To my surprise, the recent Facebook “aging challenge” (post your profile picture from 10 years ago, and your current one) really got me thinking, but not about the ways that my face has aged in a decade. At the risk of sounding extremely dramatic, 10 years ago yesterday, my entire life changed. I was supposed to report in for my shift as a staff photographer at the Schenectady Daily Gazette, where I’d been working full-time for more than four and a half years. This was my dream job, I started at this newspaper as a summer intern right out of photography school, where I was hired as a full-time staffer within a few months. However, the internet, video, the economic downturn and overall shrinking of newspapers brought me to this pivotal moment: I got called into the Editor-in-Chief’s office to be told that “you’ve done such a great job… this isn’t a reflection of your performance…we have to lay off more people…”. I was one of at least seven other full-time staffers laid off from our beloved paper, a place that had molded me and created my identity as I knew it.
What followed this event was typical of many people in my position–I put my house up for rent, and moved back to the DC area and in with my parents, a boomerang child at 28 years old. Luckily, I had maintained my lifeguard and CPR certifications, and was able to start working almost immediately at the indoor pool that employed me when I was in college. I was hired as an Adjunct Professor of Photography at Montgomery College, where I had earned my A.A.S. degree in Photography in 2001, teaching in the same classrooms and studios where I had been a student. I began teaching dance and lifeguarding, squirreling my earnings away so that all of my mortgage and bills were paid, and even having enough to take occasional small trips. My newly added duties as a volunteer SCUBA diver at the National Aquarium in Baltimore helped satisfy my soul by being underwater and talking with visitors about the Aquarium residents.
After three years of being unable to find gainful employment (and stuck in my parents’ house), I decided to apply to graduate school. At the advice of a sage friend, I decided to pursue a degree in an area that I loved-not photography, but the marine science arena. I still loved photography, but I did not feel that having an advanced degree in the subject would offer me that many employment opportunities. I moved to Florida with only what fit in my car, and without my beloved pit bull mix, Snorkel, who passed away suddenly just weeks earlier. At 31 years old, I began my Marine Affairs and Policy courses at the University of Miami. Needless to say, it was a time of many changes and adjustments–not only was I almost a decade older than most of my classmates, I was coming from a non-scientific background, out of school for over eight years, and horribly rusty.
In less than two years, I completed my Masters of Professional Science degree, following a stimulating internship at Biscayne National Park, which furthered my love of the ocean and underwater world even more, if that were possible. After lots of revisions, applications, and just a couple of interviews, I landed my first full-time position in my field, with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. This job continued my growth and learning, and cemented some of my strongest friendships in South Florida. However, the work wasn’t as satisfying until I started my current job with UF/IFAS Extension and Florida Sea Grant in Miami-Dade County.
It has taken me two years to be able to describe what my position is (in one minute or less). I’m very fortunate to have landed a position that allows such personal and professional satisfaction, and pride in my work. My job is as an educator: not in the K-12 world, but for adults who depend upon the marine and coastal resources in Miami-Dade County and Florida. I have great colleagues at UF/IFAS and Florida Sea Grant, who inspire and teach me every day. I feel quite strongly that the work I do MATTERS, and the people and the environment benefit from what my teaching. The journey has been filled with bumps, bruises, hilarity and growth. I wonder what the 2029 challenge will be?