Friday, April 25, 2008
Wherever You Go, There You Are
Believe it or not, this was the theme of my graduating class at The Evergreen State College. For the greeners of 1994 the idea behind this somewhat buddhist slogan was that one shouldn’t worry too much about what journey you were on, you should just be on the journey. It was a very Evergreen sort of sentiment, sort of a “hey dude, don’t worry about your career. Just get out there and EXPERIENCE life.” Personally, I’ve always been something of a worrier and one of the many things that I like to worry about is the future. I play all sorts of scenarios out in my head regarding most aspects of the future. Where will we live, what will I do for a career, when will I ever be able to climb 5.11 (never, it turns out), etc. etc.
Anyway, I am digressing here because this post is supposed to be about a new spin on the wherever you go phrase. For this post, this phrase should read, “Wherever you go, there YOU are.” For this week has been a lesson for me in the inescapableness of our own nature. This week I am up at the lovely Marconi Center for a conference of natural resources folks in the National Park Service from the Pacific West Region. It is a great group of people as one of the wonderful things that the NPS has going for it, besides the most beautiful places to work in the world, are the people who actually work in the parks. The NPS staff are a very dedicated, enthusiastic, and friendly lot for the most part. So I am very much enjoying getting to meet many of my colleagues, listening to interesting talks, and eating good food here at the Marconi Center.
In order to attend this conference, I had to agree to give a talk. By and large I enjoy giving talks. All of my experience giving numerous talks and lectures while in graduate school has greatly reduced my public speaking anxiety and I enjoy the performance aspect of public speaking. The only downside, for me, of giving talks is that it is always me giving the talk.
Let me explain. Like many people, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with myself. At times I think I am the cat’s meow- I feel like I am an o.k. person, a decent listener, someone who is capable of understanding most things and is interested in most things, an engaged individual. That’s how I feel when I am in the love myself phase. On the other hand, I am a pretty gregarious person and I have an outgoing and somewhat crazy streak. What this means when I give talks is that my presentations are founded in factual information (graphs, charts, actual data and statistical analysis), because I am, after all, a scientist. But because I am also still me, a fan of the overstatement, somewhat performance artist-type personality, this factual information tends to peppered with opinionated overstatements, humorous comments, and statements of truths that many people may believe but few would say in a public setting. I can’t give you a good example of this from my recent talk because my outrageous statements are very park-y and would take too long to explain. Instead let me illustrate with a classic example from my graduate school days. Once, during a particularly obtuse lecture on population growth modeling, after yet another graph had been drawn on the board with no label for either the x or y axis, I exclaimed, out of shear exasperation, “What the hell Ted????” Thankfully our lecturer took this all in stride and actually stopped to explain the figure.
While I have tried to limit my public swearing since joining government service my speech is still peppered with moderately socially acceptable words, crap being one of my current favorites. So my talk today contained a few craps and a bit of bandying about of the word moron in different contexts.
Anyway, the point of all this is that after my talk was over and the audience had stopped laughing, I thought, “well, there goes any hope I ever had of being a park superintendent in the Pacific West Region.” Because while I think people were both entertained and informed by my talk, I don’t think many superintendents say crap in a public setting. Now Mitch would say, “if you want to, you can always change.” But I feel like I may have changed too much already. I’ve already given up the f-word. I try to no longer exclaim what the hell in meetings. And the bottom line is that at heart, in my core, I am the kind of person who calls ‘em like I see ‘em, regardless of the political climate or advisability of voicing such opinions. And sometimes, like today, I think, “wow, I wish I could be someone else. Someone calm and considered who gives a talk that is informative, and amusing, and well-organized but doesn’t contain the word crap or bold statements about the futility of weed mapping or the infernal loop of some restoration projects.” In short, sometimes I wish I was superintendent material. But then again, I do enjoy the laughter.
In the end, wherever you go, there you are – so I guess one had better enjoy one’s own company. I’ll keep working on that.