No one wants to hire a whistleblower.
I learned that lesson during the last year of my now-infamous journey, after I was thrust into the spotlight by Governor Ron Desantis as the "COVID-19 Florida whistleblower."
I spent weeks applying for jobs in my field and tried to return to a quiet, normal life after my privacy and my family were politicized by the cruelty, callousness and denialism of Desantis and his administration.
While I had many job offers, most for were for jobs I wasn't qualified for - web design, data engineering, even genetic sequencing research. I appreciated the offers, but I was a scientist, not a programmer, and I studied climate change and disasters, not human genetics.
A lot of those offers came in because the media didn't understand what it is exactly that geographers do. And even though the academic community swiftly and sharply corrected Desantis' lies about my education, experience and the field of science I am an expert in, I was dubbed a "data analyst," so those were the offers I received.
There's no going back once you're launched into whistleblower stardom.
People will thank you, praise you and even hug you.
Your government may hail you as a hero, as my country is doing today by honoring me during the National Whistleblower Day festivities, for which I'm truly grateful and humbled.
And some may attack you as a villain, undermine your expertise, defame you, raid your home, arrest you, and use you to try to scare others into silence, as Desantis has been doing like a broken record on repeat since May 2020.
Either way, life as you know it is over. Every whistleblower I've spoken to in the last year all tells me the same thing: you can't go back.
Whistleblowers exist only because we've seen something wrong and decided to speak out about it. Those who are committing the wrong have a vested interest in ensuring we do not speak, that we are not heard, and that they maintain their power, influence and wealth.
I challenged a lie put forth by two incredibly dangerous men: Donald Trump and Ronald DeSantis.
As a kid who grew up food and housing insecure, who earned a scholarship to an elite university, worked my way through graduate school, and had to fight for everything in my life, Desantis viewed me as an unworthy foe. Who was I to ruin his chances at re-election and his much-desired bid for presidency? How can a nobody like me bring down a governor?
What I have come to symbolize means more to most people than anything I've said or done. I represent an honest person trying to do right by the people in the face of immense pressure and uncertainty. We all want to believe that good will triumph evil, and I've made it my mission this past year to see that through.
There was no guarantee anyone would support me when everything first happened. I idolized a few whistleblowers like Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers, sure, but I didn't consider myself among their ranks. I was never comfortable with being called a hero, and even resisted the term "whistleblower" at first because of the baggage that can bring.
Most of the last 15 months have not been fun, but I've seen the absolute worst in people upstaged by the brave and absolute best in humanity.
The state now has multiple full-time employees tasked only with defaming me online, harassing me, and lying about my complaint against the state (which is a crime now that I have legal whistleblower status). They've used conservative bloggers and magazines to make claims as false and absurd as calling me "the whistleblower who wasn't," just weeks before I received protected whistleblower status from the Office of the Inspector General.
Most people are right in their first instincts about a situation. It takes hammering lies onto someone repeatedly before they start to question what they know. The conservative disinformation playbook I've observed this last year would be pathetic if it were not somewhat effective. Repeat the lie and people will believe it, they suppose.
But it hasn't worked. People aren't buying it.
There are hundreds of thousands of my supporters who fight the continued smears and disinformation - an exhausting and unrewarding mission. They are academics like Dr. Peter Hotez, real journalists like those at the Miami Herald, and data experts who observed first-hand what I was telling the public to be cautious with.
I never imagined the world I live in now could exist for someone like me.
And I hope every person who learns my story walks away with one lasting impression:
No job is worth your soul. You get one life on this planet. Live it honestly, bravely, and never fear those who try to harm others. They are weak, and they can be defeated. All it takes is enough good people pushing back against the lies.
Thank you to all of my supporters throughout this traumatic and incredible year. I will continue fighting for transparency, accountability and integrity for the rest of my life.