In my late 20s, I knew that I wanted to make a vocational shift, but I struggled to find the courage to do so. One day, I came across the lines of Transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” he wrote in Walden in 1854.

Thoreau’s writing—a reflection on human nature’s tendency to reside in a “quiet desperation”—helped me to pinpoint my own misgivings about my professional path. This realization imparted me with the courage to face my self doubts, take a risk, and follow my vocational dream.

Though Thoreau lapsed into an unfortunate gender bias (as women may lead lives of quiet desperation, too), I still took refuge in his words. Reflecting on my own life (which felt quietly desperate, I realized) imparted me with the audacity to make a change and follow my professional dream. My life, while still quiet, no longer feels desperate.

– Nora Nunn (PhD Candidate in English at Duke University)