I have dreamed about owning my own business for a long time. I never had a plan as to when I would make my dream become a reality. Once COVID-19 hit I found a window of opportunity to begin exploring what it would mean to design my own business.
I started thinking of entrepreneurship when I was a sophomore in college. I was studying forestry. Initially, I wanted to work for a federal agency, such as the USDA Forest Service or US Fish & Wildlife Service. I got a chance to work as a forestry/survey aid for a land surveying crew in Colville, Washington for the summers of 2017 and 2018. I was stationed in the Colville National Forest far away from my family, friends, and everyone that I knew. I got to live in a federal bunkhouse in the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge for one summer with two women who were Forest Service archaeologists. The following summer I lived with my crewmate, an avid outdoorsman and long-time survey technician, at he and his wife's home.
I loved living and working in the mountains of the Evergreen State. I met so many people working jobs that I wanted. Field botanists, silviculturists (foresters), fire ecologists, wildland firefighters, surveyors, soil scientists, and many others inspired me and encouraged me to follow my dreams. I had so many first-time experiences in Washington. I drove across the country by myself multiple times from Illinois to Washington and back. I tubed down a cold river. I camped alone for my first time in the Northern Cascades. I traveled to the Olympic Peninsula by crossing Puget Sound on a ferry by myself. I convinced my boss in the Forest Service to allow me a pack test (3 miles, 45 minutes, 45 lbs vest) both summers so I could be certified as a firefighter type II. I never had enough time to work a wildfire. I shadowed a silviculturist (my for-sure dream job) for a day because I met him while walking during our pack test. I really made my time in Washington my own. Some of my dreams came true.
I kept dreaming. My junior year my best friend and I found ourselves working as a team. I started a solo project, inspired by my environmental education mentor and a local legend. My friend came back from studying abroad and we discussed global issues and what it means to solve them locally. I showed him my project and he loved it. We started working and found ourselves excelling quickly within the university. We met many big-wigs face-to-face to make our projects succeed.
We worked day and night while navigating our academic obligations. We started making a ruckus in the university and our project started to really take off. We got support from the Honors Department to organize the second-ever undergraduate designed class. I was fast-tracked into the Honors program as a regular student to make our project work. Without a clear understanding of its importance, we both joined a group called the University Innovation Fellows (UIF). They promised to help make our project succeed by giving us training and a network of support.
UIF taught us about entrepreneurship and innovation. All of a sudden I was being treated as a change-maker within the university. It was really exciting and got me actualizing what it meant to be an entrepreneur. UIF even took us to the Austrian Alps and Germany for a week to experience a regional meetup with other universities in the UIF program.
Side note perspective: I grew up in an urban environment and totally blew off my own education throughout grade school and high school. I worked food and retail and a bunch of jobs I didn't enjoy before going to college. I deal with depression and anxiety due to past experiences. I had to learn how to learn in college. I really pushed myself beyond my preconceived notions of my intelligence. So, consider how it felt for me to all of a sudden be making an honors-level university class, working and travelling with academics who looked to me as an expert in forestry, being a part of a group based in Stanford University (UIF) and meeting international scholars, innovators, and change-makers. It was WILD! The pandemic began as soon as we got back from our trip to Europe. All of our plans changed. Our class was interrupted, our large-group program ideas had to be cancelled, all of our in-person classes were cancelled, graduation was cancelled, and I thought the people I loved were in danger from this new disease. It was a tough reality to face. Nonetheless, it was a big stress-reliever in terms of my obligations being reduced. I was working way too much and started to feel burned out. I started missing classes and meetings with people. I wasn't hiking or camping as much as I loved to. I worked through the initial burnout and began exploring with my friend new job opportunities in the local area and picked up a gardening and forestry gig. We decided to focus on gardening because it gave us some opportunity to stay in town and practice other skills we didn't have as well as serve the community. We began our own startup business and had a couple environmental education opportunities that were tough because of the pandemic. We also got to do forestry in West Virginia and made a writeup for a group of landowners. We lived with a monk in town and learned a lot about Hinduism. It was an interesting summer.
For me, I began to burn out even more. There was so much uncertainty and many uncomfortable situations I was in. I lost my appetite, I wasn't showering properly, I wasn't exercising, I was laying down a lot, I was over-committing, I wasn't following through on promises, my relationships were getting really difficult, I was hyper-focused on negative experiences I had and I felt lost. After a few life-changing moments, I decided to head back home to my family. They finally felt comfortable accepting me back during the pandemic. I got home and released all the pressure. I told my friend that I didn't want to continue with our startup. I cancelled all of my plans. I let go of everything so that I could have some space to think.
My mind was everywhere. I was stressed. I was in survival-mode. All of my childhood and adolescent anxieties came back because I was home. I didn't really know what I was experiencing until I read articles about entrepreneurial burnout. For weeks after reading these articles I started dreaming up my own business. I wanted to do something with trees and forestry. Although, I felt wiped out and totally lacked energy to do anything. I had to heal. I needed time and space to think for myself. I had to revisit past traumas and make sense of my experiences back at school and post-graduation.
I am very grateful to have had my family to support me during this very tough time in my life. I don't know where I would be or what untrue realities I'd still be living in my mind. I found a therapist and I'm visiting him weekly online. I clean myself regularly. I started walking aimlessly everyday for miles. I do yoga. I exercise more. I eat more. I feel much better than I did a few months ago. I make music. I play games with my brother and sister. I watch Youtube and Masterclasses. I help my neighbors. I have home-based projects (growing trees, painting, gardening, video making, etc). I still do a lot, but I only do what serves my needs and my family's needs right now.
My business, Sylvics Forestry & Nursery, is based in meeting my needs and the needs of all life on Earth. My mission in "Growing Trees to Meet Life's Needs". This whole learning experience for me has taught me mostly about the importance of meeting my needs first so that I can help others meet their own. Now that I am more healthy than I was before and have more of a routine, I feel comfortable moving into startup mode. I accomplish one step at a time. Three days ago I applied with the local county clerk to get Sylvics Forestry & Nursery recognized legally. (Check the PJ Star in Peoria for my name in the ads). I need to get an FEIN so I can purchase things wholesale for my nursery (soil, trees, pots, etc).
I am nearing my opportunity to have a fully-functioning nursery. I still have a long way to go with many hurdles. I am excited for what the future will bring. The forestry consulting side of my business will probably take a while longer until I feel ready. For now I will make videos that are educational and entertaining. I appreciate all of the help that I have received along the way. I feel more connected to my freedom and sense of self than I ever have in my life. I think that entrepreneurship is a holistic journey that requires all of me. My mental, physical, and spiritual health is the basis to my success as an entrepreneur.