The truth in caring about (environmental) change

I came back from a glistening summer in sunny California feeling all shades of one word: panicked.

Fortunate to spend the last few months whirling through Singapore and video-taping my way through the Bay, I had given into the distractions of summertime bliss … and forgotten all about the pressing global environmental-change problems I had left behind on the graduation stage in May.

I exaggerate — forgotten is too strong a word. More like, neglected. Pushed aside. Ignored, stubbornly. Shoved away. Shoved down. Stomached. Stifled.

You see, I finally learned to live a life — one full of friendship and laughter, memory-making and self-care. I learned and lived the value of keeping up with one’s self, taking care of one’s self, in order to take care of the world around us.

Our world, not the whole world.

But that isn’t what I spent the last four years preparing myself for.

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I trained to see the invisible, the underrepresented. I studied the hurricanes in the Philippines and now the floods in Kerala, India; the pipelines and trying times at Standing Rock; the pesticides and invisible pollutants in all of our waterways.

The science of global environmental change is disheartening, overwhelming, perplexing, and paralyzing, at times. It’s a phenomena rife with inequalities, political inaction, and stalled by misguided attentions and public apathy to change what they know.

What’s one girl to do with such a burden of knowledge?

I’ve told everyone who’s asked that I’ll be spending the next year living in my hometown Columbus, working part-time, while applying for graduate schools for the fall of 2019. I told everyone I would continue studying geography, the way I know I think and analyze the world around me.

I told myself this too, hoping that I would believe in my spoken destiny, if only I repeated it a few more times.

But I’ve stalled since having a second to breathe and think through Is this really the best choice for me, my life, my career, my future?

I’ve battled with doubts and insecurities through much of my adult life, especially since I changed directions in undergrad barely halfway through.

I guess I just don’t trust myself to make a decision I know I’ll “like” for long. I have a habit of changing my mind, like the changing winds that guide me — but I know well enough that a practical adult life needs clear direction, a steady path, and a reliable future.

Or does it?

I’ve started assessing my immense trepidation towards this next chapter of my life, as more and more of my acquaintances get married, move to new cities, start living the life that I’ve only just begun to savor.

And what I’ve discovered is that this fear — this fear of self-rejection, self-criticism for future abandoned plans (that haven’t even transpired yet…) — could be akin to a lengthy marriage proposal gone unanswered.

I haven’t said no, but I certainly haven’t said yes.

All of my accolades, all of the skills I’ve acquired, all of my accomplishments that I felt so proud of before the start of the season, now seem mired in mud. Looking back, I can’t see clearly at all I’ve become because I myself feel changed, but I can’t see the future path that I know must lie in front of me.

What do I do? Where do I go? For how long? Will I be happy?

All of these questions, and more, I have asked myself in the last three weeks. (And the planning of a plan has only just begun!)

Sometimes, I feel I don’t know what I’ll do. You can’t earn a career for caring too much about nearly everything happening around us.

But instead of looking at the whole rest of my life as one marriage proposal — with assumedly only one answer — I’ve got to start looking at this next choice in my life as a first step in a series of additional, complicated, and perhaps unrelated choices.

To know that life is long, a career is long, and that I may make different choices at different points, for good or bad, for better of worse.

A friend advised me that instead of looking at each choice as necessarily better or worse than the others in my current hand, I should look at the present set of choices as evenly matched. That each choice I have before me could offer a different experience, that each choice will lead me to my next choice, and so on and so on.

I know my feelings right now aren’t unique to me. I know we all experience these feelings at different times in our lives. For those whom I know, who are already on their way to greatness, I applaud you — I really do. I hope to join your ranks, soon enough, when the time is right for me to make my first of many exciting and terrifying so-called adult choices.

And may this little shred of wisdom visit you when you experience your own challenging sort of choice on the road ahead.

Change is ‘the name of the game’ in our global environmental world right now, as is the change that is relevant in all our lives. Perhaps that’s the beauty and wonder of this present moment we call life.

-bnb