By Jeremiah Eaton
Road trips have always been exhilarating for me. I was drawn to them since the very beginning. They were my first tastes of the freedom of exploration, the captivation of curiosity, and the joy of discovery. I have countless memories of my dad driving as I drifted asleep, gazing carelessly out the window as the country miles passed me by. The trips are so much different these days, but the exhilaration of adventure still remains. My last road trip was no exception. Although, it was less about the journey and more about the destination. My dad was still in the car with me, but as a copilot rather than a guide. The classic rock station, our usual soundtrack to adventure, was replaced with podcasts instructing me on how to run effective meetings, develop efficient networks, and create positive change. I was traveling from Michigan to Montana with a goal in mind; I was heading to make an impact through my national service in Energy Corps. This time, as the miles passed me by again, a new feeling began to emerge—a sense of purpose.
My service location of Glacier National Park could not have been better. It has long been my favorite national park, and I was eager to see the park from an internal perspective. My position would succeed in providing that over the course of 11 months as their Sustainability Educator. I started my position eager to learn and ready to change the world. Looking back I realize I was a little too idealistic, and maybe a little too confident. I had the opportunity to see the inner machinations of the large, lumbering machine that is the federal government. I have come to realize that progress comes in inches, and red tape by the mile. It is all too easy to become discouraged and unmotivated when confronted with seemingly insurmountable challenges. I badly wanted to change the system I was working within because I wasn’t getting much done at all. I came to learn that if you can’t make progress outside of the system, then it is best to work within it. I have learned to appreciate certain aspects of bureaucracy, especially the leverage points that the system inherently creates. The largest leverage point I am referring to is system structure, and understanding its importance has enabled me to see the world from a new perspective. I want to briefly describe how thinking in systems can create new opportunities.
My position in Glacier has taught me to find my role within the system’s structure. The National Park Service is a large entity, but not large enough that I couldn’t find my place. I spent my time searching for ways I can work within the system to create positive change. Some of these leverage points are policies that create new rules or guidelines. Some leverage points come in the form of grant opportunities that may help fund a new project. There are many avenues for significant progress, even within a large system like the federal government. I soon found the purpose of my role as the Sustainability Educator, and I was able to overcome my discouragement and lack of motivation. The key to success in a system is to find your role and focus on the leverage points. I found that this applies to many aspects of life, and I believe it is one of the most valuable lessons my service has taught me. This perspective can be boiled down into three steps: learn about the systems that you are operating in, search to find leverage points in that system, and implement solutions that can create the change you wish to see. New perspectives enable you to see new opportunities, and new opportunities can lead to a new world.
My service has given me a new perspective, one that I will carry with me throughout each new stage of life. The opportunity given to me by Energy Corps and Glacier National Park has changed me for the better. Glacier National Park has been my oasis, a place to refresh and renew. I have had the opportunity to delve into sustainability on a whole new level, an experience that gives me hope for a brighter future. I will continue on to the next step in my journey with confidence that I am pursuing my purpose with the fullest extent of my ability. I can say that I am proud of my service with Energy Corps, but I have much more to learn and many new perspectives to embrace. This journey ends in the same way it started. I will be taking a road trip from Montana to Michigan with a goal in mind; I am heading to make an impact though the pursuit and application of knowledge. As I drive back and the miles pass me by, I can look back on this year with pride.
A large thank you to all who have helped me stumble along on this journey of service, and to all of those who are using their sense of purpose to be the greater good.