People often ask me, “How’d you get your job?” That question often comes when they encounter me in uniform, outside, with a beautiful scenic backdrop and a smile on my face.
I think its because I look so good in the hat.
My usual response, “Begging and pleading,” is because once I set my sites on rangering, I started cold calling parks all over the Southwest.
“Hi! My name is Megan. I’m really interested in doing nature education with kids. Who would I talk to about that?”
The friendly neighborhood ranger on the phone almost always treated my kindly, “Oh that’s great! You should talk to … Let me take a sec to look up his phone number…Have you ever been here? …”
Now that I know that even the seasonal job postings can get over 400 applicants, it doesn’t surprise me that every supervisor was friendly, chatted with me, and then said, “No.”
My one bread crumb was Jacob who did ask that I send him a resume to keep on hand, and six months later that lead to a volunteer internship with him – the most visionary boss I’ve ever had.
Luckily, he had an eye for the few things that I could provide him: a Midwestern work ethic, the brains to think big picture, and the capacity to chat up random strangers and win them over. By Midwestern work ethic, I mean a high tolerance for the mundane tasks that lead to completion of any project and not bitching in the process. By brains to think big picture, I mean while doing education programs and projects, I always had an internal filter asking, “Is this effective? Are we reaching who we want to reach? Are we working smarter not harder?” And by capacity to chat up strangers and win them over, I mean having a conversation with them as a human and finding some common ground before asking for what I need from them. It might not have hurt that I also told him that he wasn’t asking enough of me and I could work harder. I think he almost fell off his picnic bench in shock.
You can argue whether the many opportunities that have unfolded for me are more about luck and timing or hard work, but truth is that lots of things scaffolded my way to a “dream job.”
1. Stuckness & Enlightenment
When I dropped out of college, I worked a secretary job in an amusement park. It was safe, close to home, and predictable. That work taught me about the people of the world by bringing them to me: drunks, carnies, international workers and overachievers all in one place. We even had a few who claimed to be vampires. I was content in my little bubble. In the midst of that gig, I went to France to attend my French “sister’s” (exchange student) wedding. As I toured the Sacre Coeur, the Notre Dame, and Versailles, it occurred to me just how much I could miss out on if I stayed in the bubble.
2. I made up my mind.
One lesson that the entourage of seasonal amusement park workers taught me was that we have many options when reacting to our circumstances. If life kicks you, you can be sad and blame others (loudly) when you’re fired from your job for being a drunk vampire (it happened) or you can sign up for more work, soak up every skill, learn from every talented person and change your life. Upon the French Awakening as I like to call it, I decided to sign up for the latter team. I enrolled in one evening class and set a simple goal: I would find a career that involved constant learning and that helped connect people to the world beyond their cubicle walls. That one class was a micro step towards macro change.
3. I asked questions.
“This is what I want to do. Who do I talk to?”
“If I want to graduate on time, what do I need to do?”
“How did you get to do what you do?”
4. I took risks.
I left a full time job to finish school while scrimping and saving.
I moved to the other side of the country.
I asked my bosses for what I wanted – opportunities, challenges, advice, a job.
I took jobs that seemed insecure but gave me new skills and experiences and left jobs that seemed secure but didn’t offer growth.
5. I made up my mind. Again.
The path to my “dream job” involved a lot of decisions. Making up my mind that I was worth it even if one of the most competitive jobs in the country told me I wasn’t. Chasing a job that so many others want can wear down a person’s soul. You have to value yourself above your dream. I knew I worked hard and thought creatively. If this job didn’t want me, another job would be lucky to have me. You can’t give a job permission to drive you – and your optimism – into the ground.
6. I only said yes to opportunities with the right people.
The right people are bosses and coworkers who were visionary, hard working, compassionate, and full of humor. I made moves towards healthy, vibrant work situations and turned down those that felt “off.” I still took a few jobs that were less glamorous stepping stones, but working for an incompetent boss rarely makes you more competent. I kept my eye out for those traps.
You might wonder why “dream job” is still in quotes. After all, this park ranger world is one with laughter in meetings, transformational vacations for visitors, hiking/skiing/boating on the clock (sometimes), and a view of mountains from the office window.
It also involves creakingly slow bureaucracy, crippling legal policies, nasty backstabbing politics, and telling people “no” when you want to say “yes.” It requires living far away from my family, horrible dating opportunities and long drives to find groceries and people living “normal” lives.
A “dream job” is still a “job.” And no matter how much you love a job, it never loves you back.
So keep chasing meaning and challenge in your life; it will be worth it. But don’t make it all about the job.