As long as I can remember I loved being outside. I took this love of the outdoors with me into adulthood and spend my weekends climbing, hiking, and camping. I also made protecting the outdoors my career: I work as an Ecological Resource Specialist in Southern California, an area with high development pressure and a plethora of rare and endangered species that need protection. I love my job and what I do on my weekends. So why is it that most adventure writing makes me feel like I should want to quit my day job?
It seems like every time I turn around there is a new article on quitting your job and traveling. I have nothing against this; I think people should do whatever makes them happy. However, I feel that only telling these stories supports common misconceptions about outdoor/work/life balance. I love reading stories of women kicking ass outdoors, but I can’t help feeling we’re missing something by not talking about our careers along with our adventures. As a career woman and outdoor-lover, this is what I think we need to hear:
There is a misconception that your life is somehow over once you have to get a “real” job. Trust me — I’ve been there. I was 22 at one time. The fear is that once you get that job your freedom goes out the window and you will not be able to do all the things you dream about. The reality of the situation is that no job is going to be amazing 100 percent of the time. There will always be stressful deadlines, long days, and cranky coworkers. It’s not about finding a job you will love everyday, it’s about finding what you care about and making a career out of it. Furthermore, your day job is not an excuse to not do all those things you dream about. It may take planning but there really is nothing stopping you from traveling or getting outside. You can have an incredibly fulfilling life and build a professional career, the two are not mutually exclusive. As women we don’t just have to be one thing.
You can have an incredibly fulfilling life and build a professional career… As women we don’t just have to be one thing.
Being a weekend warrior does not preclude those of us who fit the mold from living an adventurous life. I used to think that being a weekend warrior meant that your hiking boots would not look worn enough for the trail, your hair would be too clean, you would smell of REI. For many years I would also roll my eyes at the “weekend warriors” on the trail, until I realized that I was one. It’s amazing how much you can get done in 48 hours. My epics often consist of driving up the eastern Sierras after work on Friday, sleeping in my car, and waking up early to bag a peak or fly-fish a backcountry lake. I “pack it in, pack it out” and always get home in time for work on Monday. On one particularly adventurous weekend a friend and I drove to Red Rock, Las Vegas to climb. We then drove west across the mountains to the Eastern Sierras. The last day of our trip we spent soaking in hot springs. On Monday it was back to business as usual and being back at work did not negate our mini weekend epic.
My original outdoor role model is my mother. Growing up she would tell me stories of her solo camping adventures with her Shetland sheepdog Mini, and had my sister and me on the trail before we were out of diapers. My mother was also a nurse. She worked every other weekend and most nights, but you can be assured those weekends off were filled with cross country ski trips and long hikes on the beach. Not only did my mother inspire me to get outside, she also inspired me to find a career I found meaningful. By following her example, I saw I could have both. As women we should feel free to thrive in our careers and to find work that is meaningful to us. This does not always lead us to the outdoors but that does not change who we are and how we choose to kick ass on the weekends.
It took me many years – and I’m still learning- to realize that your work passion does not have to coincide with what you like to do on the weekends. True, I did work as a field biologist for over a decade, but at my current job I am inside. I live that sweet cubicle life but I am so fascinated by my work in conservation planning that I stopped caring that I was not outside every day. From my personal experience, I know I am not alone in this. I have a circle of woman I spend my weekends climbing, hiking and exploring with. These women have professions ranging from computer science and natural resource research, to writers and artists, to health care professionals.
Telling the stories of women with careers is important. Some women with full time careers can’t see themselves as confident outdoorswoman. For someone who may have not grown up camping and hiking, getting outside can be an overwhelming task. For many women the idea of being in the outdoors is for someone else. These women may believe that adventure and exploration are for only people who live out of their van or take off a month or more to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
According to the United State Department of Labor, women make up 47 percent of the U.S labor force. Of this 47 percent, the majority of the jobs are in fields not related to being outside. For example, 40.6 percent of working women work in management and professional occupations and less than .9 percent work in natural resources. Although the focus of adventure writing may not be the profession of the writer or subject, I do think it is important that in some cases their professional life should also be highlighted.
REI’s recent nationwide survey reported that 7 out of 10 women wish they could spend more time outdoors and one of the barriers they cited was a lack of time. When I share photos of my weekend epics or mini vacations, the number one comment I get is, “I wish I had time to do that.” The reality is, it’s not about having time, but making time. I work 9 hour days and save up every bit of vacation for that big trip every couple years. The biggest barrier is that so many women don’t realize it’s even possible.
All of these points, statistics, and my own personal experiences prove that the “outdoor wild woman” and “strong career woman” narratives do not need to be competing mythos. Our voices and our accomplishments matter on and off the trail. Telling these stories will inspire woman to both break glass ceilings and break in their hiking boots.
Betsy Dionne is an ecological resource specialist in Southern California. When she is not in the office, you will find her on the trail or on a rock. Learn more through her blog and by following along on Instagram.