When I was a junior in college, I got an email from a friend about an upcoming job interview on campus. She worked for a company, Apogee Adventures, the previous summer, and she recommended that I look into it. That evening, I went and listened to Kevin Cashman, the founder and co-director of Apogee, talk about summer opportunities for college-aged students. Apogee is an outdoor organization that runs hiking, cycling, and community service trips for teenagers ages 11 to 18 around the world, and Kevin was recruiting for new summer leaders. As I sat in the information session, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I kept thinking, “You can get paid to travel, and spend your summer outside with kids?” I interviewed the next day, and by some miracle I was hired to lead a cycling trip from Freeport, Maine to Quebec City, carrying all of our gear with us along the way.
My life was changed by the simplicity of an Apogee trip. You travel every day by bike, sleep in a tent each night, and cook all meals over campfire stoves. My summer felt both humbling and freeing, and I realized how little I needed to be truly happy. On top of it all, Apogee felt like a family. The other leaders were outstanding role models, funny and dynamic, and they quickly became my best friends. My two bosses, Kevin and Chad, were brilliant, supportive, and I looked up to them immensely. At this point in my life, I felt like I was living in a utopia.
After graduating from college, I led for my second summer with Apogee, cycling from Eugene, Oregon to San Francisco. That summer I cycled over 1,700 miles (my thigh muscles and tan lines were proof), and I realized I was not ready to follow into the assumed role of moving to a city and work as a financial planner. Instead, I applied for scholarships to travel and volunteer (I spent eight weeks working at a community center in Buenos Aires), and set up a winter job working in Vail, Colorado, where I worked in a high-end clothing shop from November until May – oh yeah, and skied my butt off.
Argentina taught me independence, and Vail, Colorado allowed me to post-pone the inevitable; I had to support myself financially. Luckily enough, while I was working in Vail, I got a call from Kevin. He offered me the opportunity to continue to lead trips and come on as an Assistant Director! And on salary! For me, it was a dream job and the opportunity of a lifetime.
Since moving to Maine to work full-time, I realized what it means to work for an outdoor company as well as a small business. The majority of the year is dedicated to preparing the summer adventures. That means logistics, marketing, meeting with prospective families, and leader hiring. My job does allow me to travel throughout the winter – for about six weeks – as I “sell” Apogee to students and go to some of the best colleges in the world looking for new leaders. And of course, I get to lead trips in the summer. In the summers of 2013 and 2014, I led trips in the Caribbean and Montana.
While I love my job, and I feel very fortunate to be where I am, it still is “work.” I spend the majority of my days – from 9:00am to 5:30pm – at a computer sending emails to new families, organizing our trip information packets, and outlining trip logistics. I rub my eyes often from looking for too many hours at a computer screen, and the majority of my outdoor excursions (during the week) are my jogs that I take during my lunch break. Don’t let this scare you. I always feared that working 9 to 5 meant I was giving up my freedom to travel, be outside, and experience the world. However, working in these classically feared hours has given me more freedom than I knew because now I can afford to travel, eat the foods I want, and order the IPA on draft rather than crack open the warm PBR from my backpack (nothing wrong with that).
There is no job that’s going to give you everything you need to live in perfect harmony. And if you don’t know what to do or where to go, don’t worry. No one does. I wake up every day and wonder if there’s somewhere else I should be. But, at the end of the day it is your responsibility to work hard, create your own happiness in each moment, and do work that you’re proud of. I don’t have the key to finding the perfect job or building the ideal life. But if Apogee taught me anything, it’s always come back to life’s simple pleasures; surround yourself with good people, eat good food, take care of your body, and don’t be afraid to smile – a lot.