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The writer and cartoonist Allen Saunders said, “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” I agree. Yet still favor planning, too. So much so that Planning is my current profession. Well, Environmental Planning, to be specific.
I did not plan to be a Planner (and yes, this is funny to me). However, in my three years in this field, I have discovered that many individuals found their way to the profession through a myriad of avenues. This is one of my favorite things about Planning – the people. While many Planners have an undergraduate or graduate degree (or both) specifically in Planning, there are also many individuals with degrees in fields such as Landscape Architecture, Economics, Real Estate, Business, Interior Design, Engineering, Sociology, Psychology, Natural Resources and Geography. The same is true for Environmental Planners. This makes sense because the Planning profession is essentially about process – specifically, implementing good process to weave together diverse and often conflicting aspects of society. Whether working in transportation, historic preservation, community, natural resource or economic planning, Planners operate within the space where private, public and civic sectors meet, in addition to the nexus of various fields and industries.
As an Environmental Planner for the City of Fort Collins, I mostly work with City Planners performing development review. Prior to new development on vacant land or redevelopment of land, a development project proposal must go through the development review process in order to be approved prior to being built. The project proposal, for example a new housing development, must be allowed in the zoning of the area and must meet all standards. Standards include setbacks from active oil and gas wells or wetlands, road widths, sidewalk connections, required park space or trails, and many other items. During the development review process I apply environmental protection standards, for example, ensuring the ecological value of a development site is maintained or enhanced. This involves directing development away from features such as wetlands, the Poudre River or Spring Creek. If and when development will impact a natural feature or a portion of a feature, then I negotiate improvements in natural features elsewhere on the site through enhanced natural-like landscaped areas or in rare cases, enhancements off-site in a publicly owned City Natural Area. My work includes public speaking and presentations at neighborhood meetings and City Boards and Commissions, and a lot of coordination with private development and consulting companies, non-profits and City divisions like Utilities, Natural Areas and Forestry. Since 2016, I have also worked directly on implementation of the new Nature in the City (NIC) program. The program focus: maintaining a connected network of functional habitat for people, plants and wildlife and ensuring every resident is within a 10-minute walk to nature from their home or workplace.
I did not plan to be a Planner, but working as an Environmental Planner has been (and continues) to be an extremely rewarding experience for me. In this work I get to employ systems-thinking and critical decision-making, perform public service, spend time in an office and outdoors, hone public speaking skills and coordinate with highly intelligent and creative people across sectors. I also literally get to plant trees. For my job. Winning!
The road to my current profession was definitely a winding one; however in looking back, this makes sense in the context of my personality, interests and life goals. Sometimes I catch myself wishing I had found this profession sooner or that I had “settled down” earlier. But then I remember life is messy and just as nonlinear as formal education is linear. I do love planning in general, and as a young person, planned to travel and live abroad, learn another language and spend time making my own way in the world; to essentially explore myself and the world around me. This has led to many great adventures and stories, as well as great disasters and missteps. Some of the best actions I have taken in my life and some of the best things that have happened to me were not planned in the slightest. Some were. In my opinion, it is all a matter of balancing the planning and living.
I pondered many things while preparing to write this blog. What should I write about? Can I even write something that is not an academic manuscript anymore? What should I write about? Will anyone read it? What should I write about? It was about the twentieth “what should I write about” that I realized something…I was stuck. I kept fighting against it by trying to jump from idea to idea. Finally, though, I stilled my mind and allowed myself to sit with my stuck-ness. That’s when an idea began to germinate.
I have often extolled the strengths of being a counselor to the students and alumni of the Counseling and Career Development program here at CSU (as well as to just about anyone else who will listen). In that case, it makes sense that as I listened to my inner voice, one wonderful asset and a value-add differentiator of being a counselor that popped into my awareness is our ability to partner with clients and students to sit with their stuck-ness. Many individuals can give advice, come up with new ideas, make suggestions, and tell others what they should or shouldn’t do. As counselors, though, we have the honor of partnering with individuals as they work to achieve true transformation. Often, this requires that we help clients to still themselves so that they can sit with their stuck-ness.
