Hello there. If you’re a human with internet access, you probably read the viral BuzzFeed piece on how millennials became the burnout generation. The article primarily discusses the circumstances that have created what the author calls the “burnout generation.” While her analysis of how we collectively ended up in our respective manifestations of burnout is validating in many ways, the following paragraphs from the conclusion have been churning in my head for weeks:
“[I]ndividual action isn’t enough. Personal choices alone won’t keep the planet from dying, or get Facebook to quit violating our privacy. To do that, you need paradigm-shifting change. Which helps explain why so many millennials increasingly identify with democratic socialism and are embracing unions: We are beginning to understand what ails us, and it’s not something an oxygen facial or a treadmill desk can fix.”
At the time of reading this article, I’d been grappling with some pretty big questions about what my goals were with A Quill of Conservation, as well as the Geronimo moment I fantasized about when I’d leave my menial desk job and jump headlong into a career in conservation–something rewarding. Something that really matters. It’s a great fantasy, but it made living day-to-day all but unendurable. I know that things I care about are in trouble, both socially and ecologically, and I want to live my life in a way that minimizes harm and leaves the world better than I found it. I think this goes back to another little lie that a lot of folks from my generation were fed growing up: if you work hard enough and believe in yourself, you can change the world.
Since last writing, I’ve struggled with what that must mean about me as a person. I was running myself ragged trying to make the best personal choices possible, spamming everyone who’d listen with articles about why we need to change, and priming myself for a significant career shift. However, the world wasn’t changing. I’ve struggled with some mental health and self-worth issues for a long time, and to my cynical brain, there were only two possibilities: either I wasn’t working hard enough, or, more likely, I was inherently deficient. Things only got darker from there.
Last fall, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a indicating that we have a very limited time to prevent catastrophic damage to our planet due to climate change and outlined some of the possible large-scale policy changes that could be put in place. I didn’t make the connection immediately, and the guilt and feelings of in adequacy continued to build and, in turn, to make it harder to come back to A Quill of Conservation. But reading that BuzzFeed article, I came to a double-edged conclusion: even if we do everything within our individual power, the problems facing us are far too big for any of us to bear on our own.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scope of the changes we’l have to make in order to turn the tide on climate change (among other world problems), but moving forward, I choose to be more patient with myself, and to leave guilt/shame out of the equation. The world is what it is right now–in North American cities, you’re gonna need to take a car sometimes, you’ll have to buy non-organic celery, you’ll forget your shopping bags and reusable cups, and you’ll probably eat takeout from a styrofoam container on occasion. It’s easy for folks with neuroses like mine to obsess over lapses like these and potentially begin to withdraw from the best parts of life our of guilt or eco anxiety–I even found myself flaking on hikes out of guilt over the drive to the trail head. That, my friends, wasn’t living.
There’s a lot about the way the world works that, in my opinion, needs to shift, environmentally, socially, and economically. But as an individual moving forward, I think I need to be more patient with myself, and more accepting of the life I have now. I’ve decided to put going back to school on hold, possibly indefinitely, not because I don’t care about conservation, but because I’ve come to the conclusion that if we’re going to collectively make the changes necessary to prevent the worst outcomes of climate change and preserve what’s left of our natural world, all people will have to be conservationists–not just the folks with biology degrees doing field work in the remote corners of the planet.
That said, I’m going to open the scope of A Quill of Conservation as well. Instead of focusing on quasi-academic pursuits, I’m giving myself the freedom to explore whatever’s on my mind. Instead of writing to impress some potential scientific reader with my intellectual prowess, I’m just going to write for me. I’m going to keep exploring my interest in conservation and sharing what I learn. However, some days I might be talking about old gothic romance novels, some days it might be insight from a yoga practice. There may be short stories and fiction, and there’ll probably be a bit of shameless angst every now and again. But that, my friends, is just who I am. Who knows… maybe there are other weirdos out there who’ll someday stumble across my musings and feel a little less alone.