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The Big Two-Oh: Looking Ahead

Posted by kevinwolz on February 26, 2011

Well this post certainly took a while for me to get too. High work load these last few weeks — along with the relatively daunting idea of contemplating the rest of my life — has kept me away. In the end, however, it my have been better since it allowed me more time to actually think about what I want to write. As I’ve reflected on this topic for the last few weeks, my thoughts have ranged from “I need to do this, and this, and this…” to “que será, será”. I’ve realized that there are just so many approaches to life and that all of them can sound appealing at one time or another. Now that I’m finally sitting down to write this, I know that I’m not here to write out the details of my career or seal my fate. Instead, I’m just going to ramble through some thoughts that have come up as I think about where I’m heading.

In my last Two-Oh post, I talked about how great these last 20 years have been. So, where does that put me now? Well, here I am, quickly approaching the midpoint in my college career — quite possibly the climax of my educational journey — and I’m loving it. I enjoy what I’m learning, and I’m determined to compile a tool set that can launch me into the future prepared to “make my place in the world.” Sure, I can compute an integral and ramble off amino acid properties, but those skills aren’t nearly as important as all the other life and personal skills that I’ve slowly acquired over the years. Don’t get me wrong…I’m certainly proud of my academic accomplishments, but those skills are only good if I know how to navigate my world and use them properly. These real world skills are what I’m most proud of.

So, I graduate in two years. If the next two years go anything like these last two, I’ll be out of college before I know it. Where to next? I’m really torn on this issue right now. I still have no idea whether or not I want to continue on to graduate school, but I think that the answer will come soon enough. Regardless of when my formal education stops, however, I know I’ll never stop learning. Recently a friend asked me, “Why do you travel?” I answered: “To learn.” I realized afterward that this is probably my answer to a lot of questions. I’ve reached the point in my life where Legos and loud engines no longer satisfy me. I value learning, new experiences, and time with family and friends much more than any tangible object. In fact, buying new things is one of the hardest things for me to do. Go shopping with me, and you’ll find out quickly. This may say more about how my future will end up than anything else can.

As I look up from my computer, I see two quotes, shouting in my face:

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

“If your life’s work can be accomplished in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.” -Wes Jackson

These quotes guide me as I work and make decisions everyday. Today, they stand as an even greater force as I contemplate my future.

Since those first few days of kindergarten, we’re always given the question, in some form: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I don’t know for sure what I used to answer way back then, but I have no doubt that I latched on to the stereotypical “doctor”, “professional athlete”, or “fireman” at some point. That was simply what you said. Eventually, “engineer” popped up once I figured out how to spell it and my teachers told me I was good at math. “Engineer” pretty much stuck all through high school, but nowadays, my answer to this question changes all the time. Typically, however, I answer with an “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure yet” in the interest of brevity and politeness. But, if you really want to know, here’s where I stand today:

I want to learn everything I can about life and its complex systems. I want to understand where life came from, how it evolved over the last 3.5 billion years, and the full extent of its modern diversity. I want to understand the ecology of ecosystems, landscapes, communities, and populations. And I want to do all this while exploring the farthest reaches of Earth’s ecosystems, experiencing new cultures and beliefs, and enjoying the life I have left.

There you go. I said it. As a 20-year-old college student, that’s what I want to be when I grow up. In its most simplest form, I guess you can call it a biologist, but I try not to limit my goals with a single, predefined word. Quite honestly, nothing fascinates and stimulates my mind more than extraordinarily complex biological systems: everything from the plant in my room and the breaths I take on my runs, to the farm field down the street and the rainforests I have yet to see.

So that’s what I want to be. Plain and simple. Problem is…that’s not actually what I see myself doing. I wish I could say that, as I look into my future, I see a vast tabula rasa, on which I can paint my optimal future and do exactly what I want. Unfortunately, tabula rasas went out of stock after the Big Bang. My future (and yours) is inseparably tied to the world in which we live and everything that has come before.

When I put my future into this context of reality, I believe that the environmental problems that our planet faces today — especially climate change — will undoubtedly prevent me from doing exactly what I want to do. I cannot logically ignore these issues in pursuit of idealized goals. I firmly believe that if I WE don’t acknowledge and fix these problems soon, future generations won’t even get the privilege of answering the question “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Even if I am physically and economically capable of pursuing “what I want to be” as I stated earlier, I cannot morally ignore what is predicted to happen in the next 100 years. I, for one, am going to take up this responsibility now, in any way that I can. I am going to maximize and diversify my skill set so that I can contribute to the cause to best of my ability. I am going to BE THE CHANGE.

Fighting climate change and ecological destruction is in no way what I’ve ever wanted or still want to do when I grow up. It sounds absolutely horrible! However, it’s more necessary than anything I can imagine. Honestly, I wish it were all a hoax. I wish I could eat my dinner and not think about the associated emissions. I wish I could get on a plane and not feel enormously guilty. The fact is, contrary to what climate deniers often accuse of us “radicals”, I don’t enjoy carrying this enormous weight on my shoulders. I DON’T WANT TO DEAL WITH CLIMATE CHANGE. I DON’T WANT SPEND MY LIFE FIGHTING THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY AND FACING CLIMATE CATASTROPHES. I WISH WE WERE MAKING UP THE SCIENCE AND LYING ABOUT ALL OF THIS. I WISH MY KIDS AND GRANDKIDS HAD NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT.

Alas, wishes have to be pushed aside for morals and reality, and that’s how I have to approach my future. Now, before everyone starts crying and deeming this a horribly depressing post, I need to add a crucially important point. If I’ve learned anything from my explorations of permaculture, creativity, and innovation, it’s that the biggest problems are also the biggest opportunities. So, despite how great it would be if we didn’t have to deal with climate change, it’s certainly not a dead end road. Yes, climate change is definitely the biggest problem that humanity has ever faced. Consequently, however, I believe that this also makes it the biggest opportunity. If we act quickly in the right direction, we have the opportunity to turn this situation into the greatest period of progress that humanity has ever seen.

As I look ahead, this is what I see: an enormous opportunity to work together and turn our problems into solutions. What could be better than a future full of opportunities?

So that’s where I’m headed for now. Care to join me?


3 Responses to “The Big Two-Oh: Looking Ahead”

  1. Joan said

    Bravo, Kevin. We need more young people to think like you do.

    I’m too old to do much good anymore but I will still do my part to try and conserve water whenever I can and to keep recycling. And try to get people not to buy bottled water!!
    And try and convince everyone who isn’t recycling TO DO IT! Will that help?


  2. Karen Wolz said

    I admire your passions, dedication to your beliefs and goals….you are a change agent! Keep the mind open to learn something new each and every day. We are constantly learning from you. Keep the momentum, as your life’s journey is one we are proud of!

  3. Dale & Joyce said

    Great insight Kevin, looks like you have a lot of work ahead of you and a great future. We are proud of you.

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