If this wall of text is too long for you. Simply head over to youtube to listen to Tim Minchin’s incredible life advice. He says it a lot better than I could ever dream of.
Still here? All right then.
It is a strange thing to admit from someone who strives to be a climate activist and a force for change. But do you know what? My whole life I have been living it safe.
I stayed in school, got good enough grades to do what I wanted, went on to university to study science (because research and science was how I understood you helped the planet), where I learned that I could do a master’s degree in environmental chemistry (jackpot!) and went on to do that. It was a degree that had been wanted and half-funded by the industry, and job prospects were really good.
For once led strongly by the cause larger than myself, I got excellent grades during my master studies. I hit the motherload with a summer internship with the company I was writing my thesis for, and they seemed really satisfied with my work. They even let me come to an international meeting of experts to present my modest work!
Everything was going swimmingly, and I envisioned myself after graduation, doing similar things to what I had been during my summer internship, and leading a largely economically stable life filled with interesting science, field trips, laboratory work and ground breaking research in emerging contaminants. I even had my hobbies and a large group of crafting and historically inclined people whom I called friends and regularly hung out with. I was on a high those two years, mostly.
It was not to be.
The year I graduated, things started going downhill. The oil crisis hit Norway, and hundreds of highly educated professionals with similar education but tons more experience entered the job market. “My” company did not have the budget to hire me. I returned to live with a friend and to do whatever temporary work I could find until things got better and I got a permanent job.
Half a year later, my supervisor shoots me a message. They need someone who is willing to go to the other side of the world for a year to do a young scientist exchange with the Peace Corps. They have only a month until the plane leaves, am I up for it?
I tied up the few loose ends I had, terminating a contract with a friend whom I was helping in his shop, got as many vaccines as I managed to fit into my timetable and packed my possessions. A written agreement was sent my way, but no contract.
Misfortune decided to strike again. The company I was supposed to work with was in worse economic situation than they had let on. Formal arrangements such as my pay, place to stay and the projects I would work on had not been properly arranged. My supervisor and the company did the only thing they could do in the situation: They valued my safety over a lot of uncertainties in a country not known for its stability, and they pulled the plug on the project.
I was left pretty much on the airport with my vaccines, my towel and my suitcase. It was a week before Christmas, and I no longer had super-amazing news to tell my family when I came home.
Life is mercurial at times.
It is now over two years since I graduated, and I still have yet to see a permanent job in the field I daydreamed over. I did it. I got the science degree I had dreamed of and I was ready to save the world. I feel like I got stuck on the starting line.
Somehow, we have survived. Through luck and temporary contracts during winter and a summer job as a landscape gardener with an amazing boss and a team who welcomes me like family has kept a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. You learn to be grateful for things like that.
Just like Jim Carrey’s father, I learned that you could fail at the “safe” option. I had laid aside dreams of crafting, gardening and writing to be the scientist that was going to help the warming earth. I was even good at it, but still I failed.
Now I’m sitting here, and my days at university seems further and further away. My first, modest writing project is half-way through the final edit, and I find myself dreaming of writing, Latin names for plants, greenhouses and sustainable houses. That permanent job as a researcher seems more and more intimidating with every month I don’t do it.
Do I still have it? Can I still do it? How much have I forgotten? Do I still want to?
You see, in the rather large culture shock from a student life where your timetable is largely your own to control, the shock to enter a 9-5 (or 8-4 as is currently the case) job from Monday through to Friday with no option to stay home just because you feel like it has been a hard one. I have to admit. Wages are so good in Norway that my dream was to work part time. Say 3-4 days a week, and then have the rest of the time to myself. I am a modest spender, my economy would still be decent.
“Safe” is sadly an illusion. At least that is what I have found.
You might as well take a shot at doing what you enjoy. Even if you don’t know what you enjoy. Take a chance, try to find out. It could be a fleeting hobby or a summer job you didn’t realise you would enjoy, or a pet project you never thought you would complete.
Me? I will keep trying to stutter my way through my tiny little novelette, and after that I will try to write something else, something bigger. I will learn another handful of Latin names from the botanists in the garden, and I will feel how that rekindles my love for learning without the pressure of exams and tests at the end. I will pick up my crafts again, one day hoping to have the space and the economy to learn pottery, and perhaps more weaving.
I will dream. I will hike, squirrel aside pennies to build a dream house, work hard whenever I can, be it in a relevant job or just whatever I can, and I will hope that will be enough and that we won’t be homeless. One day, I even hope we will have a stable, foreseeable income and that the roof above our head will be our own and not at risk any time soon. Sure, some times I feel like I’ve failed at being an adult. That I should have gotten the job and the house and the pet and the car, even if that is someone else’s dream and I only borrowed it for a while.
But for now, I just hope to survive, and that is enough.
Take it from me: You can fail at playing it safe, please make sure you at least fail (or succeed!) at something you really want to do.