Letters to young conservationists

Letter to 18-year-old Kaija

Dear 18-year-old Kaija,

 First of all, I know there is a whole thing around time travel and giving your past-self spoilers, but I absolutely think this letter is a loophole. I’m writing to you because although it won’t change anything for you immediately (hence the loophole), it will later become a huge boost in self-confidence and a great way to work through a dash of imposter syndrome. A quick heads up: I am not one for words of wisdom or a really good pep talk. Yoda I am not. The only quote I know is from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2: ‘AH! There’s a leek in the boat!’

Second of all, I’d like to acknowledge that you are not going to enjoy the first uni course you pick. You’ll get some great friends out of the next few years, but in terms of academics, you’ll receive nothing more than a Diploma of Science (not what you enrol in by the way, so it might feel like you have fallen short of your goals). Enjoy those two years anyway, because your friends are going to stick around and make it well worth your time. You are also going to struggle with your mental health around here. This won’t be something you’ll be prepared to deal with at this point, but I can tell you that it will come up again when you are ready.

After you get your diploma, you are going to disappear into remote Queensland for two years and wonder what you actually want to do with your life. I can promise that the memory of being completely overwhelmed by all the options and choices ahead of you doesn’t go away for quite some time. You are right, it really does suck not knowing where to go or what to do with yourself. This is also when your imposter syndrome starts to come into play. This is a tough one because it is something that has an impact on everything in your life. Even now, writing this is a little scary because it brings back a shadow of self-doubt. I bet knowing this is ahead of you is bringing up that anxiety too. I would like to recommend not being quite so hard on yourself. You are putting so much more pressure on yourself than literally anyone else. Take this time to build up some savings and add some new skills to your resume. Go for a walk on the beach or watch an episode of Bob’s Burgers. Do both. Take a nap! Whatever gets you through, because I can confirm that it gets better from here on.

Here is some good news; you pick a new course! It is a Bachelor of Environmental Science and Management, and you are going to LOVE it. Yes, you still hate studying but the content is interesting and engaging now and it makes a world of difference. Remember how I said you would come back to your mental health when you were ready? This is when you start going to therapy and it is perhaps one of the best decisions you will ever make. You finally acknowledge the mental health issues you have been purposely oblivious to, and big surprise, your mental health improves drastically. Therapy is a huge learning curve for you.

You also learn a lot about yourself. This kind of ties in with your therapy, but I want to state it outright because I am super proud of you for this alone. You learn to manage your anxiety. I know this has been a struggle for a few years by now, so finding healthy ways to deal with something you previously only knew how to squash down is impressive. Learning about and managing imposter syndrome also becomes a priority for you. Although it doesn’t quite disappear, it becomes something that improves in small ways across your entire life and I promise you will feel like a new person for it. You learn new leadership skills and improve the existing ones. I am living alone as I write this letter, so I would like to thank you for learning to be comfortable by yourself. I couldn’t have done it without you. Financial literacy is another skill you develop, and something I am still working on today. Being in charge of your own money is really going to fuel that independence you love so much! Last but not least, you learn some really cool new uni content. I’m including that with self-improvement because knowledge is self-investment. Good luck in convincing me otherwise!

Like any good story, there is a plot twist. In 2020, a respiratory virus, COVID-19 introduces itself and spreads across the planet. This global pandemic is going to last for quite some time (we’re going into the third year now) and it is honestly going to become a new normal. In fact, in five years time, you will be sitting in isolation (with COVID-19) as you re-read and edit this letter. It isn’t something you will be stressing about, although I’m sure that is hard to believe for now. Just to clarify, the pandemic is NOT a cool event. However, it has brought about some good. You have access to health care. You are proud to be fully vaccinated. You have a place to isolate yourself comfortably when necessary. It also gives you a heap of time to focus on your studies, and that helps you get back into the swing of uni after some time off. Take it while you can, because another thing you’ll learn (the hard way) is that full-time study and full-time work is incredibly difficult. I want to say that you overestimated yourself a bit there.

Writing this letter has been a massive step in tackling the imposter syndrome that often holds me back from opportunities. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to share everything you will achieve in the next few years, and I hope you will find it reassuring to see that you are capable of reaching your goals. I hope receiving this letter is proof that I am still overcoming self-doubt and moving towards my future goals with confidence.

My point is, it is not entirely luck that has brought you to the point you are at. There isn’t a big inspirational story or event that leads you here. Instead, it is a culmination of small, everyday events and choices over time. Don’t disregard this, because these small events are important and relevant. You chose to keep digging until you found the course you love. You chose to get back into study. You chose to go to therapy. You chose to keep making goals. You keep choosing to learn more. You chose to write and submit this letter.

I want to say good luck, but you need less of that than you think. For my last silly little reference, you should listen to ‘Groovy’ by Barkaa. I promise it is the perfect song for right now! See you in 5 years.

 23-year-old Kaija

Written by Kaija @kaijajp

Illustrated by Kimberly Hoffman

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