What 1.5 Years in Outdoor Retail has Given Me
It's weird to think that a day job could affect me so deeply, but the last two have revolutionized my life completely. As photography continues to sit on the sidelines I've been surviving off of full time work in a variety of areas. Starting off fresh out of school with a coffee shop in Montreal, and once I moved to Vancouver a small "photography" gallery for my first year and a half settling in. Once I moved into outdoor retail everything changed. Everything made sense and I was were I should be.
I felt like I was an outsider stepping foot into this secret world I'd always dreamed of. I didn't grow up camping or hiking regularly. I'd be lucky to see the woods a couple times a year, feeling thirsty every minute in between. Camping might happen once a year, and you can forget about any adventure sports like skiing, surfing, climbing or kayaking. I grew up on Vancouver Island surrounded by an outdoor culture of which I never participated. Instead I was at home drooling over photography books and Planet Earth documentaries. I sat dreaming that one day maybe I could take those photos and be in those places. The time and money needed for a life outdoors is a whole other subject in itself, but it's not cheap and being the last of 4 kids it just wasn't affordable for us.
So here I was setting foot in the industry, full of passion and willingness to learn with absolutely zero knowledge. All my coworkers were avid backpackers, climbers, skiers, trail runners etc and I was a whole lot of of "well, I never have but I'd love to ". A lot of wants, and wishes and also a lot of doubt and shame. "I'm not outdoorsy enough." Had been my go to phrase the whole summer leading up to that first job. Once I moved to Vancouver I started hiking and trail running on the North Shore on my own, and as my passion grew and seemed to become more doable I began to questions where I was working. I wasn't passionate about the work I did at the gallery, I was apathetic (it was a sports photography gallery, and I don't follow organised sports. At all). Each time a tourist walked into the gallery asking for information on sights to see and hikes to do I would light up and talk their faces off. I wanted more of that. I began to brainstorm and throw the idea out to friends that maybe I should work for an outdoor company, but every time I mentioned it I followed with :
but, I'm not outdoorsy enough.
Eventually I handed out my resumes despite myself. Maybe I didn't think I was good enough, but my friends supported me and I felt assured - regardless there was nothing to lose and only to gain. The motions are the same when faced with any challenge, the disbelief that you can handle it eventually turns into a willingness to try regardless of the outcome. Even a loss is a win, because you learn something every time. I got not 1, not 2, but 3 job offers with different outdoor companies. I was in disbelief. I chose the first and stayed for a while until returning from a long trip and deciding to hop over to a more challenging role with another company. That decision in itself wouldn't have been possible without the first role. The team I worked with were a beautiful bunch of people and I have made lasting connections. The retail position was by far the most socially demanding job I had ever had - and at that point I still considered myself a shy introvert. It pushed me to interact way more in a team, and with the public all day everyday, something I hadn't been used to before.
I gained an incredible amount of confidence.
In a short period I went from feeling like an outsider with my tail between my legs to feeling like I could take on the world. I left the sales floor position to move on to another company convinced I could take on the challenge, nervous but no longer doubting my abilities. The culture that surrounds outdoor companies is open, inviting, inclusive and supportive. Or at least it is in my experiences. Feeling like an inexperienced and ashamed newbie, to now being confident and ready to jump in to everything. In the last year and a half I have not only experienced so much more of the outdoors but grown my personal portfolio in the direction I have always wanted it to go.
Among some of the most amazing things I have been able to do directly thanks to these companies and the people I have met through them are : Kit myself out with outdoor clothing and gear at a minimal price, spend a day assisting a catalog photographer at corporate headquarters, photograph multiple in store events, learn to surf, kayak for the first time on a 4 day paddle/camping trip in Howe Sound, get past my biggest fear and rock climb in Squamish, spend 3 days trail running in Manning Park, backpack through Garibaldi park, ride a bike for the first time in a decade in Pemberton (now I cycle all the time), get sniffed by a bear in my tent on that same trip, learn to paddle board, learn to snowboard and travel alone for the first time. Amazing.
All these experiences have helped me shape my life and push myself in the right direction, and in every direction. These are day jobs and yet they have fueled so much inside of me to push myself, challenge myself and I have so much to be thankful for. I can't imagine I would speak of a coffee shop, or gallery in the same way. Not because they can't offer this kind of growth or self discovery, but because they didn't offer them to me. Since walking into my first job full of doubt, insecurity and shyness to now be the person who travels alone in order to keep pushing myself to learn and explore sports and activities- I've come a long way since 2015! I know I could write on this topic and my experience for ages, but I think it's best to wrap it up before I get carried away. Instead I'll leave it to bullets and photos to share the epic ride this has all been.
- I've learned to trust myself to make the right decision or to clean up the mess of my own mistakes. Doing this makes you unstoppable, because you know either way you're going to handle what life throws at you. Waiting for someone else to come into your life and hold your hand is a waste of time - you can do it yourself. Whatever it is.
- I've learn more about who I am, and I've embraced it. The more you allow yourself through the more authentic your life becomes and the easier it is to just be.
- It's hard for me, like many to love my body, but even if I don't love it wholly - I support it. I've learned so much in how to care for myself the way I need to. It's a constant struggle to own how my body looks and to feel confident but it helps in focusing on what it does for me. You (a body) are not just to be looked at, you are a useful human being. My body moves me up mountains, over snow and through water, it pushes me physically and mentally. That's fucking awesome, and that's beautiful.
- A balanced life is a happy life. While adventure is addictive and invigorating, I've learned the hard way that rest is just as necessary. With every up is a down, and with every push a take. Learn to embrace the mellow do nothing side of life, your body and mind will thank you.
- Lastly, embrace every single learning opportunity. Everyone at some point was a beginner, and had no idea what they were doing. Whether that is in the office, on the mountain or in a relationship. Everyone is just trying to figure this out.