Cassandra Yip, 22, is the founder of Earth School Singapore, a non-profit school for environmental education that provides knowledge, opportunity and inspiration at the community-level. She is also an Environmental Studies undergraduate and co-founder of Student Energy at the National University of Singapore.. On the side, she is a swimming instructor for children.
For years I’ve lived by this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
To find your purpose in life, look to others – firstly, look inwards and see what meaning they have provided to your life, and secondly, look outwards and see what meaning you can provide to others’ lives.
I know that it was my parents’ love for the ocean that made me an environmentalist, and my grandparents’ kindness to strangers that made me become a grassroots leader in my neighbourhood. It’s the innumerable instances with family, friends, teachers, perhaps even authors and singers, that shaped who I am and my purpose in life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson also said: “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.”
I stand on the shoulders of giants. But keeping me up there are the many hands of friends, schoolmates, partners, mentors and so more people who hold me steadfast and are ready to push me even higher.
I have so much gratitude to these people, and I think it is of utmost importance that you tell these people just how much their support means to you. This is more than just a “thank you” though, it’s taking the time to sincerely identify and deeply appreciate the value each person brings to your life.
The media has lied to us. Those “get rich quick” or “overnight success start-up” stories we see in movies all show fast exponential growth and victorious outcomes – perhaps because the average movie time is 1.5 hours. While it is foolish to expect similar “instant great results”, it is not so to want to succeed.
However, I have learnt that when chasing the pot of gold, be sure to remind yourself to appreciate the rainbow from time to time. Small wins are a sign of progression, and you should be proud of yourself (and your team) for achieving them.
Someone once said that privilege is invisible to those who have it. Being an environmentalist is a huge privilege: to have the freedom and time to venture into forests and explore our oceans, to have vegetarian food by choice and not by budget, and to be able to afford eco-friendly menstrual products.
It is important that we all recognise our privileges because it makes us more aware and empathetic to the difficulties of others, such that when we seek to provide meaning in the lives of some, we are conscious that we won’t be taking it away from others at the same time.
Being a student can be stressful. Being an environmentalist in the midst of a climate crisis can be overwhelming (that’s my eco-anxiety screaming internally). Trying to be good at both at the same time can be tiring, perhaps even paralysing. I spent a long time always trying to push through my burnouts, convinced that all I had to do was do even more – that being productive would make my stress go away, and that being more tired was a sign that I was working hard.
But the quality of my work wasn’t great – it took me a much longer time to complete and neither was I truly happy. Eventually, the breakdown came anyway – I’d fall ill or be too unmotivated to do anything. So, I’ve come to learn to recognise my burnout early: experience it (cue all the crying, comfort food eating), accept that it’s okay to fail, take some time to be with friends and family, find some inspiration (I love Ted talks and Jane Goodall’s Hopecast), and finally get back to working and enjoy doing so!
This has probably been the most challenging thing for me, but also one of the most important things I’ve learned so far in my journey. There’s always this fear of “Am I overstepping?” or “Am I being too demanding?”
Every time I contemplate this, I remind myself of a quote by Shakti Gawain: “You create your opportunities by asking for them.”
Sometimes I get told no, and of course I get a little sad, but it’s because of the many times I’ve received a “yes” that I am one step closer to my dreams.
This is most definitely easier said than done. I have been through all stages of self-doubt, uncertainty, frustration, and anxiety in my journey. But it is incredible how much support and guidance I have received whenever I’ve sought help, how after each setback there was always a new opportunity, and how much one can grow through experiencing all of it.
Brian Tracy once said: “There are no limits to what you can accomplish, except the limits that you place on your own thinking.”
So, when you believe in yourself and you believe unwaveringly in your life’s purpose, know that you will be extraordinary – you will live your life well, serve people well, and the life that you live, you will live it to the fullest.