Embracing the Unknown

October Great Story by Gabrielle Ostermayer, 2016-17 Central Coast Water Fellow

The day I was offered this fellowship position with the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board was the day before I was set to become homeless. It was a Sunday of all days, September 25th. I saw the email from the Local Government Commission late that Sunday morning, after sleeping in and visualizing how I needed to reorganize my trunk. It was a voluntary decision, to become homeless, a decision I had made a month earlier when I submitted my notice of resignation for my dead-end job as a part-time deli cook and occasional dishwasher. I had finished my Master’s degree eight months earlier and I wanted to use it. Even though my job search hadn’t yet materialized in a successful outcome, even though prospects still looked slim, I couldn’t sit still in that rut of complacent hopelessness that would continue to grow around me. I decided to not extend my apartment sublet any longer. I couldn’t let the duty of paying rent hold me down in a job that would continue to hold me back. So I started preparing myself to live simply and live on the road and embrace the uncertainty of my future, as a chance to refocus on my own needs and goals.

In reaching this decision, I had realized that sometimes living safely means feeling stuck and hopeless. The status quo can be hard to mentally and financially liberate yourself from. After months on the job-search roller-coaster, months of false-starts and dead-ends and even an unprofessional interviewer, I realized I was ready to close the door on the current chapter of my life, even before the next door opened. I had a feeling I *needed* to close the door on the current chapter of my life before the next door *would* open; I needed to be okay with stepping or leaping into the void.

The day I stepped into the void, not knowing what I would land on, this fellowship opportunity arose for me to land on. I hadn’t expected to get an answer so soon and I half expected to be considered overqualified. I was prepared to be homeless, a camping vagabond who would utilize Montana (and Idaho and Utah)’s vast public lands for free camping and the internet in public libraries for continued job searching. My car, a small hatchback, was packed with everything I own, my tetris of possessions organized in a way that allowed me easy access to things I would need while living out of my car, on the road: camping gear, books I would want to read, my suitcase of clothes organized like a zippered dresser drawer, clothes I would wear for any upcoming job interviews hung neatly on hangers from the backseat headrest, a lampshade stuck on top of my front passenger seat headrest, my trunk crammed with everything that wasn’t useful if you don’t have a roof over your head. I just needed to strap on my bike rack. I had even planned on buying a YMCA membership that next day, so I would have access to showers over the next indefinite number of weeks or months that I minimized my expenses to food and gas. I had embraced the unknown. My days of couchsurfing and vagabond camping were set to begin and I was ready. If anything, I was excited to take control of my life in this one small way.

In deciding to close the door on that chapter of my life, even though the next door hadn’t opened yet, I was taking control of my life, control over where I didn’t want my life to head anymore. Complacency, which transitions so easily to despondency, also comes to mind. I knew if I never challenged myself, I would never grow towards something meaningful and fulfilling and I would never discover new opportunities for growth. Of course I never expected an opportunity to arise so quickly after embracing the unknown and taking that leap! I was prepared to not land on anything when I leaped. But I not only got a job offer, I got an offer from the project that was my first choice, the project I knew would give me the experience I had been craving and the professional development opportunities that would serve me the best!

In the over-saturated, highly-competitive and limited job market of recent years (especially for people with less than 4 years of work experience in their field) it is easy to become discouraged, lose confidence in your abilities, lose confidence in the value of your education you put so much time and effort into pursing and completing. If you find yourself complacently stagnating in a job that works your body and numbs your brain, all while dealing with job application rejections, job interview rejections, or even radio silence from potential employers, it is so easy to lose confidence in yourself and your ability to pursue and achieve the career you wanted, to the point where you start to wonder what it is you really want. Do I want to have a job that just pays the bills? In a commercial kitchen of an organic food store, I learned that my answer to that question is a resounding “no.” I pursued my degrees because I want to use them, not waste them.

These first 3 weeks at the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board have been exciting, busy, reassuring, and confidence-building. As I’ve transitioned into an 8-4 / 9-5 office job for the first time in several years, I’ve noticed how much I’ve grown, personally and professionally, since the last time around and what areas I still need to work on. It’s shocking even for me to think about: It’s been 5 years since the last time I had an office job.

I entered into this CivicSpark service term with a unique goal that I need to acknowledge: rebuild my confidence in my ability to pursue and achieve a fulfilling career, a career that allows me to have a positive impact, a career that utilizes and builds on my education. This CivicSpark fellowship presented itself to me as an opportunity to regain that confidence in myself and my professional possibilities.

Serving with the Central Coast RWQCB over the next 10-11 months will not only be an amazing exercise in professional confidence, it will also allow me to gain unique and diverse perspectives on water policy, water management agencies, drought planning, water quality monitoring networks, drinking water protection, communication gaps, the politics of the state, and of course California’s complex and occasionally confounding definition of sustainable water management. I’m so glad I took the leap and embraced an uncertain future of opportunity and landed here! I didn’t necessarily need to land here or anywhere to feel satisfied in my decision to leap into the void, but I’m overjoyed that this rose to meet me as I leaped.