Part of the journey of life is figuring out what the hell we want to do with ourselves. It seems like this comes pretty naturally to some people, or maybe those people are just less restless than I am, but I also see a ton of my friends and peers struggling to find their purpose in the world. So I don’t think my story is unique. And I actually think that the experience I’ve had over the last year in finding my direction is one of the rare instances that I can actually offer some potentially helpful advice. My generation was told from a very young age that we could be whatever we wanted to be and we were given more options than any generation before us. You’d probably think this would be a good thing, and I think it is, but it also makes settling on just one career to spend your lifetime working at extremely difficult. The world is our oyster, but for a person like me who’s interested in literally everything, it makes picking a career insanely difficult.
I actually didn’t stress too much when I had to pick a major for college. I liked science a lot and it seemed like a good, stable career, so I just decided to major in biology. I specifically wanted to do marine biology, but since my parents wanted me to stay in state, that wasn’t an option. Once I started taking classes and learning even more about the world around me though, things started to get complicated. I suddenly realized I was doing better in my music classes than I was in organic chemistry. I got significantly more enjoyment out of playing the bassoon than I did reading my textbooks. When I read articles online they were usually geared more towards urban planning, architecture or politics. I really loved biology, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it and I started to get confused by all these other interests. And to my 19-year-old brain, a career in music seemed obvious: I could play or teach or work in academia. So at the end of my sophomore year, I switched my major to music performance. I dove in and never really second-guessed it.
Not for a while, anyway. Flash forward a few years and I was finishing up my master’s degree from one of the best music schools in the world. I had worked very hard and had a good amount of experience playing in orchestras and teaching, but I was suddenly faced with a pretty tough choice. I could either continue on in school working towards a doctorate or I could start auditioning for full-time orchestra jobs. It was sort of sad and scary, but I was starting to realize that I actually didn’t want either of those things. I was pretty burnt out on practicing, and the idea of more music school was pretty depressing. I saw so many of my extremely talented peers slaving away 8 hours a day in practice rooms and still not getting the jobs they wanted, and I didn’t want that for myself. I had never honestly been a good practicer. I loved playing and got by pretty well, but when it came to buckling down and spending hours in a room perfecting audition material, I did not have the focus. I had so many other interests and priorities and my heart just wasn’t in it. I knew I’d always play and probably always want to teach lessons, but it was never going to amount to a career I could live off of.
A few years later I got myself established in a different career. I had always been an urban enthusiast. I loved Denver, development, urban planning, and helping people, so real estate seemed like a good choice. I didn’t want to do sales and I liked the security of a 9-5 schedule, so instead of selling real estate after I got my license, I ended up getting into the office side and eventually into management. This was all objectively really good: I had financial security, I was working at a great company and had a good role there. It was fantastic work experience and I learned a ton about myself, but I always had a nagging feeling that I wasn’t moving in the right direction. I was extremely grateful for the job, but it never felt quite right for me. We millennials often have this annoying wanderlust that leaves us wanting more, wanting to have the maximum impact, needing to make the most of ourselves. I didn’t feel like I was living out my dreams like I had always assumed I would. It was difficult to recognize at the time, but in retrospect it’s pretty clear that I had some underlying unease bordering on depression after finishing music school. I needed to regroup in a major way and figure out what would make me happy.
When I sold my condo and got rid of most of my possessions, I did it for a lot of reasons. I wanted to see the world. I wanted a new start. The guy I loved moved halfway around the globe and I wanted to go see him. But I had no idea what a huge impact it would all have on me. It freed me up completely. I could do literally anything I wanted to do. I didn’t have to be boxed in or trapped by financial obligations. So for a while I just lived in the moment and enjoyed traveling. I wanted to distance myself from my previous path. I wanted to clear my mind up and look at my goals with a fresh perspective. And when I finally realized I was totally free, I started to think back to my passions as a kid. I spent my days wandering in the forests, exploring tide pools, looking under rocks, wading in the stream behind our house and learning about the plants and animals that lived there. And I noticed that those were the same things I was doing while traveling the world as an adult. There was a reason that I started the biology degree when I was 18, I had just forgotten what it was. But this last few months has helped to remind me and to sharpen my goals even more.
My goal is to become an urban conservation biologist. I want to travel around the country and the world consulting with local cities and governments to help them create beautiful natural areas within their urban environments. In my travels I’ve explored so many phenomenal urban parks: Maksimir in Zagreb, Retiro in Madrid, the Udawattekele Nature Preserve within the city of Kandy, Sri Lanka and endless others that provide amazing examples of preserved local flora and fauna within an urban environment. And I think we can do so much more of this in the US. I am fascinated by the interactions between humans and our natural surroundings and I would love to work to improve them. Adding more truly local vegetation and habitat to attract and nurture native wildlife in our cities would provide a more natural aesthetic and provide all their residents with a more authentic and healthy experience. Huge formerly industrial and commercial sites often sit empty and neglected in our cities and I think we can rehabilitate these and other blighted urban areas into beautiful preserves within our cities, where residents can interact with and appreciate nature without even leaving their city. That’s the dream, anyway.
I’m already halfway through a biology degree at Colorado State University, so I’ll be heading back in the fall to complete a bachelor’s in Conservation Biology. I know. More school. But it feels like a great homecoming after a long period of feeling lost and I haven’t been this excited about anything in a long time. I am hugely grateful for the experiences I’ve had over the past decade and I don’t regret a single one of them. They have all been lessons learned and have helped me get to the place I’m at. I know that not everyone has the ability to drop everything and travel, and not everyone can just quit everything they’re doing to start over fresh. But my best advice would be to try your hardest to remember what it is you’ve always been passionate about and make that your career. Every job will be hard sometimes and there will occasionally be stress, but for me it’s important to stress over something I love and not just over something that’s paying my bills.