March 23, 2012

ENVS Blog: ENVS Alum Shares Her Story and Offers Advice to Graduating Seniors

March 23, 2012 - Megan Mills-Novoa (‘09) says, “don’t worry about it.”

March 23, 2012

Not Knowing What You Want to Do When You Grown Up: Don’t worry about it

Megan Mills-Novoa (‘09)

I just turned 25. 25. Yes 25. How did that happen? When I was younger I set lots of meaningless deadlines for myself. By 24 I would be starting grad school and by the time I am 27 I will be walking a Golden Retriever named Sport with a sparkling gazillion karat diamond on my finger and have it all “figured out”. That latter image I developed when I was 12 and has since been revised as my own values and sense of self have come more into focus, but I can’t help but feel a little bit of panic as my self-imposed, inane deadlines slip by. I graduated nearly 3 years ago from Lewis & Clark. I loved being an Environmental Studies major and I was ABSOLUTELY certain that directly following graduation the clouds would part and my path would become clear, defined by every internship, fellowship, and job. While, 3 years out that is just not the case. 

My last year at Lewis & Clark College, I was besieged by fear around the generality of being an Environmental Studies major. As many liberal arts students feel, I too feared that my 4 years were going to prove useless as soon as I started constructing a resume based on classes called “Environmental Problems” and “Environmental Solutions”. However, as I began applying I found that the things that I did outside the classroom held equal weight to what I did inside my courses. It was those things that reflected what I was truly passionate about. The thing I loved about my ENVS peers is that no one talked about “loading your resume”. We weren’t volunteer hour hungry pre-med students, doing things of the sake of a lofty future application. We were involved in things, because we loved them, just as we became ENVS majors, in large part, because we loved its breadth. So as I applied, my application reflected not only what I studied, but who I was.

As a senior I applied for a number of fellowships that spoke to different interests of mine: the Compton Fellowship to develop a climate change farmer outreach project in New Zealand, the Emerson Hunger Fellowship to get in-the-field and policy based anti-poverty advocacy training, and farming internships. What that process demonstrated to me is that I am a conflicted person with diverse interests and it is rare, bordering on impossible, that I will find an opportunity that speaks to the multi-faceted person that I am and I think ENVS majors tend to be.  Within these opportunities, I chose to become an Emerson National Hunger Fellow because it was the opportunity that was most intentional in cultivating me professionally and providing me a skill set.

Since that time I have been to New Mexico as a youth organizer, Washington D.C. as a policy analyst at the National Family Farm Coalition and to Santiago de Chile as a Fulbright Fellow researching the impact of climate change on vineyards there. These experiences may seem random and perhaps a little unfocused, but really what these experiences reflect in total is that I am interested and passionate about different issues and recognize there are different tools and paths we can take to address those things we are passionate about.  With each of these experiences, I have found that there are many ways to live your life and to work in what you love, in big ways and small. It has also curbed my naïve desire to find a position that fulfills me completely. I think about opportunities now as encompassing parts of what I am interested in but recognize that not all of my interests are going to be appreciated in one experience.

I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, but I am increasingly ok with that. Who ever really does? Also once I removed my expectation of working toward an explicit destination, I found that things became less stressful and do or die.  I recently accepted a job as the Hunger Education Coordinator at a food bank in NY and while some (specifically my family) sees this as another random job, what I see is that for the first time I get to develop a program, that I get to work with a new group of people, that I get to understand the emergency food assistance system better, and that I will be making more than $13,000 a year (which has been my average annual income since graduating).  Do I want to work in a food bank forever? No. Do I want to do youth organizing forever? Probably not. Do I envision myself living in New York forever? Hell no. But do I think the experiences I chose are about building the person I want to be more than reaching an imaginary professional dream spot? Yes.

Now as I look at graduate programs I feel a crisis of conscience as I chose a specialization, but at the end of the day I will pick a program that I feel best fits my needs (skills, financial support, program strength, advisor support, etc.).

So I guess my takeaways as ENVS alum are the following:

  1. View your time at LC as more than just classes and grades
  2. Research opportunities and apply, apply, apply
  3. Don’t worry about finding the cosmically perfect next step
  4. Not knowing what you want to do when you “grow up” is totally fine
  5. Have a really good time

Megan Mills-Novoa (’09)