This is a personal account of how I changed my life and ended up doing what I do now… something I love. It is not meant to be a blue print for how to change your life but more a series of lessons I have learnt on my life’s journey that may be of use to you.
Lesson #1 Take some time out
Now the first thing to highlight is that a couple of important questions have to be asked before you embark on any potentially life changing journey and they are; do you really want to change your life? And why? At the time these questions were not obvious to me. It was 2003 and I had just had my contract in the Middle East terminated (I was an aircraft technician) so was left with a choice; do I continue in an industry I had been in for about 20 years or do I break free and try something totally different? Now, don’t get me wrong the industry I was in had served me well. I had visited some amazing places and met some great people. I had worked my way up to a respectable position but something about my life had become stale. Other than my job I wasn’t really good at anything, I had a few hobbies but nothing that I passionately cared about. So to help me decide what to do I went on a trip to New Zealand with my redundancy money from my previous employers.
This trip turned out to be life changing for a couple of reasons. I had travelled already quite extensively but mostly with the RAF so was used to staying in hotels, this was different. I had tagged on with a couple of my friends who were on a RTW trip and were travelling on a budget, hitch hiking and staying in hostels. All new experiences for me….they were also intent on trying out all of the adventurous activities New Zealand had to offer…
Just taking the time out away from my normal routine and normal environment allowed me to focus on what was important to me.
Lesson #2 Find your passion
So I found myself in New Zealand a little out of my depth but game for a challenge. I signed up for a raft of activities over the following weeks. I swam with dolphins in Dusky sound, white water rafted shotover gorge, sailed down and flew over Milford Sound, Ice climbed on Frans Josef glacier and sea kayaked Abel Tasman national park! Apparently all regular fayre for seasoned gap year travellers. It was these adventures that really had an effect on me. Whilst kayaking on Abel Tasman I asked our guide naively if this was his actual job and did he get paid for it!
I think that day a seed was planted that deep down this was what I really wanted to be doing. Just being out in wild places, on the sea and in the mountains was awe inspiring. It was moving me emotionally coupled with the challenge of learning a new skill, I thought, I could really do this… This was my passion.
Lesson #3 Get real, do something…
Of course a couple of weeks later I was back in the UK in the middle of winter with no job and living with my sister and her family! New Zealand and my dream of a life in the outdoors seemed a long way away. On a positive note I had just started a new relationship with Jenny… who was eventually to become my wife. I continued with a few temporary jobs working in a factory but nothing ground breaking. Jenny was instrumental in convincing me to follow my dreams.
I researched pathways into my dream career and took some small steps towards achieving it. A kayaking course at Plas Y Brenin fuelled my passion. The instructors were so enthusiastic all they cared about was paddling. On their days off they were going paddling at work they were paddling, their energy had rubbed off on me. Quite often a big change in your life can be daunting when reality sets in but do something small, something positive that takes you towards your dream.
Lesson #4 Get support
Up to this point in my life I had very much relied on myself for support but you can achieve a lot more with support from others. Jenny had pointed me in the direction of some people she knew who had worked in the outdoors so I had a chat with them and decided to swap full time work for full time education and start an Outdoor Recreation course at Lincoln University. This was awesome and allowed me to be immersed in the subject and meet some really knowledgeable and experienced outdoor educators who guided me on the path to my dream career. I joined the canoe club that introduced me to some amazing people and have some great adventures.
Lesson #5 Be reflective
Again, another new lesson for me, the ability to look subjectively at your performance and work out what you are doing right, what needs improving and what to do next is a great tool to have.
Lesson #6 Get out of your comfort zone
A perennial favourite in the outdoor industry, the ability to challenge yourself once in a while can bring big benefits. Having finished at university I ended up with a job as assistant manager at an outdoor centre on the west coast of Ireland this was definitely out of my comfort zone! But it was an absolutely amazing experience, I worked with some great people and in some amazing settings. I was facilitating young people to have their own experiences kayaking, surfing, climbing and hillwalking. This was 4 years after I had the initial epiphany whilst out in New Zealand.
Lesson #7 Keep on improving
Whilst having a great time in Ireland I knew it was only temporary, I needed a more solid career path. I got a job with Outward Bound in the Lake District and this gave me a whole load of skills and experiences and around 8 years after the New Zealand trip I felt I had achieved my dream job…
Of course, you get that dream job, then what? Well that’s the beauty of the lessons I have learnt, the cycle continues, get out of your comfort zone, keep improving, keep reflecting…. I am now wanting to inspire and educate others to have their own adventures and experiences.
If you have any comments or questions about a life in the outdoor industry or about changing careers please get in touch in the comments section…