Dear 23-year- old Abby,

 I know that you are going through a particularly tough time right now. This is not how you thought being in “the real world” as an adult would go. You thought that once you were done with college, everything would fall into place but instead, everything fell apart. I know you aren’t happy; you feel lost and alone all because you made a quick and rash choice that went against what you truly wanted for your career and from that, you feel like you have lost your spark. You were told that it didn’t matter what you majored in, you just needed to get that degree, so that is what you did. You chose to change your major to public health because you were told by someone in the university administration that would be the best thing you could do based on your scores and aptitudes that would give you a secure career. They told you that you weren’t smart enough for a career in the sciences and that art would be a waste of your time and money, leaving you jobless and miserable. So that is what you did, they were the experts after all. In the end, you aren’t in a career that gives you joy, you are sad and feel completely stuck and alone. Isolated in an office that is closing in on you every day. You feel stunted intellectually like you are drowning in your everyday life. 

Honestly, this feeling has been building up in you for a very long time. Even when you were in elementary school, you felt like you had to put yourself in this tiny square box because others made you feel like you were too different and that made you question who you are. When you were little, you felt bad when not everyone at school wanted to hear about the bird facts that you spent hours memorizing or cared about the cool insects that you found under logs at recess. Others put you down or belittled the drawings of animals that you spent hours getting every detail right, they even told you that you traced it when you know you didn’t. You were told you were being a brat and a showoff when you did well and teased when you struggled. You are just beginning to realize that your parents always believed in you, but you never listened. You thought they were just saying those things to make you happy and none of it was true. Now that you are realizing this, you feel stupid and guilty for only listening to your peers and taking what they thought and said as your mirror. It changed how you saw yourself and you believed that you were not smart enough, talented enough, or good enough. You became more and more reserved and hid your passions and let others walk all over you so you could fade into the background.

I’m here to tell you that there is hope. There is a future for you where you are happy, and others see your talents and push you further than you can ever imagine. I wish I could go back further and tell that little girl that was once us to stay true to what makes you happy and to speak up for yourself. You, right now, need to hear those words as well. You found yourself in college but still focused too much on what you thought you should do instead of the things you truly wanted in terms of your happiness. I know it’s hard, but letting people step all over you never turns out well. I know you want to fit in, but as you know, cramming yourself into that box that you think everyone wants you to be in, but it just doesn’t work, it never will.

You are in a place where you can discover what you want. You want to be outside, to learn, explore, and be a part of something. You have been playing with the idea of going back to school to be in the conservation field. I know it is hard to voice your wants and desires after only doing what everyone else thought you should do, but when you write down your vision and goals for yourself in the next five years, you are excited and hopeful, even the thought of that life makes you so happy! Those dreams feel so far away and unreachable, you sealed that letter and stuck it in the back of your sketchbook, you don’t even know if the things that you wrote down are even possible for you. Everywhere you look, there are problems. You don’t have the money to go right back into school without accumulating piles of debt that will add to the loans you already have. Everywhere you look online, it seems that being in the conservation field will only lead to bad pay, unreliable work, unstable living, and- forget about having a family. You don’t even know if you particularly want kids someday but what you read makes it all sound impossible. You have even asked an online forum if there are things you can do to break into the field and all you hear is to stay away. Even talking to graduate programs makes you feel wholly unprepared because you only took two science classes in your undergraduate degree. 

I just want to tell you to stay strong and keep pushing forward. You end up exactly where you need to be, and the best part? You enjoy it. I can truthfully tell you that one day you will be so proud of your accomplishments and the opportunities that open to you are beyond what you can imagine. You know how to work hard, utilize that. Make your desires known and look for every opportunity. You’ll have doubts along the way, but you will soon find out just how smart you are when you trust yourself. Others will start to see the change in you too. You shine as bright as the sun when you discover your spark. 
One day, you will say that you have had enough. You enrol in a few classes just to make sure you are making the right choice and you thrive! You tell your boss that you are going back to school, and you will not be returning after the New Year. You find out that you were made for the field of conservation, and you thrive in it. You aren’t afraid of the hard work, and you learn so much. Soon you will meet Dr. M and Dr. D., who push you more than you ever thought possible. At first, you think that they are tough on you especially, but they see your potential. Don’t be afraid to ask them for advice and to be a part of their projects. They and many others will champion for you, becoming some of your closest colleagues and the driving force behind the network that you will create. Dr. D also pushes you back into creating and art by sending you extra courses and articles about biological illustration. You will discover just how useful your talent in drawing can be. Biological illustration is something that you discover and excel in with Dr. D’s prompting. You are just now beginning to showcase your work and nobody will ever accuse you of tracing again, and if they do, you couldn’t care less. You get to study so many different species and meet amazing people who cheer for you the entire way. You gather great experiences, adventures, and amazing stories! One day you will accidentally fall into the water while electro-fishing and come up wrangling a channel catfish and grinning like a fool. You will get to handle and band so many different birds and one time a red-bellied woodpecker will go to town on your knuckles while you are smiling the entire time. You get to work in beautiful and remote locations with amazing people, you even get to train your dog to assist you in conservation work! You latch on to every opportunity that comes your way and give it your best. Even if the opportunity involves a species that you are not particularly excited to work with or the position sounds like it will be tough and not exactly something you want to do, you always come out a better person because of it. You will one day get an amazing opportunity to work for the government where you will look back on where you were five years ago and be amazing at everything that you have done and accomplished in such a short amount of time. 

I am so proud of the person that you will become and the amount of growth that you still must do. It’s hard, but things fall into place. As I’ve told you and will keep telling you, stay true to who you are. Others can tell. They can tell when you are excited and being your authentic self. When they see how much you care, they will go to bat for you. Don’t let the groups and message boards get to you. Yeah, sometimes finding a job in the conservation field is tough and the pay can be less than what you need but find and take those positions that value you and your skills even if they aren’t exactly what you had in mind. Get outside your comfort zone and explore different areas and you’ll be surprised at what you discover. You never know what you’ll learn and the experience that you gain will be well worth it. You have not had a position that you haven’t enjoyed or learned something in and at the rate, you are going, I doubt you ever will.

There will be times where you stumble, where being at the bottom would be an improvement but you can’t let the negative talk of others (and sometimes yourself) lead into your view of yourself and worth. Keep a positive head, reach out to people who you know. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people from places where you value their goals and find their studies interesting. The people who are higher up in our field of work know how hard it is. They were in your shoes at one point. Just reaching out and asking questions shows how much you are willing to put in the work and they notice that. There is a certain kind of camaraderie within the conservation field. It may stem from shared interests, hardship, or maybe that is just the sort of people who end up in this. Let them help you and lean into that support. You have one of the best cheering squads behind you who are so proud of the thing that you have accomplished.

Remember that letter you wrote of what you envisioned for yourself five years in the future? I can tell you that when you find and open that letter, you will be amazed at yourself for having accomplished everything that you wished and dream for, some that you thought were so farfetched and even silly at the time when you wrote them! You will still be learning and growing every day and now you know what you can accomplish when you set your entire heart and soul into a goal that you are truly passionate about. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.

28-year-old Abby

Written by Abby @abby.outside

Illustrated by Daisy Buckle