Q: What was your major in college? What kind of job did you envision for yourself when you were a senior?
A: B.S. in Physics with an Astronomy concentration and a minor in Mathematics. My Senior year I envisioned a job in the outdoors working with youth. Previous years though, I saw myself going to graduate school for Astrophysics, completing groundbreaking research, and then ending up in a teaching position.
Q: What is your job now?
A: For the past year and a half I have been working for Outward Bound in Florida. Outward Bound is an experiential-based outdoor leadership program with bases all over the world and serving a wide range of youth and adults. I, in particular, work as a wilderness instructor for struggling teens, and lead either 20 or 30 day canoe expeditions- most often in the Everglades.
Q: Do you like it?
A: Overall I really enjoy the job. There have been many tough days (just as with any job) where I ask myself, “what am I doing with my life?” However, watching teens learn more about themselves and their choices, and how to apply everything they learn in the wilderness to their lives back home make it all worthwhile. Plus, I’ve never worked with a more funny or silly group of people.
Q: How has your job allowed you to travel to new places?
A: Typically I work for a month straight and then have a few weeks off to do whatever and go wherever. Additionally, there are Outward Bound bases all over the country and world, which creates a unique and diverse community. Consequently, I either meet instructors from other bases who are traveling to exciting places, or know that I have the opportunity to visit (and maybe even work at) other bases from time to time.
Q: Where is the coolest place you have been for work?
A: I frequently get to visit the Everglades for work which is a pretty amazing place. I originally thought, “mangroves and salt water… this will be a boring life,” but my first trip there blew me away! The wildlife and scenery are pretty phenomenal. The best place though, is our solo site, Highland Beach. Highland is supposedly the most remote beaches in the country, and definitely most remote place in Florida. The sunsets from there are spectacular!
Q: What’s one time when you’ve had to go outside of your comfort zone for work?
A: Just one time I’ve been outside of my comfort zone? First thought that comes to mind is night paddling on the Gulf of Mexico (in 16 ft canoes) while the wind picks up. Not to mention I’m responsible for 8 scared teenage girls at this point too. Well that, and pooping on the canoes while surrounded by all of the students… Needless to say I’m no longer poop shy.
Q: How have you grown from having a job that requires a lot of travel?
A: One main thing I’ve learned from living a life of travel (and mostly living out of my car,) is how much stuff I don’t need. I’ve also learned the importance of reaching out to friends and family you don’t see frequently. Going from seeing your friends everyday at college to maybe once a year, if you’re lucky, forces you to find ways to stay in touch. I’ve become a huge fan of old fashioned letters and postcards. A final thing I’ve learned from this job is how to embrace and appreciate diversity. Not just with the situations you find yourself in, but more importantly, the diversity of people you’re surrounded by. Take the chance to learn from those around you and get a bit more culture in your life.
Q: What are the challenges of being on the road so much?
A: A few challenges of being on the road is struggling to answer the question ‘where are you from?’ Also, keeping in touch with close friends from your life before travel. Filing taxes and receiving mail also get a bit tricky depending on how much you move and where you work different jobs.
Q: Do you think you’ll ever work in an office from 9-5?
A: I’ve only ever worked once doing the 9-5 thing, and it was summer astronomy research, so still not your typical office job. I’ve definitely been spoiled in my wide range of job opportunities, and I’ve come to learn how many options there are to find a job that fits your lifestyle. As cliched as it sounds though, you can do any job as long as you love it. So while I don’t readily see myself enjoying a 9-5, if it’s for an organization I believe in, and I enjoy the work then sure, I can do a 9-5. I’ll always try to find exciting trips to do on the weekends though.
Q: Would you recommend it?
A: Would I recommend it? Traveling, yes. Even if all you can do is a few weekend trips a year, get out and explore! Would I recommend working for Outward Bound? Definitely. Outward Bound is first and foremost a leadership school, based on some pretty awesome foundations and guiding principles. Even if you can’t get a job working for them, check out the variety of courses they offer and sign yourself up for one!
Q: What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
A: Dear Younger Monica, don’t be afraid to get to really know your professors, teachers, advisors, or other random adults with interests similar to yours. Just because they have a few more years of life experience doesn’t mean they aren’t similar to you, or that you cannot be friends with them. Do not miss out establishing those connections or getting to know them as a whole, real person just because they are not your peer. Also, don’t feel like you have to hide different parts of your personality or interests from different groups of people. Life is a whole lot easier, and more fulfilling if you are just who you are with everyone. People are more forgiving, understanding, and accepting than you might think. Not only that, but letting your ‘freak flag fly’ first just may encourage and empower others to embrace and show their quirky sides too.
Q: How could someone get a job doing what you do?
A: Start by doing what you love and getting experience with that. If you are looking for a job leading outdoor trips, first find what type of outdoor activities are your style. Meet up with local groups, find friends who have experience or a similar interest, check out some how to books from the library, and most importantly, get outside and practice it! The more comfortable you feel with that area, the easier it is to market yourself with those skills. (Also, keep a running list of the activities you do- many jobs will look for that detailed list of experience.) Next, you can find related jobs through a variety of venues- local businesses, camps, google/ online postings. Some options are backdoorjobs.com, and signing up for the NOLS job announcements. Finally, networking and meeting people associated with the outdoor world frequently leads to new opportunities and ideas.