The Right Path

July Great Story by Jamie Zouras, 2015-16 North Coast Fellow

In high school, I remember being overwhelmed by having to choose a Major as I applied for college. How was I supposed to know what field I would be happy working in for the rest of my life?! Often, family members would try to offer guidance:

“Choose whatever you’re most passionate about.”
“Choose whatever you’re most skilled at.”
“Just choose your favorite subject in school.”

If only it was that simple. I ended up accepting a Major in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences based on my personal interests and passions, and throughout my four years of undergrad, I felt content with my decision. However, every once in a while I would get an unsettling feeling in the middle of class, while out to dinner, hanging out with friends, or at a family gathering. What if environmentalism is not my life calling? What if I can’t find long-term happiness working in this field? What if I am pursuing the wrong path?
I was usually able to push these gut-wrenching questions aside as I reassured myself that I really, truly, genuinely was passionate about climate change, natural resources, energy efficiency, sustainable food, smart growth, equity for all, etc, etc. Yes to all of the above! Great. Fantastic. I’d be fine.

I continued on with my life; I made like-minded friends, I graduated college, I became a CivicSpark AmeriCorps Fellow.

It’s July, and I’m living in Eureka, California, working in the energy efficiency sector. My friend from college, Tyler, contacts me and tells me about his last couple weeks hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and what a journey it was. He wants to visit me as he continues north on his adventure. A brief background on Tyler: he graduated a year early with a degree in Environmental Policy, as he was eager to get out of school to make a lasting difference in the world. He was the president of the largest environmental club on campus, fought endlessly for fossil fuel divestment, and he had plans of going to environmental law school. After graduating, he worked full time for two years with a non-profit to protect Illinois communities and waters from coal pollution. Now, Tyler was hiking the PCT? I am excited to catch up with him and learn about what cool career plans await him.

“I’m exhausted of environmental policy.”
“I feel unmotivated and unfulfilled.”
“I want nothing to do with working on environmental issues.”

As Tyler explained, my mouth dropped open, as I was stunned and unprepared to learn about his recent quandary. Tyler was one of my most motivated friends while fighting for climate justice, and after just two years of work, he was done. He was hiking the PCT, alone, to rediscover himself and find his true calling in life. That unsettling feeling I felt during undergrad returned, and my mind was racing with the same troublesome questions. What if environmentalism is not my life calling? What if I can’t find long-term happiness working in this field? What if I am pursuing the wrong path?

Part of me always wondered if passion was enough to sustain a career, and whether or not burning out was a real possibility. Now I realize that sometimes, passion is not enough, and yes, burnout is a real possibility. I spent some time pondering Tyler’s dilemma and my fear of becoming uninspired, and I came to the conclusion that life is about balance, and that all I can do is follow my passions that exist in this moment. If these passions change in the future, then I will have to redirect my intentions. And that’s okay! Every person is different and careers are driven by a variety of factors.

For now, I think that the thrill and satisfaction I feel as I reflect on my service year, sign Food & Water Watch petitions, and contribute to the Sierra Club on an AmeriCorps budget are pretty good indicators that I’m on the right path. 😉