Climate Change and Natural Resource Policy Expert, La Ventana, Mexico

Ms. Johns was nominated by another trusty WOW Woman. In fact our paths crossed for mere ten minutes (to take these photos and then continue on our merry ways). We did connect on social media though where I discovered more about Tracy via her posts and photos. With post like the one below, I have not regretted connecting to this WOW Woman. Just the other day this was her update to the world:

“Learning languages is a strange thing, eh? When I started working in the Congo, I pretty much had to start learning French. That study led a few years later to a job that I only qualified for because I had some French language skills. Now my new job doesn’t require French at all, but the language has got hold of me, and I can’t help wanting to improve, even though I basically have no real natural use for it currently. I am am headed to a small rural village in France for the next two months for the sole purpose of talking to people who don’t know me and don’t speak my native language. Why? Je ne sais pas. Here goes! “

And she dives in!

I’ve come to appreciate Ms. Johns’s humour, passion for the environment (she is a climate change policy expert), fearlessness (she was a marine!!), love for nature and animals but most of all her adventurous spirit. Please enjoy the Q/A with this wonderful human.

1. Name.

Tracy Johns.

2. Where is your hometown?

I grew up in Clymer, PA and currently live in Washington, DC

3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?

Profession - climate change and natural resource policy expert/title - Program Officer

4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?

I took a pretty circuitous route. I went from an undergrad in biology at a "creation science" university, to a masters from a department of ecology and evolution - quite an evolution! During my graduate studies, I was fortunate enough to work as an intern at the UN convention on climate change (UNFCCC). This experience was a launchpad for me in so many ways - my first experience living abroad, an introduction to a field that has provided me with a tremendously rich and fulfilling career path, and the beginning of the development of my professional network, which has been one of the best things about my work. I’m very proud to be a US Marine. I'm proud that I have dramatically reduced the amount of meat and dairy products I consume, and thus my contribution to animal suffering. I'm proud of my little sister from the Big Brother Big Sister program, Michaela, who graduates from college this year.

I have had many turning points in my life and career - the experience at the UN was the major one for me professionally. My first time sitting down to write the first pages of my first novel....a major turning point in my creativity. Moving to San Francisco and going to Burning Man for the first time - a major turning point in my personal life.

5. What did you study in school?

I studied Biology in undergrad and Ecology and Environmental Policy in my Masters Degree work.

6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?

When I was 20, I was sure I'd be married with kids. No kids for me, and I've had time and energy to be more deeply engaged in the lives of my friends, to travel, throw myself into my career, live internationally, experience cultures, love, magic in so many forms with and through so many amazing people!

7. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?

I was fired unexpectedly from a job I loved by a mentor whom I worshiped. I was so hurt, devastated, and thought my career would be over. I relied on my wonderful professional network, my family and friends, to help pull me through that dark time. I struggled for a year or so, and then ended up in a job that allowed me to live in the Congo, and really make a difference for people and wildlife on the ground. I learned that i could make my own way, that I didn't need to follow the path of another person in order to succeed. I learned the pain of betrayal, but I also learned from the unwavering support of those who care about me, in my personal and professional life. 

8. Advice for other women?

Trying and failing is so much better than not trying. You're smarter than you think you are. Speak up, take every chance to learn. Learn how to ask for and accept the help of those who care for you. Love is stronger.

9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?

I have been so fortunate to have strong women role models in my life. My Mom for starters, who raised two kids while working several jobs and still making the time for fitness and things that made her herself. My fellow Women Marines. My amazing boss and advisor from graduate school. My best friend, who is raising a family and building her career, and staying playful and giving of herself. We MUST be all we can. The world needs us!

10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?

Running. Writing. With my dogs, the people I love. On the dance floor. In nature.  Near the sea.

11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why

Running has sustained me since I was 12. I am a runner to the core. I'm proud that I'm making the time to write.

12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?

I think I may pass on the whole "growing up" thing, I'm having too much fun! I want to finish my novel. Become a better friend, a better partner. I'd like to get into some trail running again some day, maybe some long distances. I want to become completely conversant in French!

13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?

I still deal with fears that I'm not smart enough, competent enough.

14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?

If I could bring what I have learned into another go at life, I'd be more honest and vulnerable with people I care about. I'd ask more questions, speak up more. I'd start learning languages sooner!

15. What inspires you?

I'm inspired by people facing their challenges and making something amazing out of the refining fire of adversity. I'm inspired by literature, by the sea, by the solitude of nature. By those who sacrifice to reduce the suffering of others, who defend the defenseless. 

I'm inspired by people who live their values in their choices.

16. What are you hopeful about?

I'm hopeful about the generations coming behind me - so much determination, creativity, appreciation for diversity.

17. What are some ingredients to a good life?

Connection, learning, stretching your mind, pushing yourself. Getting engaged in the joys and sadnesses of those you love. Vulnerability. Poetry. Really good dj's! Dogs, lots of dogs! Friends. Family. Tea.

18. What is a quality you most love about yourself and why?

I love that I am pretty relentless when I decide on something. It can manifest as really annoying stubbornness, but it got me through boot camp, into grad school, and so many other places I never imagined I'd be.

19. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

Stop worrying so much about what people think of you. Ask the question. Try the answer. Question authority. Think for yourself. Trust your own inner voice.

20. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)

I've always got multiple books going, in addition to my New Yorker, Vogue and Economist! Books - Left Hand of Darkness, An Ice Cream War, A Theory of Justice, The Economics of Inequality.

I don't gift books often, but my favorites, which I return to over and over are: The Awakening by Kate Chopin; The English Patient by Michaal Ondaatje; The White Hotel by DM Thomas; Watership Down by Richard Adams. 

21. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description? What would you tell them if you had an opportunity, of why you admire them?

I am so inspired by my friend Tracy Jackson, who is aligning her life to her values, taking risks, and pursuing her passions, while being present for her friends, and sharing her journey so eloquently.

Nancy Grimm - I would tell her that I will always be grateful to her for taking a chance on me, going to bat for me, and living her life so passionately, in work, love, and fun! I admire Nancy because she is a true bad-ass. Brilliant scientist, rebel, caring, giving, leading a life of brilliance.

My Aunt Sandy, Sandra Schnelle - I would tell her that she has been my hero since childhood, and that the books she gave me fired my imagination and created a passion for literature that has so enriched my life. I admire her because she struck out, she took a different path, she sought adventure, and she still chases her dreams and inspires me today. 

My Mom, Sharon Johns - I would tell her that her grit and devotion to her kids still awes me. That she never gives herself enough credit, and that she is a beautiful soul. I admire her because she is curious, she challenges herself, doesn't shy away from tough stuff, and has inspired and awed me with her devotion in the face of pain. I know where my relentless streak comes from!

22. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)? 

Nothing shareable yet but that novel is coming!