Last week, a senior at Oregon State University interviewed me about my “career” as a conservationist. I use quotation marks in this context because “doing” so makes “everything” I “write” look “smarter.” Not that I need to tell you that. Look, I’ve only been a professional conservationist for five months. This hardly qualifies me to dispense career advice to impressionable youths.
The interview was an assignment for a class entitled “Leadership Development.” Or, alternatively, “Sorry There Aren’t Any Jobs, Kids, But Thanks Anyway for All That Tuition, Bestoflucksosorryyouprobablyshouldhavemajoredinengineeringlikeyourbrother.” It’s an upper division course.
She began by asking, “What inspired you to work in the environmental field and what was your path to your current job?” You know, a simple icebreaker to build rapport and ease into the interrogation.
I told her I spent my teens frolicking with wolves and dung beetles and this inspired me to become an environmental attorney. After practicing law for a couple of years, I moved to Portland and — Wham! Blam! Pow! — landed a job as a wildlife advocate for an environmental nonprofit.
This is, of course, a highly edited version of events. The truth is, after my 100% free-range, grass-fed adolescence, I made a fifteen-year detour to Cubicle City. A true chronicle of my professional life looks like this:
- Audubon Society intern — I’m a young Rachel Carson!
- Wildlife park keeper assistant — I’m a young Jane Goodall!
- University administrative assistant — Oops! Yuck. Just kidding! Still young!
- FBI intern — I’m a young Clarice Starling!
- Public relations account coordinator — I have a boyfriend!
- Caramel corn vendor — I’m single!
- Waitress — Oh God, why did I major in Political Science?
- University administrative assistant — Back here again, huh? My youthful vigor and lack of arthritis make sending emails all day a breeze!
- Retail clerk — It’s just for the clothing discount! Hey, is that Mary Kay Letourneau browsing the Christmas ornaments? She’s so pretty in person!
- Strip club service professional — I’m just moonlighting, guys! I’m so edgy and fun and not panicking or wondering if this might tank my future mayoral campaign! Whoops, got married!
- Law firm receptionist — My bad. That was definitely panic. Now I’m going to law school! I have socially acceptable ambitions! But first, I’m going to serve these lawyers coffee for a year.
- Law student and serial intern — I’m surrounded by assholes! I’m divorced! I’m a young Erin Brockovich!
- Dog walker — People will pay me to walk dogs on the beach? Professional life appears to have peaked!
- Lawyer — I’m in debt! Still technically in my twenties! Oh wait, nope. Thirty.
- University administrative manager — Must. Stifle. Maniacal. Laughter. My years of experience and crushed spirit make sending emails all day a breeze!
- Unemployed — I’m a troll person!
- Wildlife advocate — I’m a young, er…John Muir? Yes! If we use 70-year-old John Muir as a reference point.
Liberal Arts majors, be inspired.
Looking back on our conversation, I wonder if I did her a disservice by giving her the sanitized version of my career path. Maybe it would have been good for her to hear that things don’t always turn out the way you plan, but you can still claw your way back if you’re willing to work hard and perhaps live in abject poverty. You get used to off-brand tampons after a while.
In case you’re wondering, I also dropped some legitimate career advice. Insightful gems like: Get an internship and be super good at networking. She’s going to have a real edge.