I never would have thought that when I went vegan three years ago, it would change the course of my life. It was beyond a change in my diet: It ultimately led me to change careers and country. Somehow I found myself on Koh Lanta—a tiny island in southwest Thailand. It has a population of over 30,000 people. Compare that to the nearly 4 million people in the city of Los Angeles.
Ah, Thailand. I knew I'd come back after my first visit as a volunteer at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. I just didn't think I'd be back so soon, or that I'd be here long-term. And yet here I am, reflecting on the events that led me to this crazy, terrifying yet exciting journey of transformation and self-discovery.
Vegan Lens and a Nagging Thought
Ever since I became vegan, I started seeing various aspects of my life differently. But one aspect of it became a nagging, persistent thought that I couldn't shake off. It was how I was spending at least 40 hours of my week (or 260 days a year), doing something that wasn't serving a greater purpose. I wasn't helping animals and I wasn't making a positive difference in a world rife with suffering and destruction. I kept thinking as I was leaving my office parking garage every day that there had to be more to life. If I died tomorrow, the tragic part would've been that I never pursued what I was really passionate about—a career helping animals in some way.
I was a senior copywriter for a direct marketing company that specialized in beauty and skincare products. When I first started out in that industry, I thought, this is heaven. What could be better than writing about beauty products all day, every day? But naturally, people change and so do their priorities and passions. Every second I spent at work became excruciating—soul-crushing even. It started to take a toll on my physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. I know they say that attitude is everything and that you should be grateful for what you have, but there's a fine line between settling and being grateful. Yes, you should count your blessings, but don't let that stop you from pursuing whatever it is that will truly fill your heart and soul.
Gaining Financial Freedom
After 13 years of financial servitude, I finally broke free from the chains of student loan debt. It was liberating in a professional sense, too. No longer bound by the burden of debt and having to stick with a job that paid well just to pay off my debt, I knew it was time to pursue my passion for helping animals.
I began applying for jobs all over Los Angeles County, then California, and then out of state. But I could not catch a break. Now that I was able to get by with a nonprofit salary, I couldn't get my foot in the door. Were my marketing and copywriting skills not good enough for the nonprofit world? Was getting a job with an animal advocacy organization that competitive?
Live, Love, Explore: The Book That Changed It All
It was a painfully slow day at work, so I decided to give myself a does of inspiration and mental stimulation. I went to the bookstore on my lunch break, and next to the entrance was a small bookcase featuring the deals of the day. Live, Love, Explore: A Roadmap to the Life You Were Meant to Live by Leon Logothetis was the first or second book I picked up—I was immediately drawn to it, and when I read the book jacket, I was even more intrigued.
Here are a few excerpts from the synopsis:
Leon Logothetis’s life was well plotted out for him. He was to do well in school, go to university, get a job in finance, and spend the next fifty years of his life sitting behind a slab of wood, watching the rain-slicked streets of London from thirty floors above. For a long time, he followed that script, until one day, he finally realized he was living someone else’s life—a good one—but not one of his own choosing.
So he walked out of that life, and discovered the one that took him around the world.
So, what is the Way of the Traveler? It’s a roadmap to living your best life, loving with all your heart, and exploring the world—both the great and adventurous one waiting outside your door, and the even greater, more adventurous one waiting within your soul.
And by opening yourself up to new adventures, by recognizing that you have the freedom to choose your own road, you’ll find something else that has been hiding in plain sight: you’ll find the life of which you have always dreamed… and the curiosity and courage it takes to make that life happen.
I am now a firm believer that the universe presents things to you at the right time. I realized that all those years I yearned to leave my job and felt like a failure because I couldn't land anything was really the universe priming me for something bigger than the plans I had for myself.
Less than a month after I discovered Live, Love, Explore, I came across a posting on Idealist.org for a fundraising copywriter position. I read the first line and instantly knew that that's what I was meant to do: "Tell the stories of the animals of Lanta Animal Welfare and the donor's role in their future through the use of strong creative writing skills."
A few months prior to that, I was asked during an interview what my dream job would be if money didn't matter, and I specifically said, "To work with rescued animals and tell their stories." *Jaw drop* I guess the universe heard me loud and clear. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a fundraising copywriter. I knew there were grant writers, major gifts officers and development managers in the nonprofit world, but I didn't think there were copywriters whose sole purpose was to bring in donations through the power of storytelling.
If I hadn't read Live, Love, Explore, I wouldn't have had the courage to apply. Thankfully, that book came to me at the right time. I submitted my application that same day and heard back the following day. Nearly a month passed before I finally had an interview via Skype.
And now, here I am, by myself halfway around the world, having taken the words of Leon Logothetis to heart. I shoved myself out of my comfort zone and mustered the courage to make the life I dreamed of happen.
Lanta Animal Welfare, a Nonprofit Charity on Koh Lanta
Lanta Animal Welfare is a small non-profit organization that rescues and rehabilitates dogs and cats on Koh Lanta and surrounding areas and islands. They also run mass sterilization and vaccination programs through their mobile clinics, which take place regularly throughout the year.
If you've ever been to Asia, you'd know just how serious their stray animal population problem is, and how it often leads to horrific animal cruelty. Educating people about the importance of sterilizing dogs and cats is a work in progress, but it's crucial to making a lasting difference for the animals. One female cat can produce three litters each year, which can amount to 2 million unwanted kittens in eight years.
Those are just facts and figures. The real shocker is the amount of disturbing cases of animal cruelty at the hands of people who see them as pests. They shoot them with BB guns, attack them with machetes, poison their food, purposely run over them, and even pour boiling oil on them.
That is why the most effective way to reduce the suffering of animals on the island is by reducing the number of stray dogs and cats through sterilization. Since Lanta Animal Welfare doesn't receive any government funding, they rely on donations from people around the world. My task is to inspire people to help by showing them the difference they can make in these animals' lives through their donations.
Sticking to My Conviction, Resisting the Negativity
Other than my husband who knew since Day 1 and has been my greatest supporter, I knew that once I told people about my plans, they would think I had gone mad. And maybe part of me had. I was desperate for a change. Desperate to pursue what I felt was my calling. Desperate to spend my time doing something that was meaningful to me. Besides all that, I lived in L.A. for three decades and really needed a detox from it and all its trappings.
So when the time finally came to tell my family the big news, I knew that it wouldn't be well received. First, I broke it lightly via text. Two hours passed before I got any response, and then the texts kept coming, and my dad who is always so intense and businesslike about everything, ordered a family conference call.
Their confusion and fear was understandable—this was the first time I didn't give any hints about my plans until I was almost certain of my decision. I come from a long line of highly anxious people from both parents' sides. I didn't tell them the news until the last minute because I didn't want their negativity to ruin my excitement and plant seeds of doubt.
Let Your Passions Influence Your Actions
Doesn't get better than this
Meet Pudding, my assistant
If you became an ethical vegan in order to live by your values, you should also let your passions and convictions guide your life decisions. If you want a career helping animals, go for it even when you get pushback and criticism (because you will). But remember that it's your life, your passion, your calling—and you’re not alone. (This also applies to anyone—vegan or not—who yearns for a career change to do something meaningful.)
There are many benefits to becoming vegan, and one of them is gaining clarity. It seems like those within the vegan and animal rights movement are experiencing a collective awakening as they discover a greater purpose. More and more people are changing career paths and using their strengths and talents to fight for animals in whatever way is meaningful to them.
Channel your rage against animal abusers and your sadness at the sight of suffering animals and turn it into a force for good—a force for change. In the words of Maya Angelou, "When you do nothing you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better."