Stellar Student Alexa Pellegrino Goes From Communication & Radio Production to Trotting the Globe

Alexa PellegrinoSince graduating high school, I’ve been on one giant adventure.  I was never sure of one clear cut goal, never really had one defined “passion” in life.  I only ever really did well in the arts (specifically music and photography) and was guided towards the very traditional path of getting a college degree.

Because the degree mean “moving forward in life” no matter what it was in.  So, community college it was – or as it was called in my town, 13th grade.  I wasn’t ready for the move to a four year school, wasn’t ready to leave my family, and definitely wasn’t ready to decide what I wanted to choose as a career.

I pursued a liberal arts degree, having no idea what I was truly interested in other than music, but knew I didn’t want to be a performer or a teacher.  This doesn’t leave many options for a musician.  I managed to complete my associates and was again guided, blindly, to transfer to a four year university and complete a Bachelor’s program of my choice.

Mental breakdown #1.  The list of options was long, and many things looked interesting or fun to learn.  I didn’t put much thought into what career would be lucrative in the next four years, what would make the most money or guarantee the most success.  I thought about what I liked, what was fun in the moment and what I thought might be cool afterwards as a job.

I must admit – I wish now that I was a bit more conscientious at that time.  It was frustrating to me, to watch many family members and friends moving into positions and majors that they loved, and were truly passionate about.  I felt like an empty canvas, like I’d love to learn many things and hoped that one would stick.  I often wondered – even through my program in Communications/Radio Production – how I could be spending all this money I didn’t have (knowing that I would end up paying back the money well into my fifties and sixties, like my mother) to pursue a field of study, and potentially a career, in this one small subject with very minimal life experience.  How on Earth am I supposed to know what to choose at my age, when I’ve barely done anything with my life?! “Any degree is better than no degree” is what I’ve been told countless times.  I’m not sure I agree with this sentiment.

To be clear – I LOVED college.  I loved my degree program; it was absolutely interesting and very fun to study.  In fact, I excelled and quickly became the GM of my schools student run radio station, and had above a 3.5 GPA average every year.  I applied was accepted in to the SiriusXM intern program in NYC for my last semester – this was the real test of how I’d fit in the radio world.

I was interested in production, and ended up in a programming position.  If you don’t know anything about programming – most of my day was spent at a desk, programming music into play lists, doing some minor editing, locating CD’s from the vault in the basement to upload into the database, etc.  I was on the 36th floor of the building, not close to many windows, and spent an hour every day on a bus commuting to and from work.

I had an extremely hard time keeping my eyes open at my desk, and quickly realized that there were interns there who were way more passionate about this job than I felt.  It was at the most, a cool job for me.  Not something I’d show up in heels every day to impress and try to move up in the world of radio.  I didn’t quit though, I stuck it out and did my best to take from it what I wanted/needed and left the rest.  In fact, I completed the internship with amazing marks and reviews, and easily could have stayed in this business and done quite well.  But it wasn’t for me.  I told myself I’d never stick with a position where I am on the verge of sleeping at my desk.  This is where my dreams of anti-desk job began.

I had money left over from my excessive student loans, which I realized I could have paid back, but instead chose to use it for myself, to go out and have a REAL life experience.  An experience I could feel good about, one that I could learn and grow from.  I desperately wanted to backpack Europe, but didn’t have quite enough for an extended trip and was nervous of the prospect of traveling completely alone.

This is when the magic of the universe provided me with a magazine cutout, given to me by my aunt who knew well my desire to travel, and wanted the same for me.  This article she found was a feature of various eco-tourism/voluntourism opportunities in the US as well as abroad.  I did tons of research, and ended up choosing a project in Namibia, Africa, working with a wild elephant conservation organization.

This project changed my entire life.  I realized I wanted to do something humanitarian, something where I was free to travel but still work and help people, or animals, or the planet, in some way.  I just wanted to do something meaningful.  When I came home from Africa, I decided to forget about radio and my degree completely.  It meant nothing to me; it felt like a waste of my time. Mental Breakdown #2.

