Working in the environmental sector can be both rewarding and incredibly trying and stressful. It can take years, even decades, to see any sort of positive change around a particular issue, and it’s not surprising that people in this line of work often burn out. Recently I was finding myself uninspired, frustrated and, needless to say, unproductive. So I took an unplanned two week vacation to hang out at my new home on remote Sonora Island, to reconnect with nature, and to relax and recharge.
On my very first morning off, I walked out in front of my cabin to a tiny little beach, and to my dismay found it was covered in little pieces of Styrofoam – it was in the vegetation at the high tide mark, all along the water’s edge, and floating in the water too. Just what I needed on my day off, I grumbled to myself as I angrily began picking up the garbage…a beach cleanup! Where did it come from I wondered? Don’t people know that this stuff soaks up toxins and becomes little poison pills to any creatures that might eat it? Don’t they know that mama birds feed this to their chicks and they starve to death with it choking their stomachs? Don’t they know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge gyre full of plastic garbage covering an area the size of Texas?
I couldn’t possibly pick it all up. I wasn’t even going to try, but I couldn’t just walk away. So I filled up my garbage can in short order, knowing I would have to pack it out with me the next time I left Sonora. This vacation was not allowing me to forget my work, and I kept thinking about it as the days went by; especially when I went to the same beach a few days later and found more Styrofoam had washed up onto the beach…and I picked up some more garbage.
But as my vacation passed by, I began to see things in a whole new light. Who was I to be angry about picking up a little garbage on my day off, when thousands of people volunteer to do that sort of thing every day? Who was I to complain about stress and burnout when it is an honour and privilege to do this work? Who was I to resent the grief and anguish I feel about the state of the world, right down to the tiny bits of Styrofoam on “my” beach, when others fight injustices solely on their convictions while I collect a pay cheque for my efforts?
So I returned to work two weeks after my impromptu little beach cleanup very humbled and grateful to have such a job. But even more so, I am honoured to know so many of you who do amazing things every day just because it is the right thing to do. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for it is each and every one of you that prevents me from sinking into despair, and keeps me hopeful for our future. Thank you! For you I am a better person.