I recently got the chance to represent the Sierra Club Youth Delegation at the 2011 Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference in Washington D.C., February 7-10th. In preparation to speak on the panel entitled Sowing the Seeds for a Greener Future: Preparing Youth for a Green Economy, I started to reflect on what has given me the employment opportunities I’ve had so far in environmental-related fields. Some of it is just being “at the right place at the right time.” But what brought me to that right place, and how did I take “the next step” from environmental interest to environmental jobs?
The first step is for young people to get excited about the outdoors and green jobs before it is even time to get a job. I have been lucky enough to have a family that took me backpacking when I was still an infant, and despite the facts that my two brothers and I are all married and my parents are in their mid-60s, they have not stopped taking the entire family into the wilderness. Following their inspirations, I’ve explored many wild places, from the parks around my home to the Pacific Crest Trail and even on to the Himalayan Mountains.
Without a doubt, these experiences have fueled my interest in pursuing a green job. Realizing the deeply moving and striking beauty of the natural world has really defined my life as being centered around protecting the environment and providing all people with as many rich outdoor opportunities as I have had. And so I found myself interning with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, and serving as a commissioned Special Peace Officer at the top of the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River at Mount Mitchell State Park. Additionally, I have been integrally involved in the development of the Natural Leaders Network, which is empowering a worldwide youth movement to strengthen the bond between children and nature. Founded in 2008, the Network is the result of a partnership between the Children & Nature Network (C&NN) and Sierra Club’s Building Bridges to the Outdoors, with corporate support from The North Face.
I believe that moving from positions of environmental interest to positions of good, green careers is indeed possible. However, when I’m talking with other enthusiastic young peoples, I advocate that they must increase the likelihood of “being in the right place at the right time.” This is essential. They can facilitate this process by seeking out interesting educational or environmental events, acting professionally during all social interactions (the next person they meet may be a prime networking opportunity!), and assimilating optimism into their lives. I also believe that triumphing at the things a young person is good at, whether it be social networking, engaging youth, humor, computer savviness, art, music, poetry, or film-making, will eventually bring them stimulating and rewarding jobs if they remain patient and persistent.
Being organized and pursuing most opportunities can also increase “good fortune” in their lives, but I think efforts to remain adaptable and ready to act are also important. Most of my opportunities have come when I have had very little time to prepare. So I always try to have my resume up-to-date, a clean suit and tie, and a good attitude ready for that unexpected job interview or chance networking when a friend introduces me to someone else with similar interests. I also practice communicating my ideas with my wife or even our dog if there is no one else around to listen. Finally, I try not to get lazy by reminding myself that the good things in life are often unexpected and may take a little initiation and extra work to make them happen. I recommend trying to adapt whichever of these ideas seem most exciting and relevant to other young people’s lives, and hopefully these ideas will aid in creating good, green jobs for all those who want them!
Today, I continue to walk my own green jobs pathway as a Master of Environmental Science Candidate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. I greatly enjoyed speaking about the ideas I’ve discussed above at the Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference, and I hope to continue giving talks on and discussing the issues I'm passionate about in the future. And this summer I will be interning with C&NN through generous funding from my department's Forrest Berkeley Conservation Scholars program, meanwhile researching management of natural play areas for my masters thesis.
I applaud everyone's efforts at building a healthy and sustainable connection between all people and their local natural landscapes.
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