As a New York green builder I get a lot of interns eager to learn about building a better world. They are young, eager and often impatient. After six months on a job site they think they should become manager. This is a big mistake.

It is not that they are not capable of moving up. They are bright and talented and would make a pretty good manager. But by moving up you move away from the base, the foundation, the little daily tasks. And without a broad knowledge base you will not have the depth to keep moving up.

But that isn’t even the point. The point in life is not to be forever going bigger and better. The point is to explore and learn – to become more aware. And you can’t do that as easily if you are all grown up.

A volunteer building with straw bale at the Czech building center Permalot

A volunteer building with straw bale at the Czech building center Permalot

When you are jobless, homeless, without children, a mortgage and a career you are perfectly poised to loose yourself in the flow of experience, letting it carry you where it may.

Here is part of a letter from an intern who wants to join Eco Brooklyn. For the past six years they have drifted from one cool experience to another, creating a great base. This is what I did. It is what I suggest anyone does.

my boss worked out an arrangement with me that allowed me to take time off each year to explore my growing interest. I chose to be involved with the following projects:

– Found out that Paolo Soleri (of Arcosanti fame) is still alive, and signed up for the 5-week construction internship helping to build an arcology in the Arizona desert.
– Volunteered for Yoga Cusco (offshoot of  Yoga Inbound) in Peru for a month, helping to build their yoga studio in the Sacred Valley.
– 3-month natural building internship & PDC (the only one to “graduate”!) at Permalot in Czech Republic, including over a week with a client in Germany, and additional time in Czech helping my former roommate build his cob home on an empty field.
– Volunteered 1 month at  Totoco in Nicaragua, helping to build the farm/animal husbandry part of their project.
– Random volunteer gigs with Habitat-NYC, Cool Roofs, and the local neighborhood garden.
– Visited Gaviotas in Colombia and The Venus Project in Florida.
– Just started (literally, on Friday, after months of bugging them) helping Oko Farms build their aquaponics project in East Williamsburg.

This is a smart path. It is something I can’t do as easily now. Sure I am a green builder doing cool things and maybe Eco Brooklyn will be lucky enough to be listed on this person’s resume with all these other visionary projects. But although definitely possible it is harder for me to take off and sleep on a floor somewhere donating my time carrying mud all day, no matter how great the project is.

But when you know and have very little – like everyone who is fresh out of the nest, you can be the sponge. Just my two cents on this Monday morning as I got this intern’s resume. Now I must go back to bidding jobs, negotiating contracts and all the other things a “cool and alternative” New York green builder has to deal with.