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20 Questions Worth Answering Honestly


This brief, but worthwhile self assessment has been doing the rounds recently since first being posted here. The responses of some other interesting folks (Jon Maiden, Rachel and Tom Allen) make particularly good reading also, but here’s my go.

1. Do you earn enough money? Yes,  the advantages of living as a frugal student or on expeditions, means you don’t need much ‘stuff’. So any income, however small, makes you feel quite rich.

2. Do you enjoy your job? Yes, it seems like a minor crime that I get paid to do science every day.

3. Do you prefer Saturday or Monday? Both. I relish the opportunity that a fresh week brings on a Monday morning, but now appreciating the variety of the weekend too.

4. What would you like to be doing one year from now? Can you make that happen? Analyzing a perfect set of data from the Scottish Highlands and fleshing out ambitious plans to one day return to Madagascar.

5. What would you like to be doing five years from now? Will you make that happen? Still working in science, still doing expeditions, still trying to inspire young people to be passionate about conservation. (Rather than surrendering to the pursuit of money, stability and cynicism)

6. What would you do with your life if you were a billionaire? Is it possible to live a modified version of that life anyway? Fund scientific research by the most promising and enthusiastic young conservationists. If that sounds dull and academic, just imagine what the fruits of your labour might look like. Unfortunately, it’s not possible without large sums of surplus money.

7. How much could you cut your outgoings by? How much time at work does that equate to? Not much, aside from stubbornly camping or couchsurfing long term in London. I could run or cycle back from the lab more to save on train fares.

8. Do you have enough spare time to do the things you really enjoy? If not, why not? I decided quite a while ago that dividing working time and free time wasn’t sustainable and wouldn’t be for me. So I put all my effort into making my work my passion. Now that working in science can provide a small income, I can spend all my time enjoying myself!

9. What takes up a lot of your time but is neither unavoidable, rewarding nor enjoyable? Why don’t you cut that/them out immediately, or pay somebody to do it for you? Sitting on trains seems to be the main, unavoidable, loss of useful time.

10. What mildly pleasant, but pretty pointless things do you fritter too much time doing? How many times a day do you check your email/Twitter/Facebook? How much TV do you watch? Endless tinkering with this website, with not enough good content to show for it.

11. What would you like to do more of? Long wild runs in the countryside and talks to older audiences. School talks are great, and a privilege, but I want to give talks where the audience isn’t obliged to be there, it will force me to improve and be more entertaining (or speak to an empty room!).

12. What motivates you to do something well? The opportunity to contribute to something bigger than myself.

13. Who do you envy, and why? I envy Al Humphreys for his charming and unapologetic writing style and people who lived through the 18th and 19th centuries for seeing a time I wish I had; for feeling that the world was inexhaustible (I should really be more grateful for the opportunities available in the 21st century). In reality, I’m sure the benefits of ‘now’, far outweigh the romance of the past.

14. If you were 100 and looking back on your life, would you be happy with a life well-lived? Yes and no. I’ve had a brilliant adventure so far, but feel that I’ve had a lot more out of life, than I’ve given back yet.

15. What makes you proud, satisfied, and content? Very occasionally, I’ve played a small part in encouraging some young people to head off on expeditions. This is what I’m probably most proud of.

16. What makes you frustrated, bored, and unfulfilled? Wasted time in any form.

17. What would you do if you had more talent? Try and get on the telly.

18. What would you do if you had more guts? Stop everything, cycle around the world, come back and pick it up where I left off.

19. What would you do with your life if nobody was watching, judging or commenting? Hopefully the same thing. I’m not sure my life is interesting or important enough for anyone to watch or judge it!

20. What are you going to do about all this? Go back to Explore for another dose of inspiration, keep planning and get back to the work in the lab!

What do you think, an exercise worth doing? or an overindulgence in self reflection.

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  1. Cat

    Just noticing your comment about an older audience… have you tried approaching the Rotary Club? They sponsored me to do a team-building residential when I was in secondary school (which did wonders for me at that stage before college and university) and I kept in touch with them for a few years – just to go along and tell them the latest thing I’d been up to. They were always happy to hear from me and you never know, they might be able to point you in a good direction for funding.

  2. Simon

    This may be a naive question, but are young students the only resource available for getting conservation work “done”? Are people who fell for the “pursuit of money, stability and cynicism” confounded to be mere sources of funding or are we not willing targets eager to be inspired by the knowledge of how meaningful conservation results can be achieved in spite of choices (regarding making a difference) previously made?

    Before hitting the POST button, I reflected a while and tried to find out for myself. For example, I read up on Escape the City, especially the part on who it is for and who it is not for. The impression I got was that if I am were who their services are for, then I wouldn´t really need them.

    I would be surprised if I am the only potential conservation resource looking for a blueprint to execute (and improve on in the process) rather than guidance to blaze my own trail from A-Z. How, as a middle-aged person who loves nature, can I make a living while helping to preserve and restore nature?

    PS: Great site James, thank you for it. I have find more inspiration here than I have on any other site I have gone looking on. In fact I have never posted anywhere else on this topic.

    • James_Borrell

      Hi Simon,

      Thanks for the comment and sorry for the slow reply. I think that’s a great issue you raise, there’s lots of older folks that want to get into conservation.

      I wonder if I could try and collate some stories about how people took career changes… One resource in the mean time might be, there’s many many different routes in there.

      Thanks for commenting, definitely given me something to think about.

  3. Amy Stubblefield
    Amy Stubblefield11-02-2016

    “…trying to inspire young people to be passionate about conservation. (Rather than surrendering to the pursuit of money, stability and cynicism.)” Excellent!

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