All was lost, including myself
In my last post, I mentioned briefly that I came extremely close to abandoning my career in environmental protection. Through no one’s fault but my own, I became unhappy at what was once my dream job. This was incredibly frustrating to me, because I had no idea why I was so unhappy. Looking back in the rearview mirror, I see now it was because I had unrealistic, perfectionistic expectations of myself, which all led to a severe loss of confidence just one year into my job. This eventually resulted in anxiety followed by full blown depression.
I no longer identified with most of the things that I had come to know about myself over the past 27 years. What was probably most striking was my loss of interest in exploring nature. Anyone who spends even half an hour with me would be very shocked to learn this. Today, you’ll find me squatting down investigating a clover sprouting from between two slabs of sidewalk, interrupting a conversation to tell you that a flock of Cedar Waxwings are crossing the sky, or asking you to stop a moment and breathe in the fragrant mountain laurel blossoms. My enthusiasm for nature is intoxicating and endless.
But when I was at my lowest point, I strongly considered donating my field guides and park maps, which were constant reminders of my former passions. I no longer went on walks or hikes. Even just looking at a wildflower I couldn’t immediately identify made my stomach lurch.
One thing I was particularly concerned with was my position as a Board Member of TreeFolks, a non-profit whose mission is to empower Central Texans to build stronger communities through planting and caring for trees. Not only was I a board member, but also the co-chair and founder of a young professionals group. This was a position I was beyond excited to accept earlier in the year, but by October I felt so completely incapable of being the kind of leader I knew I needed to be in order to be successful. Not only that, but because I ultimately came to the conclusion that a career as a Physician’s Assistant was the “right” path for me.
A waypoint encounter, guidance from unexpected sources
Once I made this decision, I started making a fail-proof plan for getting into PA school, and I started gaining back my confidence little by little. Eventually some thoughtful words from a mentor and superstar land steward, Terri Siegenthaler, came bubbling back to the forefront of my mind:
Every profession needs people who care about the environment.
Though this may seem obvious, to me it was a groundbreaking realization: I could choose this alternate path to becoming a PA without completely disowning my former passions. I could help connect a totally different network of people to nature in a very different way.
Still, I feared I would A) not have the time to commit to being on the Board whilst pursuing this path, and B) not be the best board member for TreeFolks, having suddenly quit my job and abandoning the field altogether. How could I be worthy of co-creating a young professionals program?
Eventually I worked up the courage to call the Board President, Rich DePalma, andupdate him on my plans, fully expecting to let him down and discuss my resignation. I was completely shocked and relieved by our conversation. Rich insisted that TreeFolks didn’t invite me to be on the Board and lead the young professionals group because I worked at Environmental Defense Fund, or even because I was pursuing a career in the environmental field; it was because of my character and values, leadership abilities, and genuine passion. He also admitted to me that at one point he strongly questioned his choice of career, wondering if he should have pursued veterinary school instead.
I decided with confidence to stay on the Board.
An “Aha!” moment that re-calibrated my compass
Not more than a couple of weeks after my uplifting phone call from Rich did I have thebiggest “Aha!” moment yet. Inspired by Teri’s words and Rich’s mentorship, I started formulating the vision of the young professionals group that until this time, I had felt pretty uninspired and unmotivated to make any real progress.
What I began to realize was that this group could be different from all of the others, because it didn’t have to focus purely on creating a community of people working in the environmental field. This could be a way for people like my future self to fulfill my desire to make a positive impact on the environment, regardless of whether or not it was in my job description.
The Board and staff enthusiastically supported this direction. And we got to work.
This group now has a name. We are the TreeFolks Central Leaders. We are an eclectic bunch of professionals ages 18 – 40. We are artists, accountants, journalists, scientists, baristas, nurses, architects, landscapers… you name it! We are the people who care about the environment in each profession. We have fun together, plant trees together, utilize our unique skills from our “day jobs,” and share stories of how we incorporate stewardship into our workplace and daily lives.
This is how we make a difference. This is how we branch out.
Now on a new and exciting path!
Creating Central Leaders reconnected me with myself and my passions. It is one of the main reasons I did not end up entirely switching careers. I have started a consulting business, that largely focuses on environmentally-related projects; I am co-developing a marine animal research analysis technology with my Dad; and I am founding a non-profit called Movement with a Mission, a dance company inspired by nature and benefits wildlife conservation nonprofits.
I am the happiest I’ve been in my entire life. I have re-discovered my passion, and in so doing, my purpose.
Thank you for keeping me on my path, TreeFolks.
I couldn’t have done it without you!