Fear as a Means to Personal Growth - Joe Lee

Joe Lee standing in the arboretum
Photo: Daniel Oberbauer

Joe Lee

Academic Advisor, College of Agricultural and Environmental Science

I grew up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the small town of Ben Lomond, California.  My parents were never married and I grew up as an only-child with my mom in a single-parent home.  She worked as a waitress at local diners and we didn't have much by the way of finances. That said, I take pride in my journey and appreciate all of those who supported me along my way.  

I ended up in college because my mom raised me to consider college as the only option to have a life without the struggles I grew up with.  My mom wanted me to believe that there were other alternatives to low-income living.  

I received a rather large amount of financial aid to attend UC Riverside and eventually ended up transferring to UC Davis.  I completed my undergraduate degree here (B.A. in History, Minor in Education) and have worked on campus since my graduation.

Fear as a means to Personal Growth 
I don't know if there was anything that I was particularly afraid about, but it wasn't until I was just about to graduate college that I figured I really had little to no concept of how to navigate resources on campus. I had to start thinking of post-graduation plans. Since I was raised to believe that graduating college was the way to position myself to have a more stable and "better" life than how I grew up, I was naive to the realities of finding out my professional pathway.  What I find important to realize about fear is that it leads to opportunity and growth.  In hindsight, I realize that what I am fearful of or nervous about often provide me with the most personal growth.

One of the biggest benefits to how I grew up was the demonstration of such a strong work ethic from my mother.  I've come to have more appreciation and find more blessings in the hard work than the end point.  I also find that how I grew up gave me a strong understanding of the importance of financial discipline and ensuring that I live within my means. I always had my mother as a mentor in college, but I missed out on finding a mentor here on campus. Reflecting back on my time at college through my experiences as an academic advisor, I see tremendous value in having a mentor and would strongly encourage our current students to find one. It just didn’t happen for me. 

Imagining the Future 
The best thing about my college experience was having the opportunity to be exposed to opportunities beyond what I could have imagined.  While I had the goal instilled in me of going to college at a young age, there was certainly a focus on day-to-day living/survival.  When I started college, I realized that I was exposed to so much more than I ever envisioned growing up in a small town.

You Belong in College 
I attended college, first and foremost, for my own future, but it took me a long time to realize this. I remembered feeling like I was shouldering the burden of going to college for everybody in my family, but myself.  As I graduated college and was faced with making decisions that would impact personal and professional opportunities, I realized that I attended college to position myself to grow and learn in ways that I wouldn't have if I didn't attend.

I have tremendous appreciation for all those who encouraged and supported me throughout my educational journey, particularly my mom.  I also feel it's important to take time to empower those who could benefit from our First-Gen stories.  As a first generation college graduate, or any college graduate for that matter, it is our responsibility to make the communities we choose to be a member of a better place through our lived experiences. My story is my own and I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about other's stories. 

Where I am at now, I certainly have professional and personal goals that I want to obtain. That said, my focus is to strive to make decisions with thoughtful consideration for my family and friends, to make decisions and strive toward goals that honor those who helped guide me to this point in life, and for those who may find opportunity because of the choices that I make today.