expected to have an exorbitant amount of medical hours to apply to med school, along with other challenging criteria such as grade point average and school involvement. However, I am interested in this field because I want to help people and change lives.

You can teach someone to put in an IV but you can’t teach someone compassion. Having those 1000 med hours may help but they won’t set me apart; showing that I can connect with others will.

Finding authentic purpose

Last semester I decided to take an elective class called Leading With Authentic Purpose, taught by Zach. Part of the class was keeping a journal to write in every day, reflecting on our talents, things we loved doing, what issues we were passionate about, and what the world needs. The final project was to put these things together and create a career that encompassed all four journaling prompts. The first two prompts, journaling about what I loved to do and my talents, was easier than the other two. I love to hike and it comes easily to me, and I hope one day to do a through-hike (backpacking one long trail all the way through, such as the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail). The last two, writing about issues I was passionate about and what the world needs, were a bit more difficult, because reading international news for two minutes could result in a lengthy paper.

One day while I was particularly distraught over my sense of purposelessness in my current routine, I was reading stories of individuals attempting to escape the Middle East, and more specifically, Syria. The stories of these people whose lives were uprooted in war struck a chord in me. I wanted to do something to help. So, with my combined yearning to do something for myself since starting university, and wanting to help struggling Syrian refugees, I decided I was going to do both. I went home, pitched the idea of doing a through-hike to raise money for refugees to my roommates, and Strides for Syria was born. I realized that I could use my love and affinity for hiking to help others.

By taking my own path, following my purpose, and doing what is most important to me, I can also impact people across the globe. This summer, I will be hiking the Colorado Trail, roughly 500 miles, as a fundraiser for refugees. Similar to a dance marathon or relay for life, you can donate a set dollar amount or a certain amount per mile (so, 1 cent a mile ends up being $5 when I finish). All proceeds will be donated to the UNHCR, which is the UN Refugee Agency.

This hike is just one step to escaping routine, and following my purpose. I’m leaving my advisor and others’ expectations for my life behind and setting off on a journey of my own agenda; my hiking boots and I have a world to change.

Emily Macias, Colorado State University


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