Green Career Planning

When my son started grade 10 at Fernie Secondary we began paying more attention to possibilities for his post-high school life. At the time there was a mandatory class that aimed to, “enable students to develop the skills they need to become self-directed individuals who set goals, make thoughtful decisions, and take responsibility for pursuing their goals throughout life.” The curriculum included financial planning, setting a course towards completion of credits needed to graduate, and exploring future education and career options (among other topics). At the time I wondered if these compulsory lessons would contain hopes and dreams in addition to goals; the former being more thrill-inducing to anyone, but especially to teens. What about their passions and desires? I hoped Planning 10 wouldn’t make adulating out to be too serious. 

A few years later it was the night of high school graduation, and I found myself sitting outside lost in thought as I gazed at the stars. What would all these fun, talented, unique teenagers do now? Have we prepared them for the road ahead? How would they cope with the necessity of trading their time for money? I worried that parents (including me) had not done enough to make this transition smooth. I was afraid that the education system had let these brilliant young people down. This led me through a mental rabbit hole that twisted around university, jobs, meaningful work, and addressing the world’s suffering. Tough stuff for any seasoned adult to contemplate, never mind a seventeen or eighteen-year-old! 

Are you familiar with the Japanese concept of ikigai? Ikigai basically translates as one’s purpose in life or reason for being. Some say that you can find your own ikigai by locating the convergent answer to the following four questions: 

  1. What do I love? 
  2. What am I good at? 
  3. What can I be paid for? 
  4. What does the world need? 

If you can address all four questions with a singular response, you have found your ikigai. That celebration night almost six years ago I wished with all my heart that every graduate would have a personal experience of ikigai. But do you know what concerned me the most? There was no reliable inventory available of pressing global issues and their matching college/career path. There was no list on the wall that would make everything simple:

Weekly Chores:

Monday – empty garbage

Tuesday – replenish provisions

Wednesday – clean bathrooms

Thursday – wash solar panels

Friday – build community gray water system

Saturday – harvest lettuces with child care centre

Sunday - cook and deliver meals to seniors with electric vehicle

Conventional wisdom tries to line teens up on a track to adequate income, but even that can be a spin of the roulette wheel. Some folks spend decades just trying to live within their means. And while the grad party raged on I wondered not only what those young graduates could get paid for, but also how humanity could ever hope to slow mass species extinction, remove plastic waste from waterways, or plant billions of trees if bright and energetic young people didn’t have viable options to engage in these kinds of ambitions. 

In a short time, the world is now a drastically different place. Back in 2014, the school strikes for climate had not happened, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had not yet released its report declaring the urgency of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and Black Summer was still to come in Australia where 186,000 square kilometres would be burned and an estimated one billion animals killed. Now in 2020, a shift in climate consciousness is well underway. We’ve got abandoned oil wells in Alberta being transformed into solar energy sites and the Regional District of East Kootenay is making detailed plans for a large-scale composting program. 

There will always be pressing problems to solve in the world. The future will likely bring floods, droughts, and a steady trickle of discouraged and discouraging grown-ups. Thankfully I think we can also depend on a continuous supply of optimistic young people and adults who encourage them to follow their hearts and make a difference. Let’s do this important work together.