Why I Stopped Saying That I Quit My Real Job
If you’ve chanced upon the About Me page, you may have noticed that I studied Mechanical Engineering. After my degree, I worked as a Production Supervisor at PepsiCo. Now, I work for Live Out Loud Adventures organizing and guiding hiking trips in Canada and around the world. When I started with LOLA, I – or whoever I was talking to – would half-jokingly remark that I quit my real job to chase a dream. Go rogue. Be a reckless millennial. Have some fun and do something spontaneous. For a while, I kind of relished this reaction and assessment. It felt exciting and rebellious! I have come to realize, however, that by saying that I quit my corporate, “real” job to pursue a career in the Outdoor Industry I completely diminish the validity of a career in the outdoor industry. This is something people both within and outside of the industry are guilty of doing, and I think it’s high time we become aware of it and put and end to it.
Why are Some Jobs More Real Than Others?
I come from an environment where doctors, lawyers, bankers, and engineers represent ultimate career success. Science and math are more important than art and language, and wearing a suit to work is reflective of one’s intelligence. Why is this? If anyone has other answers, do share. My own primary assessment has been simple: these professions are (mostly) transparent. We understand what these people do, how they benefit our society, and what it takes to get there. Doctors fix people. Lawyers settle fights. Bankers manage money. Engineers build stuff. All of these things have a direct impact on our lives, and we respect the people who are able to fix, settle, manage, and build stuff for us. For this, they deserve every ounce of credit they get; we truly would not get on without them.
When it comes to the outdoor industry (amongst other fields including artists, bloggers, actors, etc.), it’s harder to see and understand the purpose. There is a lack of awareness as to how or why they are beneficial, especially in the short term. The impact of their work is seen in more nuanced ways, and over a longer period of time. Take a musician, for example. When the musician decides he is going to pursue music, he leaves behind family and friends who are confused and concerned. The threat of “starving artist syndrome” is real, and people wonder why he has chosen this path. Many people criticize him for being selfish; for choosing a path that benefits only himself. They may show outward support, but “tsk tsk” under their breath.
While some of the criticism hides jealousy and awe, isn’t it ironic how we idolize the musician once he is famous? Listening to his songs brings us immense joy; singing along at his concert is the time of our lives. In the outdoor industry, there is a similar story. No one sees the benefits of an outdoor adventure until they themselves are on one; few understand the long term effects and importance of the time we do spend outside.
Big Companies vs. Big Jobs
When I worked at PepsiCo, it was easy to answer the questions, “What do you do?” and “Where do you work?”. By simply saying that “I work at Pepsi,” the conversation could end if I wanted it to. People immediately recognized the brand, found it reasonably impressive (due to its familiarity and size), and could subconsciously put me into a category. The thing is, at this big company, I had a relatively small role. I was one Production Supervisor for one of three shifts at one of thousands of factories in one of dozens of countries. Though I was afforded incredible opportunity to make an impact, I was always going to be a small part of a massive production. A big company.
Now, I wear many hats and have a big job at a small company. Neither is better than the other, but with regards to reputation and respect in our society it’s easy to see which reigns supreme. It follows the unspoken “bigger is better” mantra, and it isn’t until you have been both David and Goliath that you understand the challenges and rewards of both.
Apparent Labels vs. Actual Application
I studied mechanical engineering. What was your gut reaction to that? For most people, it’s a lot of “wow”, “you must be smart”, “I could never do that”, “did you have a social life?”, and “good for you”. Sure, I got through the degree, and to all you engineers out there I don’t mean to discredit your accomplishment. However, there’s a big difference between the label I have and my application of what it took to get that label.
I can change a flat tire on my bicycle: that’s honestly the extent of my mechanical engineering abilities. Most of what I learned from engineering is soft skills. Skills like problem solving, time management, a work ethic, logical thinking, and creative thinking at the same time. Like many, it is the soft skills I learned from my education that will stay with me over the long term in my career. We forget that these skills are learned in just about any degree or path you can dream of.
Are All People in the Outdoor Industry Vagabonds, Dirtbags, and Bums?
Good question! And fair question, too! Hey all you people in the outdoor industry, listen up! We need to get it together, man! There is this blaring association of unprofessionalism (and subsequent lack of intellect) with those in the outdoor industry. We need to be better at proving people wrong. Don’t show up to that conference in Tevas and Pata-gucci with a Camelbak in tow. Show up like the professional you are.
You know that saying, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”? I hate to break it to you, but that does not apply all the time. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to take yourself seriously first, and sometimes that means suiting up. Keep the beard, sure, but trim it! Wear your Garmin watch with the altimeter, but perhaps leave the Buff at home. You don’t need to be untrue to yourself to be presentable and professional, but we all need to be better at treating ourselves with the respect we seek and deserve. As per Kathryn Stockett in The Help: you is kind, you is smart, you is important. Now act like it!!
To Those With a “Real Job”
You have a real job. It is important. It is fantastic, and so are you. Just remember to stay grounded and keep an open heart and mind.
To Those Without a “Real Job” (or Quit a “Real Job”)
You have a real job. Own it, act like it, and understand it. Take yourself seriously – it will do wonders for both personal growth and professional relationships. It will also do wonders for your reputation and conversations at Thanksgiving dinners with the extended family. And for goodness sakes, please stop saying, “I quit my real job”.
Click the image to pin it for later!