By: Erin McCready
I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow.
-Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!
I spent the majority of my first CCC meeting focusing on keeping my mouth off my chest and hoping no one discovered their mistake in allowing me to be a part of this group. As each Fellow introduced themselves and their projects, I grew more in awe of this small but mighty collection of human beings and more aware of how little I felt I had to contribute. I was the little league player in the World Series locker room, I was one of those amateur chefs on Chopped when Alex Guarnaschelli first tries their dish. I was, I suspect, anyone who has ever met George Clooney in person; praying that I wouldn’t spit up on myself or fall out of my chair, surreptitiously checking that I remembered to put on pants that morning.
I suppose the good and bad news is: this is not a new feeling for me; for most of my life I have pretty consistently volunteered for teams, projects, and jobs that were beyond what I felt comfortable doing.
I began my undergraduate career ten years ago as a pre-vet/equine science major. Four semesters in I was a lackluster student, bored with undergraduate science and questioning my direction. I applied for an internship at a large equine veterinary practice in Lexington as an escape and was surprised when I was accepted. After a weeklong orientation, my first patient was a Kentucky Derby winner whose pictures had decorated my wall as a little girl.
Was it absolutely terrifying? Yes. Did I learn more in those six months than I had in the two previous years at university? Absolutely.
I managed to segue that job into a position at a large racehorse breeding farm in Australia. My first week, dressed in a sundress on my day off walking to meet a friend for brunch, my new boss spotted me and called me over. He directed my attention to the horse in front of him straining through the pains of advanced labor and asked if I wanted to “foal this one down.” I paused for a second to make sure this wasn’t some Aussie joke and then dove in well, hand first. This was my introduction to what should be called the Land Down-In-Over-Your-Head.
Australians seem to be particularly fond of the “learn through experience method”; perhaps it is because nearly everything in Australia, if given the chance, will kill you and so the time allotted for training replacements is somewhat limited. Either way I lived, and I came out of the whole experience a different person and a significantly better horsewoman.
A year later and hundreds of deliveries under my belt, I was offered a position as assistant foaling manager at another well-known farm, this time in rural South Africa, where I would be managing a broodmare band of about four hundred and a largely Zulu speaking team of about twelve or so men. Unlike Australia, where I already knew a number of people when I arrived, I stepped onto the tarmac in Durban around midnight local time after twenty-three hours of flying, missing a suitcase, speaking only one of the country’s eleven official languages and not knowing a soul. If I hadn’t been so tired and so overwhelmed I probably would have wondered if this was finally the time where I had bitten off more than I could chew. After another hour and a half of driving with a man that I had only just met, I arrived on the farm in the midst of an outbreak of a devastating disease in their pregnant mare herd, the very horses that I would be responsible for.
The next seven months weren’t any easier: the first of the farm’s clients I met were members of a royal family; I became an expert at roll-starting a truck; I hand sewed my own miniature fly masks and muzzles because the import taxes into South Africa on foal-sized tack were absurd; and I developed a mysterious GI condition – possibly a parasite – but more likely a stress-related illness that made me understand why horses throw themselves on the ground and roll when they feel sick.
But once again I hesitate to reflect on those experiences with anything but absolute gratitude for every moment of fear and thrown-head-first-into-the-deep-end sensation.
So when Dr. Suzanne Kent, my capstone professor and leader of team Honduras, asked if I might be interested in being part of her research team, I once again found myself agreeing to something I wasn’t quite ready to do. Maybe it’s because I’m a masochist, or an adrenaline junky. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because everything I have ever done that was worth doing was hard and terrifying and done with people so much more experienced than myself that I thought they must have made a mistake in even allowing me through the door in the first place.
I think there is a time for a “fake it ‘til you make it” approach, and there is a time to come clean and let people know what you are working with; this is clearly the second. So this, my first blog as a member of Team Honduras, is my introduction, my appeal for patience and my thank you note to Dr. Kent and the Center for Collaborative Conservation for giving me the opportunity to once more be scared, and out of my element, and surrounded by people I can’t wait to learn from.