Most of the time we bumble our way through life, trying to get through the day or week or month, with a more or less vague idea of what lies ahead. But sometimes something happens and a switch is flipped in our minds, telling us, ah, something big is happening. Sometimes we are self-aware and reflective enough to notice these moments of change – turning points, points of no return – as they happen rather than long after. Sometimes we can foresee potential turning points: for example, before going to Sweden for an exchange semester I knew in advance that it could be something really special. I’d even counted on it to be a make or break opportunity to change course.
This time around, however, I was caught off guard. It all started when my colleague probed the idea of accompanying her to Denmark in order to assist with a workshop she was organising. Um, need she ask?! It was technically for work but I’m inexperienced enough to consider work trips adventures. Especially because I would shoulder little responsibility. And because it was in a beautiful location in Denmark. So, an adventure? Yep. An adventure that became a personal milestone.
It was a three-day workshop on “100% Renewable Energy in European Regions” held at the Nordic Folkecenter in northwestern Denmark. The Folkecenter is a research, training and test centre for renewable energies and technologies as well as cooperative enterprise models and decentralised production. It’s set in a veritable middle of nowhere – but what a beautiful middle-of-nowhere! Green fields and gentle hills, a fjord on one side, low-hanging skies that oscillated between dark rain and beaming sun. I’d happily work seven days a week just for the physical location, not to mention the community spirit at the Folkecenter, a spirit of sharing and mutual help and support.
I’ve been working part-time in the climate & energy department for half a year now, but it may as well have been half a day for all I understood before this event. I can’t even begin to describe the content-based knowledge regarding renewable energy (specifically, decentralised renewable energy co-ops and cogeneration of heat and electricity). What made the biggest impression, however, were the participants – ranging from MPs of national governments to city councilors and planners to NGO policy advisors to professors – and learning about how they do the work they do. In other words, the process of how to achieve a big goal, through networking and collaborating and lobbying and political strategising and alliance building. This is something I lack in reams and can only be gained through experience.
I also finally understood what exactly it is that my colleague does – how she does it, to be precise. The six days I was there were overwhelming and confusing. I was overwhelmed by the knowledge and experience and wisdom surrounding me, and confused by what my role in all this is. Very much like Harry Potter’s first time in Diagon Alley when he was 11 years old, seeing the brick wall in London slide back to reveal a (literally) magical world that existed, without his knowledge, in parallel to the world he knew. It was a world that was very similar and at the same time entirely different from the one he knew. It was an unfamiliar world full of sounds and smells and sights of things he hadn’t even pondered the possibilities of.
That’s how I felt. It’s not hyperbole. The Folkecenter workshop was my Diagon Alley moment of the sphere of renewable energy activism. I felt overwhelmed, quite out of place, and, frankly, stupid. And lacking passion and conviction somehow. Renewable energy and the broader themes of environment and sustainability have interested and concerned me ever since grade six outdoor school, and I do feel strongly about them, but this weekend I felt like something was missing. There was a missing link somewhere between being interested and actually having a stake in the damn topic. I was convinced, but not passionate and driven in the way the others were.
That bummed me out a lot. I told my colleague all this, because ten hours in a car really brings people together and she is a crazy good mentor – en par with my previous supervisor. I think my admission of lacking passion caught her a little by surprise. Her reply, though, was something she’d said to me before – that is, I don’t have to know which specific field I want to work in just yet, but working in some field – any field – will be good experience and provide me with much-needed expertise that will allow me to move to different fields if necessary. Additionally, whatever skills I develop in one field are transferable. Furthermore, I could use renewable energy as some sort of platform/lens/angle on/through/from which I could both pursue the broader systemic changes I believe in so strongly (e.g. electoral reform in Canada) as well as work in the format – outreach and communications – that optimises my skills. That did sort of confirm what I had been thinking myself: namely, I want to work adjacent or one step back from the centre of renewable energy activism.
Listening to her strategising in the past week has made me realise how little experience I have. But it’s also an incredible opportunity to be thrust into this world of – of action! People are doing things, good things, solid concrete things, to realise the world and society they want. And now that I’ve gone through the doorway to Diagon Alley I daresay I can’t go back. I’d entertained the idea for a bit, solely because it’d be easier to stick my head in the sand, but now that I think about it I realise that this is one of those moments. The switch has been flipped and this is the point of no return.
Just over six years ago I left home to live on my own for the first time. There were many milestones, and at each one I remember thinking: now I’m an adult. Now I’ve grown up. The first cheque for rent, the first credit card, the first summer job, the first time traveling abroad without parents – all important steps in my young adult life, but now I realise that though those brought me one step closer to the world beyond childhood and adolescence, I hadn’t made the transition until now.
Why’s that? Well, mainly because I was/am still a student, and had not yet done anything that really changed anything. But working in this organisation and experiencing what I experienced last week, I see it now: right this moment, the next few months or half year, now is my chance to actually step into the world beyond. The adult world of trying to change things for the better – big things! And having faith that it’s possible!
It’s scary, sure. I still want to be a student forever, because it’s easier. But having the chance to work toward something bigger than myself ? That’s huge. I think I want to do that.