I chose to pursue an AmeriCorps program, to travel and see more of my country, but also to try my hand in service of some kind.  I wanted to help, in any way I could.  I spent a year working for FEMA, more desk job type of stuff, and really was just itching to get my hands dirty.  I was offered the opportunity in 2014 to join a six month seasonal trail crew, working in the Shasta Trinity National Forest in California.

I had never been a big hiker, but jumped at the offer right away.  I have now worked for three different conservation corps as a member as well as a leader of trail/conservation corps crews.  I have lived and worked in California, Idaho, Wyoming and Oregon.  I’ve been sleeping in a tent since 2014, working 10-12 hour days in the rain, snow, and burning sunshine.

I know every mosquito repelling trick there is and have hiked a ridiculous amount of miles.  I’ve eaten foods that I have no idea what they contain, and I’ve spent countless nights awaiting death by lightning strike or bear attack.  I’ve met amazing people and seen amazing places.  Out of all these things I’ve been lucky enough to do and see, the one thing that has always been lacking has been self-care.  This year, I quit my trail crew job, because I finally decided to turn the mirror on myself, and learn to have a balance of my time and energy.

I’ve been doing yoga asana for four years.  When I learned of the world of yoga – massage came along with it like peanut butter and jelly.  I had to have both. My aunt would take me to these massage places in Los Angeles famous for their advertisements of “foot massage” but reality of a full body massage.  I fell in love with the world of holistic care right away.

I felt as if the pairing of yoga and massage created this space in my body where it could be open and breathe.  I learned for the first time in my life that emotion is stored in my body, and have cried more in yoga and massage than I have in my life.  This blew my mind, and still does.  The magic and power of physical touch, of compression and relaxation that shifts and awakens things in the body is something I crave to understand, and to feel more of.  I want to be a force to guide people through that experience.

The one other major caveat of these amazing jobs I’ve had is that they generally don’t pay very well.  I have technically been a volunteer living off “stipends” since graduating in 2012.  This along with the long hours and most of them being spent in the woods, doesn’t leave much time to get massages or eat local sustainable organic foods or to have a consistent yoga practice.

I have finally decided that I don’t want to do that to myself any more.  I am choosing my health. Massage for me has been a field of interest for many years.  There have been various occasions where it’s been a toss-up between trail job and massage school.  As you now know, I’ve chosen the trail job each year until now.  This year, I am ready to pursue massage therapy as a career.

I am exhausted of living out of my backpack, of sleeping on the ground, of always being sore and tired physically.  I want to learn to be strong in a sustainable way, and I want to do that to help people feel as good in their body as I have.  I have seen myself as a healer for many years; I do believe it is my path, only it has been the environment that I have focused on.  I am ready to shift my focus to humanity.

I hope one day to combine the two in some way.  I have concerns of my body giving out, of my hands growing painful and weak one day, causing me to no longer be able to give massages, however when I consider what I’ve done, how strong my body consistently shows me it is, I think it will work with me.  I wonder how massage therapists who are in this field for many years approach their self-care, what exactly they do to keep the longevity of their muscles.  I cannot and will not ever announce how long I’ll be involved with something, because I’m open to all possibilities.

I’d ultimately love to explore all areas of massage; I’m interested in where it could take me in my life and in my yogic practice.  I am very interested in hospice and elder care and healing, but am open to my mind being shifted while in school to other areas.  I am fascinated by the human body, and am interested in a medical career in some way.  I think massage is a wonderful addition to something such as acupuncture or even physical therapy.

I appreciate the opportunity to assist in funds for school, having debt from my Bachelors and having used most of my financial aid already, it is something I am concerned about.  I plan to work my way through school, as well as using some scholarship money I’ve made from AmeriCorps, but it somehow seems to still not cover all the costs.  I am passionate about this field, and am excited to continue my healing journey.

Neal Lyons is a founding member and volunteer contributor at the MTSI Institute, an information based portal dedicated to guiding and assisting aspiring massage therapists establish a successful career in massage. Neal is a published author and has collaborated on several mobile applications that serve the massage profession. You can view his published work on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and on Google+

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