Now, being stuck is not a nice place to be. It is something that not only clients, but also counselors, will struggle against. However, our skills as counselors can be wonderful gifts at these times. We provide a safe and empathetic space for individuals to explore their thoughts and feelings and how those impact, and are impacted by, their outer world. We reflect their feelings and stories back to them, honor who they are as individuals, and challenge them to notice their conflicts and inconsistencies. We encourage them to listen to their inner knowing, and in doing this, we help them find their own power and their own solutions, as well as hopeful pathways involving action and reflection. This way, rather than jumping from superficial solution to superficial solution, deeper healing and change can transpire.
This is what I do, and what I work very hard to teach my students to do. I am currently a faculty member in the Counseling and Career Development graduate program at Colorado State University. My path to this place has been a wonderful journey, and one that is highly reflective of the majority of career paths nowadays. Quite some time ago, I was an undergraduate student here at Colorado State University. (Go Rams!) After a very limited period of self-reflection and some well-meaning advice from others, I decided to major in occupational therapy (which at that time, was an undergraduate degree) and was fully intent on working in pediatrics or in the schools. Fortunately, it ended up being a “good enough” choice; I did enjoy my work as an occupational therapist, and worked in the field for 8+ years, but I found myself wanting…something…more…
I was stuck. However, rather than jumping into a new work environment, I knew I needed to stop and search within myself. Thus, through continued self and world-of-work exploration, a lot of introspection on how I wanted to have meaning and “mattering” in the world, and engaging in some trial-and-error experimentation, I am now in a career that feeds my soul and makes my heart sing—counselor education and career counseling. I am grateful for the winding path that brought me here, and for the people in my life that have walked my journey with me. Accordingly, I gently remind you, sometimes we must sit with stuck-ness for true insight, healing, and change to occur. So allow yourself that gift, and seek out those that you can invite into your journey towards your future self.
Only a few lucky souls know what they want to do professionally from an early age. Most of us are still grappling with this huge and daunting decision when we arrive at college. And many still struggle to find their calling throughout college, and even afterward.
I should know, as I certainly fall into all these categories except the first. I changed majors eight times, and switched graduate programs twice. As a worker, I have dabbled in the medical field, science, technology, business, writing, arts, childcare, physical fitness, teaching, and career advising.
Forrester Research predicts that today’s youngest workers will hold twelve to fifteen different jobs in their lifetime, so according to that statistic, I am pretty much on track. When your friends and relatives ask you what you plan to do when you grow up (as if there is only one career ahead), start altering that question in your mind to mean, “What do you plan to do FIRST when you grow up?”
Knowing that you are highly likely to try many different jobs may put you at ease, or creates some discomfort, depending on your personality. Either way, you still need to choose a career to try first, right? Here are some tips for narrowing down that big decision:
- Talk with a Career Educator! We have been trained with many tools to help you figure out your values, skills, personality traits, and interests so that you can choose a fulfilling career path. To make an appointment, call the Career Center at (970) 491-5707.
- Participate in the Industry Tours offered by the Career Center to meet potential employers and get a feel for different work environments. Click here to go to the Career Center Events schedule, which includes Industry Tours.
- Log on to Ram Career Ready here to explore your values, skills, personality traits, and interests on your own.
- Take a 2-minute personality assessment here to start thinking in the right career direction.
- Visit O*Net to explore lots of different occupations and take the O*Net Interest Profiler Online Assessment to narrow down your professional interests.
- Do you know professionals who have jobs that you may want? Ask to shadow them in their workplaces! By being in their work environments for even a short time, you will learn a lot about what they actually do, and get a sense for whether you are interested in further exploring those careers.
I also highly recommend bouncing some possible career ideas off those who know you well. Ask trusted friends, relatives, classmates, and instructors what they see as your possible career strengths, as well as areas in which you may need improvement. Whenever I have done this, I find myself amazed at how people perceive me, because I don’t usually view myself in the same way. Consider their feedback, but view them only as consultants, because you are the one who ultimately needs to decide which career is right for you.
As you are exploring your options, if you realize that you are one of those people, like me, who is way too interested in way too many things, know that there are plenty of professions in which a combination of many interests and skills is highly valued. Now and in the future, people who are able to integrate various disciplines offer a unique skillset that society needs. You will realize, like I did, that there is a place for you in this world.