Ali Berman ‘07 arrived on Proctor’s campus as an eleventh grader and quickly discovered her love of writing. She never imagined her avocation (writing) would ever evolve into her vocation, especially because learning did not come easily to her early in her academic journey. “When I came to Proctor, learning was hard for me, but through my time in Learning Skills, I was encouraged to explore how I learned, and through that process I become empowered as a learner.” Over the course of her two years at Proctor, lessons in self-advocacy and self-awareness she had begun to explore prior to Proctor solidified themselves as a central part of her identity. Last week, Ali returned to campus to share a message with students on how to lead a purpose-driven life and lessons from her journey since graduating in 2007. She also discussed taking the TEDx stage this summer and her current job as a full-time writer for Singularity University.
These traits of self-awareness and self-advocacy melded with an innate curiosity that led her to the realization that she simply loved learning while enthralled in a philosophy course during her freshman year at Redlands College. No longer did Ali feel she was in ‘class’, but rather was provided with repeated opportunities to pursue knowledge, connections, and relationships between different disciplines. A gap year coaching snowboarding in Colorado afforded her the opportunity to further explore these connections in learning when she took a macroeconomics course that eventually altered her path forward. Ali’s newfound passion for the discipline of economics combined with a refined awareness of her own learning allowed her to earn a degree in Economics and Philosophy from Sarah Lawrence College, and a job in Manhattan as a marketing manager for a large publishing company.
While a story on Ali’s career in marketing would have provided a plenty interesting alumni profile, her decision to leave the comforts of Manhattan for the unknown of a career as a full-time writer adds invaluable depth to her journey. She reflects on her decision to move cross country, “It was absolutely a leap of faith, but I had confidence in myself and my abilities, and knew I had to take on this challenge.” She adds, “People ask these one-size fits all questions of us as young people, ‘What are you going to study in college? What are you going to do when you grow up?, but these questions are painful because they paralyze us. Too often we expect our lives to be linear, when in fact they should be anything but a straight line.”
As Ali spoke to Proctor’s student body Friday evening, she chronicled her own journey within the context of Joseph Campbell’s description of the hero’s journey, and the quest for something beyond the status quo. Her charge to students was to have the confidence in themselves to identify a hero’s task they can begin while at Proctor. “We can all take on these calls to adventure and these new opportunities, and we can take on these obstacles in our life knowing they are going to eventually help us grow. Ask yourself: What problems can you refuse to accept in your life? What actions can you take to build a hero’s narrative into your own life? The best way to predict your future is to go invent it.”
Reflecting on her time at Proctor, Ali notes, "My two years at Proctor were incredibly transformative and set me on the path to becoming who I am today. I went from being a high-energy and unfocused student that struggled in class, to one that took control of my education in college and made the most of the experience. This sense of empowerment is one of the things that's allowed me to make bold choices and be proactive and uniquely craft my career."
Thank you, Ali, for sharing your story and for challenging all of us to live our lives at the intersection of our abilities, the world’s needs, and our passions. Read more of Ali's writing and work here!