About the Author, Laura Nelson: I’m a lifetime researcher in happy, healthy, fun living. I love hiking, doing yoga, and playing my violin, and did I mention eating desserts? I’m taking a summer position leading groups of young women on outdoor leadership development trips through the Pacific Northwest. In my daily life I’m a massage therapist and health coach. I’m section-hiking the PCT through Washington with my partner, Josh, a stage 4 cancer survivor. My 70-year old trail-crushing mother is my hiking inspiration.
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On a whim, I went to LinkedIn and put ‘outdoor’ in the search field. A quick scroll brought me to a position ‘Wilderness Instructor’ at the YMCA’s Bold & Gold (boys outdoor leadership development and girls outdoor leadership development) program. “Do you want to make a difference in the world? Do you want to see places in the world that leave you speechless? Do you want to be a part of a supportive inclusive community that embraces differences as something special?” Yes. And the Wilderness Instructor Position was described as: “This is the person leading, inspiring, and providing a physically and emotionally safe space for our students on our 8-22 day wilderness based expeditions. We are looking for backpackers, climbers, and mountaineers who want to share their experience with young people. If you are a talented educator who thrives in an outdoor setting then click the link below to apply. ” Yes, I thought, YES.
I thought about it for a few days, and finally sent an inquiry to the hiring director asking if I should apply. Although I have been backpacking and hiking for years, I haven’t had any formal outdoor leadership training, nor have I worked with youth or professionally lead any expeditions. The director sent a thoughtful email back to me, and we discovered we had a personal connection: his wife was my teacher during my training to become a health coach. This connection awarded me an ‘in’, and he invited me to apply!
I painstakingly compiled my experience into a resume and cover letter. This included a lot of guesstimating about how many personal trips I’ve planned and executed (a lot), and going back 20 years to when I was a camp counselor and worked briefly at an outdoor education school as a challenge course facilitator (these positions feel like a lifetime ago). I was also reminded that I have a BS in Environmental Science from a liberal arts college (the only thing I remember from that is learning the words ‘crepuscular’ and ‘riparian’). My cover letter passionately described my longing for meaning in my work, and my desire to get back to a calling I’ve felt since my youth. The interview took an hour, and challenged me in ways I wasn’t expecting. Questions like, “What do you think are the main two challenges youth face today?” and “What would your enemies like about you and your friends dislike about you?” and “If there was a billboard with your face on it, what would the quote beneath it say?” and “Tell me a joke.” Have you ever worked with underprivileged youth? No. Do you have any experience in a classroom setting? No. Have you ever lead a mountaineering expedition? No. Can you train an outdoor rock climbing curriculum? No.
But I have been planning and preparing backpacking trips for my friends and family for years, I have my First Aid/CPR certification, and understand Leave No Trace protocols. I have a passion for sharing the outdoor experience with others, and I think young girls can be empowered and emboldened by learning outdoor skills. In fact, I feel like if I don’t pursue this now, I will regret it. This is my year. It’s coming 18 years late (many instructors are in their 20s, right out of college, and I’ll be 38), but it feels like something I have to try. I’m prepared to love it or hate it, but I have to try.
The hiring process includes getting a food handler’s permit (which seems comical for outdoor cooking), attending a week-long YMCA leadership training in June, getting my Wilderness First Aid certification, and filling out a spreadsheet of my experience to determine my daily pay scale ($75-$150/day). I’m not in this for the money, but for the experience. I am excited and terrified. I will write more as the experience unfolds, but applying for this job and being able to write about it has given me a light at the end of the tunnel. It feels SO aligned, I can barely contain myself. Summer can’t come soon enough, but in the meantime, I’m scared for it to come! I will be responsible for the safety and wellbeing of a group of young ladies. The reality is slowly hitting me, and I am humbled that I will have an opportunity to take on this potentially life-altering challenge.