Lonely Conservationists

Natalie (Winding Path to a Clear-ish Destination)

Written by Natalie Tyler

I grew up in the Ohio suburbs. As an only child of a single parent, I was often asked to entertain myself and to “go play outside”. Fortunate to have a large backyard, swingset, and basketball hoop, I would happily spend hours outside playing either alone or with my neighbourhood friends. Outside always equalled fun, joy, and excitement for me. I loved the feeling of being dirty after having spent hours in the backyard or riding my bike around the neighbourhood. 

As a kid, my favourite place to visit was my cousins’ house. They lived just enough outside of the suburbs to where it felt like a far-away place that was new and exciting and waiting to be explored. Sitting right above a creek bed, my cousins’ house was my outdoor-ist’s dreamland. Myself and my two cousins would spend hours out behind their house – building bridges across the creek with creek rock, wandering on the trails through the thick trees, climbing hills that weren’t meant to be climbed. Thinking back, these experiences were my absolute favourite and most cherished memories of childhood. I have no doubt that they helped shape me into who I am now and have guided me down my path of environmentalism eventually leading me to study environmental studies in college and to pursue a career in the environmental field. 

As I got older, I still continued to play outside. I never fully lost the desire to be sweaty and dirty after being outside all day. Even in the present moment, my happiest days are the days that I get to be out in the beating sun doing anything and everything. When I started college, it was pretty clear to me that I wanted to study environmental science. I never really questioned it or even thought about pursuing a different major. The environment was the only thing that I knew I could focus on for the rest of my life and be satisfied with. I knew that I’d work for years and years, and if I’m spending that much time at a job then I want to have a passion and purpose behind all my effort. 

So environmental studies it was. I have a few regrets about my specific path, but I think all’s well that ends well, and I’m content with where I’ve ended up today. I do wish I chose a program or university that had more resources dedicated to the environmental studies program. I wish I had learned more about natural science such as biology, chemistry, and ecology, rather than focusing mostly on environmental policy, law, and other social issues. I think those courses would have helped me more in my career path. But I’m lucky to be where I’m at today and am so grateful for my education. 

My main driver for choosing to study environmental studies was that I knew that we (humans, society, etc.) are doing a terrible disservice to our natural world, and I simply wanted to save the world. That’s all – just save the world. Though my optimism has faltered and declined over the years, I still have that dream inside of me. I thought that by studying environmental studies I would be able to get a job at an organization that was planting trees, stopping pollution, and demanding clean water and responsible fishing. But that’s not exactly what happened. 

Initially, these big impossible dreams led to many unpaid internships, and then luckily a seasonal gig at a local farm. But I was still struggling with the fact that my mind had these grandiose ideas to save the world while my reality was that I worked as a barista full time while I frantically applied for jobs in my field.  

This franticness is ultimately what led me to apply for jobs anywhere in the country. Six months after graduating college I felt stuck, unhappy, and frustrated in my career and personal life. I felt like I deserved so much more, and I foolishly began to feel sorry for myself. That’s when my undying determination and stubbornness kicked in, and I accepted the first job that I was offered which happened to be in Salt Lake City. It paid very little, but I didn’t care. It was an entry-level job at a solar company. I completed the video interview, had a good feeling about my soon-to-be manager, and was happy about how understanding the company was that I couldn’t start the job for another two months because I had to move across the country and find a place to live in a city that I’d never before even visited…

Once in Salt Lake City, I really did love it. The place is beautiful, there are so many wonderful hiking spots close by, and the weekend trips to the national parks are just amazing. I luckily had a friend in the city that I had met during college on a summer study abroad trip in Costa Rica. A fellow environmentalist, we both enjoyed travelling together and lamenting over where we thought we’d be in life versus where we actually were. 

Eventually, I decided to move back home to Ohio for personal reasons, and my struggle to find a job began again. My problem was that I tied so much meaning to my job. I thought that if I didn’t have a job in the environmental field then I wasn’t doing enough. This was always in the back of my mind as I worked as a nanny for over a year, and then as a temp employee doing data entry for another year. Finally though, after applying to over 100 jobs (I wish this was an exaggeration) I landed a position in what is as close to a dream job as I can get at the moment. 

I am a program manager at an environmental engineering company. I do a little bit of everything including report writing, data analysis, and other administrative tasks. This isn’t necessarily how I pictured what “saving the world” would look like, and I often have to remind myself of how my role ultimately is bringing positive change to our world. However, the monotony of my weeks makes me think that this career can’t be a long-term solution, but rather just another stepping stone on my path.

I crave adventure and diversity in my days. By nature I am restless and always searching for the next thing. Over time, I’ve learned how to be more content in the moment rather than always looking for what’s ahead. But regardless, I still am striving to find the next thing that will allow me to make more of an impact in improving our environment for now and for the future. I know there will be times going forward where I’ll again feel desperation, loneliness, and overwhelm in my career and personal life, but I’ve learned that I am resourceful enough to figure out a direction that is guided by my human desire to care for our home, Mother Nature.

For more of Natalie, check out @_nataliemt12 on Instagram

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