or have you too / gone crazy / for power / for things?"
- Mary Oliver
For the first time since summer, I feel a simplicity of purpose that, like sunshine captured in a magnifying glass, has focused with white-hot intensity on the path before me.
In the midst of my time in Beijing, I made the decision to move to New York City after graduation. When I left NYC in 2005, after just three months at the now-defunct National Geographic Adventure magazine, I yearned for more time there. Binding myself geographically, however, has made my career search much more difficult. I wanted to find a fulfilling job, and I want to be able to dance. My training in wildlife management and business, however, make me a great fit for many jobs in Washington, D.C.
I got lost. When I couldn't find an appropriate position in NYC, I started going way out of my focus area. Banking jobs, traditional consulting firms, general management positions, leadership development. I thought, "if I can't do what I really love, at least I can do something I don't hate, at least I can build my skills to go back later." Some part of me probably also whispered, "at least I can have money to dance."
It took a long weekend in West Virginia to remind me who I am.
The National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in Shepherdstown is built along a stretch of the Potomac that bristles with hardwoods and vibrates with cricket song. Upon this haven converged some 50 students and their accompanying faculty from Santa Barbara, Missoula, Ann Arbor, New Haven, Madison, Flagstaff, Tallahassee and of course, Durham. Despite our backgrounds, we all had this in common - a love for the outdoors, a passion for conservation in the United States, and a genuine desire to connect deeply with one another. We were also Wyss Fellows, and the last class of Doris Duke Conservation Fellows.
I forgot what it was to have these kinds of conversations - around what the environmental movement is lacking, what it should be, and what a "movement" is to begin with. How we could continue to protect and indeed to help the environment flourish alongside the culture and economy. We went to Antietam and learned about the conservation of our historic battlefields - what to maintain and what to cut down to render the battlefield as close to its form on the day of the battle as possible. We also drank a lot of beer together, and told stories from the field. I thought, "I could do anything for these people."
When we talked about where conservation fits with "the rest of the world," I heard over and over again that we needed to do a better job of engaging with the private sector. And I thought, "that's me!" I can't cut out on this - I set myself on the path three years ago, and I cannot turn from it now.
Since then, life has become much more simple. I don't know where I want to be in the intersection of business and conservation. I do think about all the brilliant, whip smart, nature-protecting visionaries I met over the weekend. I know that I believe in them, and I want to do everything I can to empower them to do what they love.