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By: Nancy Stoner

When I was first launching my career, I never would have imagined that I would pursue environmental law, environmental philanthropy, and environmental non-profit management. Had I known, I may have taken the time to study more environmental science along the way. However, there is an important lesson I have learned along my journey to becoming the President of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, which is as long as you enjoy learning new things and continue to seek knowledge throughout your life, you can do pretty much anything you put your mind to. Yes, there may have been some merit to what our parents were saying when they shared this cliche line as we were growing up. A willingness to learn will set you leagues ahead in any career, and as you learn, you will discover more about yourself and your interests. You may end up in a pleasantly unexpected place. 

The most important question you should ask yourself about your career is “Is this where my heart takes me?” No matter what career choice you make, you will inevitably work a lot of hours, so make sure you find a career you are willing to devote a lot of time to. I have loved every job I’ve ever had — of course not every minute of every job — but every job has been interesting, rewarding, and fun. I followed my passions and curiosity and have stayed open to new experiences where I felt I could make a meaningful difference, and it has led me to some incredible opportunities. Of course you will also need to make a living with your career — as your parents also told you — so this detail can’t be overlooked. Make sure you are pursuing a career that is sustainable, but don’t forget that time is the most valuable thing you have in your life. Make sure you are spending it wisely. 

You may imagine your future career and have a clear vision of where you want to end up, or you may have no more than a faint idea of where you want to go. Both of these are fine so long as you are open to growth and new experiences, and you are willing to make adjustments along the way. When thinking about where you would like your career to take you, ask yourself where and how you would like to make a difference, because you CAN make a difference. And, if you put your mind to it, you will.

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Nancy Stoner is president of Potomac Riverkeeper Network.  One of the nation’s most experienced water policy experts, Nancy has a rich and distinguished background in protecting our nation’s water. Nancy also served as Co-Director, Water Program, Natural Resources Defense Council, where she co-directed a national program to promote sound water resource management nationally and in specific watersheds, such as the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Anacostia River.

She lives in Silver Spring, MD with her husband, Marc Machlin. She has two grown children, Laura and Jared. She enjoys whitewater rafting, tubing, canoeing, birding, and gardening.