Taking the Plunge: It keeps getting better

This is an update on my new life of self-employment and -empowerment. Previous entries include: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Whew. Life has been a whirlwind. I’ve been out of Seattle about 80% of the days and nights in the last two months. Most of those have been outdoors, which is totally excellent. I’m on track to blow out of the water any of my previous records on number of nights slept under the stars, and total hours not spent under a roof. Much of this has been through my new job leading backpacking trips for middle and high school boys with the YMCA. I just got back on Saturday from an 8-day adventure through North Cascades National Park, which got me thinking about a lot of what’s happened in my life lately.

Here’s the gist. For a long time, I’ve made a lot of the big decisions of my life on something of a whim. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, and it has worked out extremely well thus far. I’m pretty sure I majored in physics in college because I was good at math and I had a great professor my freshman year. It seemed like a good idea, but I never really though about the reality of the field: hyper-competitive academic environment, lots of colleagues with poor social skills (sorry physicists, but I doubt you’d disagree), a life spent in a lab working primarily on intangibles. It could be a really a good life, but it doesn’t mesh well with a lot of my core values.

I had pretty much realized these things by the time I applied to grad school, so I decided to do geology instead (not coincidentally at a school with a great ultimate frisbee team), expecting most of those qualms to be remedied by the nature of the field. If I had played my cards differently, I think it could have worked out really well, but I ended up pigeon-holing myself in geophysics, and spent most of my grad student years on a computer looking at satellite data. Good intention, but I didn’t quite follow through with it. This led to a lot of exploring which was hugely valuable, and which fluctuated on the intention-whim spectrum: sustainable agriculture in Italy, various construction projects, an office job in green building consulting.

In the past year I’ve gotten better at making intentional decisions, and basing those decisions around my core values. It helps that I have made big strides in actually clarifying my life values. So when this job to lead backpacking trips came along, I pretty much knew I had to take it. It still wasn’t easy, and it even meant parting ways with my most excellent band, Pocket Panda (check them out anyway!) because of the amount of time I’d be out of the city. But the job meant a lot of time in the woods exploring national parks, working with kids, sharing some of my biggest passions, constantly working on healthy relationship building, and taking some big steps out of my comfort zone. I even got to throw creativity into the mix, as the trips I’m leading have an additional focus on art, music, and cooking (seriously, this might be the best job ever).

The focus I’ve put on my creative endeavors lately, primarily painting, has also been filled with intention and alignment with my values. But it has lacked a lot of the positive characteristics of outdoor education, so it has been a revelation to find a way to do both things part of the time. I still have the mental space to go paint at my studio this week, knowing that I’ll be in the woods for weeks straight very soon. I’m sure this will all evolve in impossible-to-predict ways, but for now, I’m continuing to live the dream. And make a little bit of a living in the process!

2 replies
  1. Jerry Jaz says:

    There is a big push for people to get in some career and stay there. I believe it stems from tougher times when school’s purpose was to shape the working class. Now that we manufacture so little (aside from intellectual property) there is no need for a graduating class with shop skills.

    Leading an examined life ranks up there with doing good. Life is way shorter than anyone at the starting line can imagine. I am only 61 but see the end of my life in the not too distant future. Don’t wait until that line of sight is yours and you are forced to reconcile the life you have lead with the life you imagined you’d lead.

    In the scheme of things, we are comet streaks in the sky. Perhaps more important than being bright is to be a pleasing color. I like your colors, Max.

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