Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step
~Martin Luther King~
Editors Note: In memory of Joe Giffune
Most stories have a clear beginning, middle, and end. This structure has been driven into our minds as the way to go about life. I was living in my own story dutifully; I had gone to college, gotten a degree, got a job and settled in for the long haul. I had done everything right, followed the formula and everything was all good.
Except it wasn’t. I found myself sitting at my desk looking at the world through a computer wishing I was somewhere else. I kept trying to convince myself I was ok settling for the life that the formula had created for me. When I finally realized a change needed to happen, I was terrified to make it.
My name is Joe.
If you are still reading this I’m guessing you are either my mother or you are at the same crossroads found myself at. If you are the person that has been googling “how to get out of my job and into my dreams” then I implore you to keep reading. This is a bit of my story and a bit of a guide on how to take that first step out of the formula and into the unconventional path.
One of the many unbeaten paths
1. Failure vs. Failure to Launch .
When I finally admitted to myself that I needed to make a change I was faced with a difficult battle in my own psyche. “I must have done something wrong along the line”. How else could I have followed the formula of school+hardwork+career=Happy life. I was faced with the issue that I had royally messed up the formula somewhere because my formula looked more like school+hard work+career=WTF I don’t want any of this.
After a whole lot of soul searching and even more talks with friends and families I came to the closest thing to an answer I could. The formula was like that old game that toddlers play where kids fit wooden shapes into their corresponding slots.
My problem was that my shape didn’t have a slot. I was playing the game the right way, I just wasn’t designed to be playing.
Me with my mom right after I told my parents I was unhappy and changing my life
So now that I had come to terms with this I had to recognize that failure is not bad. In a day and age with participation trophies, we are being told a message that failing does not happen. Failure happens. It is normal and everyone experiences it. Once you realize that you are not succeeding on your current path in a way that works for you, recognize that the only way to fix your path is by change.
2. Pick your Line
Picking your line is a common term in white-water sports. To the untrained eye a stretch of white-water looks daunting and untamable. There are what we call lines, however, throughout a rapid that will allow for safe and fun passage. These lines are not straight, nor are they certain. There are usually very important junctures in a river line that must be completed a certain way. The most terrifying thing about a new rapid on a new river is the uncertainty of a line. Experience and knowledge will help guide you to what is hopefully the safest line, but at a certain point every boater knows that they will have to put their faith in themselves, and in the “river-gods”.
This analogy of scouting and running a river can be easily transposed to making hard decisions in life. Do your research. Find out the realities of the field you are looking into. Try and figure out what costs you can cut. Look into what companies hire, when they hire, what you need to get a job.
Find a mentor if you can, someone who has done this before and ask the hard questions. Talk about money, talk about sacrifice. You don’t need to hear about how awesome it is, you need to talk to someone about how hard it can be.
There is a TON of things you can look into before you decide you want to do this. But at a certain point….
3.“Nut up or Shut up”
That quote was imprinted into my brain by a snowboard instructor at Jackson Hole in Wyoming. We were at the top of one of the huge bowls and I was standing on the edge looking and talking through how I wanted to do it. He cut me off mid sentence and said “Joe, you know what you have to do- now you have a choice. You can either nut up or shut up” and then he took off and left me sitting there. That little phrase has stuck with me because it has helped me make the hard decisions.
The day that I quit my “Real Job” was the best day of my life up until that point. I walked into the office scared out of my mind. Was I really going to be breaking from the formula? I knew that after this 5 minute meeting I had scheduled with my boss my life would start moving very quickly, and there would be no take backs.
I was pleasantly surprised when my resignation was received in a positive way by my manager. He was obviously upset to be losing a “rising star” from the team, but when I told him my reasoning he understood and was incredibly supportive.
My last day leaving the office… with my office frog
Two long weeks later I packed up all my belongings, said goodbye to the couple of friends I had and hit the road. I ended up in my own personal heaven, complete with work, a healthy lifestyle, and most importantly friends.
4. Redefining The Comfort Zone
When going through changes and moves in the past I was always told to reach outside of my comfort zone. In order to fully transform into the person I wanted to be I had to completely throw out the idea of what the borders of my comfort zone was. Now I’m you should throw all caution to the wind and start doing stupid and dangerous things. What I am saying is that unless you can think a good reason not to do/try something you should do it. This approach has lead me to nights full of square-dancing, skinny dipping at 3 am, fireworks viewed from a raft, live funk bands, and so much more. Throwing away the idea of what you can and can’t, should and shouldn’t do is truly liberating.
There is a not so fun side to the comfort zone thing however. If you have grown used to a cushy lifestyle with your boring office job you might be in for a bit of a shock when it comes to living the Dirtbag life.
Get ready for tent life.
My home for my first summer guiding… with office frog
If you’re going to guide somewhere get ready to live out of a tent. If you’re lucky you might be able to fit into a grungy house somewhere but don’t expect luxury. Also long work days are normal. Get ready to work weekends, nights, mornings, picking up second jobs, ect. It’s not going to be miserable, you will be working with friends who all have the same hours as you. I’m just warning you, you are going to be leaving the 9-5 realm and entering the work till it’s done realm.
River clean up is work too!
5. Take Chances and Keep Doing
As you continue down the path of the Dirtbag you must dream big. Don’t hesitate to send an application to a dream job. Don’t be afraid to cold call an outfit and say “Hi I want to work for you!” Companies in the outdoors industry are always in need of guides. You will be shocked at where you land if you can simply put yourself out there.
And keep doing. This means educate yourself. I became a certified ACA instructor for kayaking so I could be a better asset wherever I landed. I’m getting my WFR done, I’m setting aside time to learn more about the outdoors and how to make it into a career not just a few years of fun.
This lifestyle is fun. It is hard. It is rewarding. It is also whatever you want it to be. You will find yourself surrounded by amazing people who will always end up being your friends.
One of many fires with friends met on the river
This lifestyle is incredibly doable as well. It will never be glamorous, and there might be nights that you sleep in or under your car. But you will almost always wake up happy and excited to go to work.
For some, living the Dirtbag life for a few years is enough. Some are happy doing the weekend warrior bit. For the nutjobs like me, I want to be a professional Dirtbag. I want to make my life about showing people that nature is amazing and incredibly fun to play in.
If you are looking for a mentor as I mentioned above please feel free to contact me. Give a follow on instagram and send me a message through there: @vicarious joe
Good luck if you are reading this and looking to make the jump, and if you have already made this jump I hope you’re enjoyed my thoughts. Grab a PBR and swing up to Maine, my new home and the next part of my journey. I’ll paddle with anyone any day.
My new backyard