A few days ago, friend of mine on Facebook posted a timely article called Five Ways Science Says to Handle Difficult Times.
As someone who has felt pushed out of a job through current state and federal administrative acts like budget cuts, I find myself experiencing all the stages of grief. I know I have contributed so much to my profession, yet can’t seem to stay employed. The last four positions I have had were either grant funded or temporary and despite knowing that going in, the end of a job can still do a number on one’s ego. It wasn’t until a month or so ago that accepted that I can control my fate in life rather than waiting for life to control me. Here is my version of handling difficult times.
The article’s first point is to Change the Narrative. It suggests that expressive writing helps people gain new insights and become healthier. I have always seen myself as an environmental educator. It is a major part of my identity. I changed my narrative by exploring what else in life I may do to earn a living. At first, I started a stained glass business and dove headfirst into professional development classes and supplies. I heard the good, bad, and a lot of ugly about the business. Then, I panicked. I didn’t want the pressures of producing work to make a living and knowing I’m my own worst enemy for deciding if something I create is sales-worthy didn’t help. I realized I produce stained glass because I enjoy it as a hobby, not a profession. So, I backed out of that venture and I don’t regret it.
Then, in the middle of the night, I awoke to a thought that wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down. The thought was to do what I do well (environmental education and curriculum writing) and find a way to do it on my terms. It took quite a while for me to plan what it would look like. I wanted something new and different. I wanted it to be something that is flexible and expandable when appropriate. I had built a website for a curriculum I created for a former employer, so I knew that was a direction I could go. I had to come up with a name that encompassed all the website covered. The People and Nature Connection came in another “middle of the night” wake up call. So, I created the concept for what I wanted and asked advice from a friend. Then, I had to network people to garner contributions. The best way I thought to do that was to do all of it for free and market it as a way to promote them and the environment.
Face Your Fears. This is the place I am at now. At some point, I would like to create a situation for this website so I can support it and myself. The article says to slowly and repeatedly expose myself to things that scare me. Remember the stained glass business panic? That reaction had a lot to do with the sales pressure from the company I used to create the LLC. I saw money I didn’t have flying out the window with no guarantee of a return. I can write those costs off, but I saw a money pit in action. So, the fears I am facing now are what to do with this new website? LLC? Non-profit? I am doing research and talking to people I trust to figure this out and I will take all the time needed to do it right.
Practice Self-Compassion is the third point of the article. “Self-compassion involves offering compassion to ourselves: confronting our own suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness; without judgment.” This is something I had to fully embrace in the last 6 months. Self-compassion has helped me take necessary breaks from the brutality of rejection emails for jobs, lack of responses from inquires, and my own judgement over what my extensive education and experiences may or may not have gotten me. It has also helped me to comfort and support others who are experiencing or will soon experience the same circumstances of unemployment in this field.
Mediation is not something I do enough of, but I will not stress over it. That defeats the purpose. The fourth point states, “Practicing mindfulness brings us more and more into the present, and it offers techniques for dealing with negative emotions when they arise. That way, instead of getting carried away in fear, anger, or despair, we can work through them more deliberately.” I spend a great deal of time alone which gives me time to think, or drive myself crazy depending on the day’s events. Walking daily on our trails with the dog and cat is a meditative process. I often sit on my favorite tree stump and “meditate” on the gifts I’ve received through family and friends. Listening to the surrounding nature is also a very cathartic practice.
The final point in the article is Cultivating Forgiveness. I will admit that even though I knew the last position I had was not permanent, I was angry when it ended. I hoped to retire from the company. I had a plan to show my worth and move up the ladder. I held grudges for not finding continued funding for me as a contributor to the company. It wasn’t rational, but it was how I felt. I had to give myself a lot of time before I was able to re-approach my former coworkers and it took all I had to do it. Nothing in life is permanent. Once I forgave myself for feeling that way, I returned to self-value. I was valued by my employer, but funding can a fickle bitch that is never guaranteed. I keep going back to Buddhist philosophies of impermanence (Anicca or Anitya) to realize my life is ever changing and transient and this position was just part of that impermanence. It was also a valuable gift of time.
So, Thank you, Sue Feldman for posting the article. It has given me some direction and purpose in life on my own terms. I am inspired to continue my new labor of love and hope it will continue to grow and thrive.
A little over four years ago I met my true partner, John. Someone who made me a better environmental educator and person. Someone who convinced me to move out to his seven acre property in the middle of nowhere and love the land. He taught me how to truly reuse/reduce/recycle everything and how to let nature be in charge, not humans.
Everyday, we are fortunate enough to walk our animals on five of the acres that we have let go to old field. Sure, we could have spearheaded efforts to create a restored prairie, but we don't have the time or resources to do that and at some point, I realized that nature regenerates and maintains itself just fine without our help. We may have plants that are less than desirable for the purest, but the land feeds, waters, and shelters many of Earth's creatures. I recently started keeping phenological records of the animals and plants I see when I walk the trails. I get excited when I see the Eastern Towhees, Indigo Buntings, Woodcocks, Eastern Bluebirds, Least Weasel, Tiger Swallowtails, Red-spotted Purples, House Wrens, and so many more every year at their appointed times. It’s as if we are old friends. Occasionally, a small white-tailed deer herd flushes out of the tall grasses and into the nearby wooded area.
John bought and created this haven as a way to get away from the stresses of work and life and he asked me to share the experience with him. He is patient with everyone he meets and has the kindest heart especially with animals. We have created a small non-human family consisting of a dog, two cats, two snakes (that will soon go back to my son), and twelve fish. He is someone my human children and mother adore because he is a good friend to them and he takes good care of me. He is someone I could have easily missed had I not asked for more information about his research on penguins. If we would have met before we did, we may not have connected because we were different people in different places in life. Life and love happen at the time and place they should.
So, although I have never been much into Valentine’s Day, I would like to take this opportunity to appreciate John for all he is to me, my environmental hero and life partner.
Hello, My name is Kirsten Hope Walker. I have been an environmental educator for over 20 years. My passion is talking to the public about how to coexist with wildlife. It's my hope that you will ask questions and find my features and blogs interesting. Thanks for your support.