Believe them when they tell you that plans change

Four years ago, everyone I knew thought I was bound for law school after I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree—I even thought that for myself. Three years ago, I knew I was going to law school. It was my one goal, the one thing I had figured out about my life for certain. I wanted to become a lawyer who defends people who are wrongfully accused of crimes and put on death row. Two years ago, I knew I would go to law school to become an environmental lawyer. One year ago, the thought of law school made me sick to my stomach. Presently, I know I will not be going to law school any time soon. One month from now, my time with In My Backyard will be wrapping up, I will no longer work in the legal field, and I will be starting a new job with the U.S. Forest Service.

The clarity I had in thinking that I was going to law school was fogged over by my senior year of college. I was burned out by undergrad before my final year had started; I had nothing left in the tank. The thought of going to school for three more years after that last year was inconceivable. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck in another classroom, most likely at a different school in a different part of the country, and with a much more intense course of study. The law students who worked at the same firm as I do constantly told me not to go to law school, that it wasn’t worth it. With the idea of law school thrown out the window, I had to start looking for something else.

What did I want to do instead? I had no idea. I looked into nonprofit work in the environmental field, AmeriCorps positions, and I even applied and got accepted to Teach For America. Long story short, none of those positions filled the hole that I once felt law school should fill. I wanted to do important work, I wanted to use my degree for good, and I didn’t want to disappoint all the people who thought I was going to become a lawyer. 

I got emails from my academic advisors every week with job postings, most of which were positions I had no interest in. One week, one of the job postings was “internship with the National Park Service.” I thought to myself, that would be cool, I’ll apply to it later, and continued to scroll down the page. Weeks later, as I was applying to quite a few other internships, I remembered this one with the National Park Service called In My Backyard. As I looked at the website and learned more about this program, it piqued my interest. It seemed like such a cool thing, and I thought yeah, I totally want to apply to this. I searched around for how to apply and came across a very important detail—the application was due in 24 hours. I truly thought I had messed this up because I didn’t apply earlier, but I poured my heart into the application and did my best to make it genuine with that short of a time frame.

A few weeks later when I heard back from Kelsey about scheduling an interview, I was stoked. The only issue was that I couldn’t interview as early as they wanted—I was flying to New York that week because my grandfather had passed away, so I scheduled it for the following Monday. The other issue I faced was that I had a deadline for another internship—it was that same week, on Friday. I told Meg and Carole, the friendly voices over the phone, that I had to confirm or deny another position four days after they interviewed me for IMBY, but that I would rather work with IMBY than the other one. They got back to me the day after the interview and offered me the position.

Everything somehow perfectly fell into place, and I got started with IMBY. My post-college plans had changed drastically from where I thought I would be four years prior, and I was a bit overwhelmed. Questions started being asked by family and friends: “why did you study law and political science if you’re just going to work with the National Park Service?” or “what does this have to do with your degree?”

Liz SG 2.JPG

Crater Lake, 2019. My family asked me about 5,000 times on that trip what I planned to do for the rest of my life. I told them I want to change the world. 

I had to find creative ways to answer those questions that would satisfy myself and whoever was asking—so I was constantly seeking ways to make connections between my majors and IMBY. The answer can be quite long-winded, but to sum it up, is this:

In school, I studied how the law, the government, and politics affect society. With IMBY, I work with youth in a program that empowers their creativity and gives them a voice within the National Park Service, which is a government agency. I get to see how politics, policy, laws, budgets, etc. affect the programs our park puts out. I get to care about the environment, social justice issues, diversity, and equity and talk about those topics in a very real way—through youth programming and education. As an IMBY Mentor, I’ve been able to continue being a student and studying how society works, but instead of being in a classroom I get to be a student of the world. 

So no, my degree wasn’t in recreation or land management, or education or environmental science. My degree was about studying people and the system that governs society. And yes, this was all new to me four months ago. But I’ve finally been able to find connections between my work and my course of study, and I finally know how to explain it. I have learned so much this summer, I have met amazing people, heard important stories, shared a ton of laughter, and continue to challenge myself and learn new things every day.

One of the most important things I’ve learned is to believe people when they tell you plans will change. If someone had told me four years ago that I wouldn’t be headed to law school after undergrad, I would not have believed them one bit. Your plan might not change as much as mine, but be ready for flexibility and be open to change; be open to new fields and new experiences. It might be uncomfortable, but that’s where personal growth happens.

Moving forward, I am starting an 11-month AmeriCorps position with the U.S. Forest Service, another government agency. I will be working with diverse community groups and partners, doing youth outreach, and taking those groups on trips into the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest area. I am excited for the future and to continue working with youth and community groups, and I am thankful that I got started with In My Backyard.

Though walking away from the thought of going to law school was easy, walking away from the entire legal field was not an easy choice, and I think about it every day. I still have a fierce passion for social and legal justice, I still want to pursue fighting for justice for people who have been wronged. But I also want to work with youth, I want to help encourage diverse voices, ideas and stories where they are lacking, and fight for equity where it is missing. I want to be an advocate for our earth, for public lands, and for climate change. I want to fight for women’s rights, equality, and an end to sex trafficking. I want fairness in politics, media, and speech, and I want peace in society.

I don’t know how, or when, or if I will be able to fight for and accomplish all of those things, but if I don’t set those goals for myself, I won’t ever begin. I can make plans knowing that they will change and knowing that the future holds a million different possibilities. The dreams are big and the individual is small, and that’s okay.

BY 2019 IN MY BACKYARD MENTOR – LIZ

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