A Professional Theory

Why did we pick our profession over all others? This is a question that has been rattling around in my head for the last few weeks. We all begin life with nearly infinite possibilities, and over the years we narrow them down until we find ourselves in a single career. Is it something that we choose, or are we destined to our careers? It’s a question that I’m sure has sent many a philosopher into thought upon thought.  But how often do we, as everyday red-blooded Americans, think about the” why” behind our choice?

If you are anything like me you don’t think about the why of it very often. And when you do, your brain starts to hurt and you have to lie down for a bit. I’ve always seen this question as a challenge, and I must defend my choice. I’ll launch into long-winded dissertations about how the wonder of nature inspired me to share it with others, how this planet is ours and we need to care for it, or that seeing the “aha moment” in my students eyes is why I chose Environmental Education. However, I’ve developed a universal theory that is much simpler than all that.

On Friday February 27th one of my classes took a snowshoeing trip to Crater Lake National Park. The park was covered in snow, the visibility was minimal, and the wind was bitter cold. In the midst of these harsh winter conditions my theory began to take shape. We went on a 2mile hike with a Park Ranger and learned a little bit about how the plants, animals, and even the lake are impacted by the forces of winter. As we trekked along on our snowshoes, stomping down hard so as not to slide down the slopes, I started putting some pieces of my theory together.

Our hike provided gorgeous views of snow covered meadows bounded by glistening Mountain Hemlock. Even when we were hiking through clouds the views were still beautiful, if in a more ominous way. The first piece of my theory clicked into place, as I realized that there are few other professions that would allow me to call a day of snowshoeing “professional development”.

As we walked on, our guide told us about the different adaptations that plants and animals have to survive the harsh winters at Crater Lake. Did you know that Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels lower their body temperature to 39 degrees when they hibernate?! I even got to wrestle a young limber Mountain Hemlock to the ground to demonstrate how they can bend under the weight of snow and not break. Piece two was added to my growing theory. Knowledge of the natural world is what inspires me to learn more and make myself a better person. If I wasn’t always learning something new about the natural world, I would be terribly bored.

After the hike we gathered in the second story of one of the few open buildings at Crater Lake to discuss the performance of our guide. Our discussion took us through how you develop a theme, challenges of teaching during winter, how to read audiences, and how to keep a presentation fresh. The theory grew further during this talk. Discussing the art of teaching and learning how to convey your thoughts speaks to the communicator in me as well as the perfectionist. If you are going to do something you love, then you better do it right.

These three things were swirling around in my head as we pulled out of the parking lot. Maybe as we pulled out the driver stopped too suddenly or that last brain-cell finally decided to fire, but whatever it was my grand unifying theory of why we pick our professions came to me in a flash. When I looked at the simplicity of my theory I couldn’t believe how obvious it was, but here it is. We pick our careers for the sheer fun of them! For me, the only way the day could have been better is if I had a group of my own to present to. Every part of that day made me come alive with joy. I started to realize that all of the things surrounding Environmental Education are fun for me. Even sitting in meetings trying to determine what kind of t-shirts we should have are fun.

Hopefully that’s how you feel when you think about your career. Whether you be an electrical engineer, social worker, architect, or professional stay at home parent we all do these crazy things because they are fun for us. I’m sure the day I described above would be boring to some, but a day running computer simulations on the tensile strength of steel or flying a plane from city to city would not hold the same allure for me as I’m sure it does for industrial engineers and pilots respectively. So I wrote this blog to honor not overthinking things for once. The next time someone asks you why you do what you do, or you’re in the midst of an existential crisis I hope you look deep inside of yourself, hold your head up high, and answer with “I do it because it’s fun!” And for those of you who are still searching for a career or honestly can’t answer with “because it’s fun” I urge you to search for your fun, whatever it may be. Life is far too short not to have fun in your career. And that’s my professional theory.

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6 thoughts on “A Professional Theory”

  1. As an environmental educator myself, I have had many of the same feelings! I now live in a place where EE isn’t a prominent field, however, and unfortunately it isn’t as fun as it was when I lived on the west coast. The way I do the work is really different here, and most of the time I don’t get paid for it. Still, I feel compelled to continue the work because it’s important and something I dedicated myself to a long time ago. (And yes, it can be really fun too.)

    So I don’t see my career so much as a choice anymore, but rather something that I have to do no matter what. And I also think a lot about the difference between a ‘career’ and a ‘job’ and a ‘profession’.

  2. Jeremy, very well put! I’d add to fun, JOY as part of what makes interpretation so magic. As a retired Ca.State Park Ranger, yesterday, I felt the same surge of fun and joy when a young man asked me if I was watching whales. He had never seen a whale before and was so excited to see six! He ran and got his friends, and for 15 minutes we had a great convesation about Gray Whales. Hopefully, you too will have a life time of fun and joy sharing nature. For me, the joy has not gone away!

  3. Awesome article. I currently volunteer at Crater Lake National Park with Ranger Dave Grimes. Could we possibly post your photo on our facebook page to promote the ranger-led snowshoe walks? My email: sarah_dumont@partner.nps.gov Thank you! We’re so happy you all had a good time!

  4. Jeremy: I could not agree with you more as my environmental career has rewarded abundantly me with a life well-lived, filled with ‘joy’ and an absolute sense of fulfillment. Thank you for expressing so artfully your ‘professional’ experience.

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