Luis Herrera (2018, BA in Psychology)

Eating Recovery Center, Primary Therapist in Denver, CO
Luis Herrera ('18)
Luis Herrera (’18)

Tell us about your current job role/employer and what you’re currently working on. 

As a primary therapist at the Eating Recovery Center, I am a member of a cross-disciplinary team designed to support children and teens that are acutely ill and experiencing medical instability as a result of their eating disorders. My primary task is to provide individual, family, and group therapy, though I also collaborate with professionals of all sorts of backgrounds: dietitians, nurses, psychiatrists, educators, out-patient providers, and support staff.

What personal and/or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading to where you are now?

My 4 years immediately post-grad were a time of self-reflection, fervent study, hard-work, and intentional partnership including three key post-graduate experiences that paved the way to my current position.

REI Bike Shop – I credit my ability to pursue my post-graduate dreams to the people I worked with here. I worked full-time at the bike shop while in grad school. I learned an array of skills while cultivating a lifelong hobby and financially supporting my life and education in Dallas.

SMU Hegi Family Career Development Center / Flourish Counseling Center – For my master’s degree internships, I sought out opportunities not for the roles themselves but for the supervisors I would learn from. I ended up with two amazing positions with exceptional mentors. After finishing my internship there, I was hired on as an outpatient therapist at Flourish Counseling Center, where I focused on family-based eating disorder recovery.

Husband to Ash – The most important part of my career journey is that I am planning it in parallel with my wife! The rigidity of her medical training meant I had to take steps in my career to plan timing, location, and licensure in a way that supported our shared goals. Our dreams shifted in meaningful ways as we planned careers and lives together.

What was the most challenging aspect of your first “real world job” and what did you learn from it?

This is quite the question for me, if I am being honest. When I read this, I attribute a subtext that “real world job” means the career path provided to me after my undergraduate and graduate education. When I stop and really think about it, my first “real world job” was just my first job.

When I was 16, my father told me I’d spend my summers in high school working for the commercial landscaping company he had worked for since he moved to the States. My father told me I would learn the true value of a dollar and the reality of so many people’s work lives. I spent 3 summers cutting grass, eating lunch at gas stations, and meeting hard-working people – people whose “real world job” should never be belittled by the perspective that my career was built on a buffer of education.

Growing up, I often was quite embarrassed that my parents didn’t have the prestigious or flashy job titles other kid’s parents did. However now, I continually learn from reflecting on my father’s career and my short time as a landscaper. I have learned to find purpose in the fruits of labor rather than labor itself. I don’t have to like my job, and I know it won’t always be fun. To me, career is a tool to produce greater joys in life. I have learned that there is a cost to greatness. I have a great dad. The cost he took was in taking the job he could when he moved to the States – with its lack of luxury and judgement from his son and others, all so that he could financially support the dreams of his family.

What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college (finances, health, values, work/life balance)?

An important note for anyone reading this is that I am at the beginning of my career journey. I will be the first one to say that I am inexperienced and have much to learn. So, you will see me write a lot about the wisdom and counsel gifted to me by mentors and leaders.

I received this quip from a great friend and fellow Deac, Conner Song (’19), “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” I’ve since discovered that this quote comes from an essay within “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard, in which she writes about the tension between presence and productivity. I think about this all of the time. I find myself thinking about how to approach each slice of life (finances, health, values, work/life) with daily intention.

Practically, the things I have found helpful across personal life habits are:
Creating a community of friends who are committed to spurring you on to your goals. Build friendships that are capable of bearing the burden of truth.
Seeking mentorship. Find people whose lives emulate the very goals you wish for yourself.
Doing things you don’t want to do.
Doing things you aren’t good at.
Practice rest, generosity, and reflection.
Find a system. Whether it’s a planner, budget, to-do lists, journals, notion, google calendar…if it works, it works.

How have you made personal and professional relationships in your city, company, or community?

In complete candor, this is something I am diligently working on right now. Moving to a new city as an adult can feel lonely and I have definitely felt this way. I found this podcast episode super helpful: NPR’s Life Kit “5 Easy Tips For Making Friends As An Adult.”

I try to make friends in the activities I love and places I know I will spend time, like church or the climbing gym. In my professional relationships, I seek opportunities to collaborate with people whose ethic I admire and believe I can learn from. I also try to connect about aspects of their lives that have nothing to do with work, so that we can support each other as both colleagues and people.

Have you been mentored by anyone at Wake Forest or in your professional life? If so, what impact has that relationship had on you?

John Bourgeois – I met John the end of my freshman year at Wake when I wandered into RUF. He was the RUF campus pastor at the time and now works as a pastor at a church in Nashville. John gave me the opportunity to live with him and his family over the summers when I stayed in Winston. I had the privilege to observe his life at a daily pace, and he was kind enough to let me in on his personal development, his role as a parent and partner, his finances, his mistakes, and his successes.

Jace Harms – Jace interviewed me for my position as a bike tech with REI. He is one of the most exceptional leaders I have ever met. He has mastered, what we in the world of developmental psychology call, the zone of proximal development. This refers to the difference one can achieve on their own versus when supported by an intentional and knowledgeable mentor. He knew and supported my priorities at the time as a student and a partner. His ambitions for me were beyond my time as a bike tech and sought to equip me for future endeavors.

Natalie Morse – My supervisor at Flourish Counseling Center, Natalie Morse, would listen to me describe the misery of still being in grad school, stressing about finances, and just longing for “life to begin.” She would tell me that “life is long” and to rest in this feeling of discontent, as it will teach me more than just dwelling on the future. I never intended to go into eating disorder work, but her mastery within this specialty and willingness to teach me set the stage for the job I have now.

What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional job?

1. Comparison is the thief of joy. We went to Wake. We went to school with brilliant people who are doing very impressive, very important, and very cool things. I caught myself comparing my trajectory with my friends’ in the years immediately after graduating. As I saw the various successes of others’ post-graduate lives, I remember feeling discouraged and self-critical of my own education/career choices. If you are discontent, seek guidance; otherwise, celebrate other’s victories.

2. Find opportunity in unplanned events. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a long-term career path to follow meticulously, but be open to the happenstance of life (Krumboltz’s Happenstance Theory). On the other side of this coin, chance is not always random. People play a role in creating their own luck.

3. Meet the cleaning team. Everyone in the building matters.

What are your future career goals or plans? How are you being intentional about working towards them?

I hope to eventually go back to school and get my PhD in Counseling Psychology or Clinical Psychology. I’d love to continue practicing as a therapist and potentially teach at a university. A long-term goal would be to find a role in urban community development, helping provide mental health, career counseling, and mentorship where these resources are not easily accessed.

Story published in January 2024. For current updates on Luis’ career path, visit his LinkedIn profile.