Becoming vegan was without a doubt, the most transformative decision and most impactful change I’ve ever made in my 19 turns around the sun. And, yes it did elevate my health, increase my energy levels, clear up my skin, elevate my mood, provide purpose and passion, and change my perspective, but none of those results are why becoming vegan has been so impactful. I think that something I’ve only recently realized is that for me, going vegan was the first time I had made any conscious decision for myself. Up until that point, I had just fallen into everything in my life. I was just trucking along a well-paved well-mapped path of: go to school. Learn that this is right, and that is wrong. Behave like this. Look like this. Think like this. Strive for this. Be ashamed of this. Like this. Hate that. And just make sure you don’t stray from the path that society says will lead to happiness. Oh also, don’t be yourself, because people wont like that. That’s the subtle conditioning that I (and so many others) was spoon fed since I was old enough to comprehend life as a construct. So all my life I did just that, I got straight A’s, danced, volunteered, had a job, had friends, and had half a personality. I did everything that was expected and never strayed too far right or too far left of center… until that is, I decided to stop ingesting animal products. That decision was so revelatory for me and also rubbed many people the wrong way, because it wasn’t just a mindless act of following this well beaten path, instead it was a conscious and intentional act on my behalf. For the first time in my life, I made a significant decision based on my conscience, my principles, my logic, and not somebody else’s. I thought for myself for the first time, and ignored what others, the government and mainstream society said was right. And that is what has truly changed my life. The effects of this decision far exceed health. It’s beyond just eating bananas, kale, rice, and beans. It’s beyond being consistent with moving my body. It’s even beyond the community that veganism can bring. Instead it was the notion, the idea, the concept, that was the subtle undercurrent of all of the conscious decisions I’ve made since then that have changed my life. It’s the idea of empowerment, of choosing yourself, and of living YOUR life for YOU. It’s the concept of working towards reversing the conditioning you’ve experienced, being open minded and critically thinking about everything at face value without entertaining prejudices. It’s the notion that your life is what you make it, and you know what you want more than anyone else on this planet; so don’t listen to society or your boyfriend, or your teacher, IF it doesn’t align with what your heart is telling you. I realized that when I went vegan I had done exactly that, I had followed my heart. But this realization was so subtle that I almost missed it. I almost missed realizing that choosing to be vegan was really the catalyst that has lead to me realizing that I have the power to choose myself, choose what I want, and choose to live according to my beliefs. Amidst all the talk of how incredible a vegan lifestyle is for your health, I almost missed the deeper more subtle impact it’s had on my entire being and belief system, until today when it all just clicked. I realized today, that I just recently made another decision that was intentional. And that was leaving university to travel. Like being vegan, it’s definitely a less popular, more unpredictable path. But ultimately its one that will bring more challenges and self growth than just falling into the comfortable well paved path. University for me was a familiar and easy challenge. I knew how to study, I knew how to take tests, and I knew how to excel at school. That intellectual academic setting is one that I’m extremely confident and capable in. I’m someone who can read and comprehend text very well and easily, and doing well in school, just isn’t really a struggle. But put me out into the real world and boy that’s a different story. My skills and ability to overcome Real World Real Life problems are much more minimal and much less developed. And I mean, is that really my fault? In all my years dedicated to school, and preparing for “life,” I never actually got to live my life and learn first hand, in the field. Everything I had learnt was theoretical and hypothetical, but never actually applied in the real world. Simple things like communicating with strangers, making connecting flights, filing your taxes, reading maps, and finding clean water were much more foreign and challenging to me than multiple regression in Statistics. And that is exactly why I want more of that, because it’s challenging, and because I grow much more from those experiences than I ever could have in a classroom. And I will forever be grateful to veganism for allowing me to show myself that I have the choice to continue falling into the life that’s been laid out for me, or to be intentional and conscious in my life. I have that choice, but so do you. What choice will you make?