The Road Less Travelled: Pursuing My Passion
Natania Tan on how the Fellowship reignited her passion for changemaking
A few years back, a specific verse from a poem I read struck me, and has remained close to my heart since.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
This verse comes from Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken”. People have different interpretations, but for me, I have always seen it as having the courage to pursue your passion, even when there is great resistance.
I remember coming across the National Young Leaders Fellowship through my Instagram in March last year. Not thinking much about it, I applied. A leadership fellowship sounded interesting to be part of, though I wasn’t particularly passionate about any cause. Was there really leadership beyond school-based ones like the Student Council?
In hindsight that was a shallow mindset, one that I’m grateful to NYLF for changing. During Induction, I was exposed to various causes that changed my perspective on serving communities. In the past, I had been involved in a few community projects with my classmates, but found them to be more short term in nature: when the project implementation ended, so did my desire to serve that cause.
Through the fellowship, I, along with the other Fellows, had the opportunity to have meaningful discussions with many speakers across a wide variety of topics.
From sustainability, to migrant workers’ welfare, every cause I heard about intrigued me because of its multifaceted nature, as it gave me a broader perspective on the realities of these causes. I was brimming with excitement. Oh what big ideas I had… But I didn’t know where to start.
After Induction ended, the hype mostly died down, and us youth had to get back to “reality”, also known as our lives as students. In my interactions with my friends at school, I realised that not every youth is as privileged as me, to have had access to so much knowledge about our community, and to the connections that could help to serve the people around us. This was where I could start from. This was what a leader could do.
I wanted to initiate a fully youth-led project to empower my fellow youth to spark change in their community, and to be part of a cause that was bigger than themselves. So few people had explored the cause of youth volunteerism, which I had a deep passion for. I knew how capable and energetic youths were, as I witnessed the brilliance and sheer potential that the people around me had. After all, I myself am a youth. The feeling of empowerment through my NYLF experience was one like no other, and I couldn’t express in words how badly I wanted to share it with others.
The first people I told about my idea were my parents. I expected support, yet all I heard were concerns.
“You’re too young to start such a large-scale project.”
“You don’t have much to get out of this.”
“No one else has done this, are you sure you want to try it?”
I didn’t expect to face so much resistance. I understood where my parents were coming from — this project would take up a lot of my time and energy. But their remarks helped me to stop and reflect deeply on my purpose, reaffirming my passion to serve.
Not long after, another key lesson I learned was that I didn’t have to be alone. Sure, I was embarking on a road less travelled, but every path needs someone to pave it first. Blazing the trail would encourage others to follow suit, and I knew that the ripple effect from one small action could extend to a deeper impact on others. Someone had to start it all, I reasoned. If I didn’t take the first step, who would?
In a leap of faith, I reached out to the Fellows to broach the topic of embarking on this project. Four of them got back to me, and were keen to team up and start something together. We held brainstorming sessions to come up with ways to bring this initiative to life. Each of us came from different backgrounds, with vastly different opinions and worldviews, but one shared vision and desire. And that alone was enough to get us started.
In September 2022, we launched our project, Youth Can Do It, to promote youth volunteerism. The support we received was overwhelming: within a few months, we had 300 followers, and had also attracted the attention of many organisations who wanted to collaborate with us.
While it’s heartening to see the progress of Youth Can Do It, it is not these numbers that have made me feel that our efforts to further this cause have been worth it. Rather, being able to witness how this project has influenced others and their actions has been deeply rewarding. One specific instance that comes to mind was when a schoolmate I had never talked to before approached me to tell me that she felt inspired by the project, and took the initiative to go volunteering with her family one weekend. I would never have expected to see Youth Can Do It’s reach and how it has impacted others, and I can’t wait to see how much further we can go.
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We have a long road ahead, but I know we’ve started something special. Though the initial stage of the project was hard, with us not having any example to follow, I’ve never regretted my decision to pursue my passion.
It has made all the difference.
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Natania was a part of the National Young Leaders Fellowship 2022, a leadership programme that recognises and develops outstanding youths, and provides them with the resources to broaden their perspectives and hone their leadership skills. Find out more about the National Young Leaders Fellowship here.