I had just finished up my first season as a river guide when my parents sat me down and asked me that dreaded question. The truth was, I had found my calling but I didn’t know how to break it to my mom and dad that my college degree would go unused.
I knew I had found something special on the river and I wasn’t about to give it up. But how do you explain that to a society who views success as financial stability? How do you tell your parents that you’d prefer to be perpetually dirty and sunburnt, over having a permanent address?
I came to the conclusion that the most real job you can have is the one that makes you come alive, the one that sets your heart aflame each morning. It’s the job that allows you to be the best and most complete version of yourself, while pushing you to be better. It’s the one that both fulfills you and replenishes you. It’s the one you love. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else.
For me, that’s guiding. Here’s why:
People are in their most raw and vulnerable state in the wild.
This goes for both guides and guests. Take away crutches like electronics, access to the media and make-up; and voilà everyone is fully engulfed in the moment, fully themselves. Freedom from the pressures of daily life is beautiful and you will have no choice but to fall in love with your wild, vulnerable self.
Guiding is an incredible way to gain valuable interpersonal and career skills.
What other job simultaneously allows you to be a customer service expert, safety facilitator, chef, team leader, and logistical planner? None. Guiding is unique in the fact that it provides the opportunity to gain a ton of real-life-skills. The result is a well-rounded, adaptable, confident individual. So, even if guiding isn’t a long-term plan, it prepares you immensely for a vast number of other careers.
You are able to create life-changing moments.
I don’t think I’m going too far by saying that most of us hope to leave a positive impact on the world. Seeing a child’s eyes sparkle with bewilderment during their first wilderness experience or witnessing someone facing their biggest fear – these are the small moments that assure guides they are doing something important, something meaningful.
My parents, along with my closest relatives, signed up for a river trip my second year of guiding. I was excited for their support, but nervous that I would get grilled with the same questions as before. Lucky for me, the river spoke louder than any response I could have articulated.
As the last night of the trip wrapped up and the guides joined the chair circle, my parents looked up at me, nodded and smiled. It was a small gesture, but I knew in this moment that they understood. They knew why I was out there, what I had found.