A long time ago, perhaps around the time I was finishing high school, my dad said to me – “your generation will have lots of different jobs, no matter what you train in, it won’t be like you stay in the same job for the rest of your life”. I, of course, brushed this comment off. It didn’t seem relevant or important in that instant, I had only really wanted to be one thing growing up and that was a professional horse rider – but reality said otherwise. So I had decided I was going to be an engineer, whatever that was. However, I have reflected on my fathers foreshadowing words many times since.
I have had a LOT of different jobs in the past 10 years. At last count I get to about 11 depending on your definition of “job”. I have also been unemployed for a significant amount – primarily by choice. Although, between arriving back in NZ in late 2019 to starting my previous job in Christchurch in early 2021 I probably applied for anywhere between 10-20 jobs which I never even got an interview for. I was despondent – I knew I had skills to offer, I had a PhD for crying out loud, but my CV did not fit the mold and I wasn’t willing to sell my soul to cookie cutter engineering job again.
Throughout the last 10 years I have been terribly jealous of my friends who seem to have it “all” – a flexible, well paid job which they find fulfilling. Whereas every proper job I tried seemed to just suck. I started to wonder if I was broken. Why couldn’t I hack this adulting thing? Even with my PhD, I enjoyed most of it and had wonderful experiences all around the world but it had grown thin in the end. I came face-to-face with the realities of the medical device industry that makes more money by being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff than providing preventative treatment. Why was it so hard just to do something good in this world? I went into my most recent job desperate to make a difference but when I found myself surrounded by more talkers than doers – I realised my naïve mistake.
On reflection I had a choice – sleepwalk through a few years pushing paper around or try to find something new – again. At the time I was just desperate to find an exit strategy, I had to get out. I started cold emailing people I thought I might want to work for with my CV. Dr. Carly Green at EAS was one of these people – my cover letter was blunt, I was not in the mood to lie my way into another job I was going to eventually hate. I spoke openly about how I had struggled to reconcile my selfish desire to be in the mountains and my drive to make a difference through meaningful work.
The last 3 or so years I feel I have struggled the most. Ultrarunning and all my other mountain pursuits filled such a large void in my life where meaningful work could have resided. Throwing myself at racing and scary mountain objectives gave my existence a false pretense of purpose. Something to care deeply about, even if it was entirely narcissistic and unhealthy at times. When I had my first and only DNF (did not finish) in Greece, I cried for a week and from there let my world slowly unravel at the seams.
I put so much energy and pressure on myself in those days because I needed the purpose that racing provided. I had to believe I was achieving something great, something meaningful. But once my body started to push back and I was forced to stop and reflect on how little any of it mattered, the fulfillment I found in these arbitrary objectives fell away. Since then I have struggled to find my balance, moving in the mountains brings me a sense of peace and joy but not so much drive and purpose now days. I still need them but I also need something more. I have felt trapped in some kind of liminal space, waiting, but not really knowing for what.
Then Carly emailed me back – asked to chat, we met the night before NZ went into another lockdown in August 2021. I left that meeting the most excited I had been in weeks, I drove slowly back to my accommodation, questioning my own memory of events. Did she really compliment me on my CV? Did she really say that I was worth that much? Did she really mean I could have flexible hours? Did she really value my skills and training? Was this all some crazy dream? I felt heard. I felt understood. I felt like I could be myself.
It took a few anxious months to sort out the details but three weeks ago I started working for EAS as a consultant. My first project is assisting Vanuatu to build their forest reference level, a measurement of forest carbon stocks, to help prevent deforestation in the country and incentivise reforestation through the REDD+ program. The summary report I develop at the end of the project will be going to the UN direct. There are other projects and opportunities we are working on too – there is variety and challenge.
Of course, it won’t be all roses all the time, that is why it has taken me a while to write about my new job even though I have been bursting with anticipation for months now. I am still scared that I will somehow grow tired of it – that it will be another failure to add to my traditionally disastrous CV. That I truly am broken. But it feels different this time (“but don’t you think that every time?” the nagging monkey in my brain reminds me). I am excited to live in Lake Hawea. I have flexibility and freedom. I have trust. I have interesting work that I feel good at. I feel valued. I feel like I belong. I feel like I am making a difference – even if it is only small.
And if the waves of change sweep me up again and I can’t stay – that’s okay too, at least I don’t feel like I am wasting a minute. The moral I have taken from this all is to keep fighting for what you want. Don’t stop. Don’t settle. Keep trying. Keep failing. Keep riding the goddamn rollercoaster. The people you want to work with and for will see you for who you really are and value all the skills that you have gained with all those failures. Our generation has the liberty, primarily built on our hardworking forbearers backs, to chop and change, fail and learn – why not make the most of it?