Saturday, July 4, 2020

Don’t follow your passion, use a map

My journey to a dream life and back

If you are feeling lost and realize that you are off-route, no longer on the path you intended, as in going the wrong way, the best thing to do, as advised by Search and Rescue personnel – is to turn back. Retrace your steps to the last spot where you were not lost.

Debriefs are the best - looking back, the last three years

Many know the story. I left a great job June of 2017, a long-time career, to explore another way to live. I had a rough plan: to be outside more and to not sit through another corporate meeting. I scaled down my belongings, including selling my Vancouver condo, and moved into a 500sqft rental apartment in Squamish, a popular mountain-adventure town about 65km from the city. 

Friends who were successful at monetizing their social media presence as professional influencers were the basis of my inspiration. They made a modest-to-impressive living of showcasing picturesque adventuresome lifestyles. I liked the concept, though soon realized that I lacked content to gain a following. So, I needed content.

I had many skill gaps. Mountaineering, mixed alpine climbing, and backcountry ski touring, as well as anything to do with outdoor first aid, avalanche and mountain safety training,  navigation and orienteering – well pretty much everything. I had the basics if at all. Unfazed though. I was keen, disciplined, and had a life-full of transferable skills to rely upon. Through word of mouth, I got an interview as an adventure guide for a company based out of Whistler.  I just needed my 80-hour wilderness first aid ticket and they would train and mentor me for the other stuff. The paychecks did not cover my rent, however I would be working outdoors and already imagining the cool content for my social media.

Once in the flow of the guiding community stream, despite struggling through the obvious difficulties of that industry, I managed to tick off some check boxes. I passed certifying exams and progressed to respectable mountain objectives in various disciplines. Within 18 months I was immersed, working as a ski instructor at the Whistler Blackcomb resort, volunteering as a ski patrol, and had been promoted as lead hiking guide, earning interesting assignments such as multi-day backpacking trips with clients coming to me from all over the globe.

Volunteer ski patrol on Blackcomb

Glacier-tour guide. Photo Braeden Ennis

Leading students on multi-day backpacking trip, Marriott Basin

I passed! Blood sweat & tears!

Went for a lap with Jeff and Audrée after my shift as ski instructor. Whistler Blackcomb.

March of 2019, I had a weird feeling. My life felt as though it was off-route. I never set out to become a professional guide or a ski instructor, yet I had burned through my savings to get there. As well, I had literally left my ex life behind. I rarely returned to the city, not even to visit friends, peers, or to keep my former career network in the loop. As I said, I had fully immersed, like when you stare at your feet on the trail instead of looking up at your surroundings.

Take a bearing

I then sat with my journal and listed “what went well” and “what didn’t so much” since making the life change.  It was a 50/50 draw.  I took note of my negligence in building a social media presence. 'Social influencer' was not to be my calling. The motivation for the change initially was in essence the desire to do more of what I love. And, certainly I had accomplished this whether I was posting to Insta about it or not.

Even though guiding was not my passion per say, I did bring my passion to work. Clients tipped with enthousiasm and the feedback was generally amazing. This was a sign that I should persevere at least one more year.

Flipping back in my journal, in there penciled was another dream goal. It said: “publish books”. And so began another grand project on the side: learning how to write and illustrate a novel.

My first Trad multi-pitch. Calculus crack on the Apron w/ Alex

Solo scramble run up Sky Pilot.

Guiding on the Whistler Via Ferrata. Photo Dan

My first Sport multi-picth. Star Chek w/ Spring

Watch for hazards

Summer guiding season wrapped-up Sept 28, 2019. I was tired. In my favour, the snow came later than usual and so I had several months to rest before my ski job started. Yet, fatigue endured. In February of 2020, my doctor called with the results of my routine ultrasound. In plain speak he said: “quit messing around or your lymph nodes have to come out”. Some of you may recall, back in 2015 I had been diagnosed with a defective endocrine system crashing my immune system, totally killing my ultra running regimen. 

At once, I scaled back activities. Because I had systematically separated myself from my past community, and my day-to-day joys were now limited, it was a lonely patch to navigate. The future was fading and I lacked the energy to fix it. I was unhappy yet positive for an upside turn. 

Then March 2020 came with a global pandemic.

On track

If you are feeling lost and find that you are off-route, no longer on the path you intended, the best thing to do is to retrace your steps to the spot where you were last on track.

Mandatory isolation to curb the spread of the pandemic cast mixed-blessings on my situation. The timing of it forced me to rest and reassess. I retraced my steps to where I think I went off-route.

Reflecting on the last three years, I am satisfied with what I accomplished and remain passionate about the future.

Today, my health is all-good and career-wise am transitioning into something appropriate for the time being. The book! My illustrated novel project is moving forward. Stay tuned for updates. 

As for the cool content for my social media presence… adventures of the last three years will surely show up in the narrative.

When you have a map, “lost” and “off-route” are not the same.

Last day-hike I ever guided. Panorama Ridge.


  1. I am always so inspired by your determination and work ethic. It started when I first met you and chased you on so many years from those running days you are still following your desires and passions no matter what form they take!

    1. Thanks Spring! You are the Influencer I admire the most!

  2. I don't think nearly as many "influencers" are living the dream as are pretending to live the dream. Good luck.

    1. True, I have heard that sometimes the illusion of happiness is better than naught. btw: just read a few of your posts, nice blog Sandy.