Rashida Tlaib is an advocate and activist, and was the first Muslim woman elected to the Michigan Legislature. She currently serves as the community partnerships and development director at the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice.

When I was going to law school, I did the weekend program—I couldn’t afford to go full time. I found a program where I worked Monday through Friday at a nonprofit organization as an executive assistant, answering phone calls, pushing paper around, trying to support the administrative staff.

And on the weekends, I’d go to class—two on Saturday, two on Sunday. And when I was done I had this tremendous amount of debt. So, I went and worked at a firm, a very small one. And I was miserable. I worked there only eight months and I couldn’t take it anymore.

I decided to go back into the nonprofit sector and I never regretted it. It opened doors. I felt like every single day I was making a difference. It’s such a privilege to feel that way.

I ended up running for office because I was upset about this English-only legislation in Lansing. I remember going to lunch with someone and saying “Who do you know on that committee that could understand that this is so un-American?”

That’s how I met the state representative at the time. I didn’t know him very well—now he’s one of my closest mentors—and he convinced me to run. I became the first Muslim woman ever elected to the Michigan legislature.

If I stayed where I was, I probably would have never known about the bill. I helped kill it, which I’m very proud of. So many of us feel stuck right now. But there are ways you can get around, especially now with everything on the Net. Nothing prevents you from writing an editorial or getting engaged on an issue that’s important to you—and that always opens doors to happiness.