What's Most Important to You: Choosing an Outdoor Lifestyle

I've always loved the outdoors. Growing up in central Iowa, my family vacationed in Colorado almost every summer. From a young age, I just felt at home in the mountains and I couldn't believe we had to go back home after a week of hiking, biking, camping and exploring the Rocky Mountains.

I remember asking my mom, "Why do we have to go home? Why can't we stay here?"

She politely explained to her 7 year old son, "We have a home and jobs in Iowa."

I remember thinking that there were homes and jobs in Colorado too. There was clearly something I didn't understand and I guess I hoped I'd never understand it.

After one year of college in Iowa, I realized I was an adult and I could make my own decisions so, I packed up my car with a bicycle, a bag of clothes and a stack of CDs and headed west. I settled in Summit County where I snowboarded over 100 days three seasons in a row and basically lived in a tent all summer long.

Outdoor lifestyle

Deciding I still wasn't ready for the hustle and bustle of Boulder, Denver or Fort Collins, I finished school in Durango at Fort Lewis College. I graduated with a degree in business with an emphasis on marketing. I loved living in Durango because it was an outdoor-minded town with lots of people all into the outdoors. I hiked, backpacked and enjoyed as much time outside as possible, but with a college degree under my belt, it was time to 'get a real job'.

Durango's economy is based on tourism and a small college, so there wasn't a lot of opportunity. Within a month or so of graduation, I cut off my pony-tail and applied at a bank. I never wanted to be a banker. The thought of it made me laugh as much then as it does now but I knew it was the only way I could stay in Durango and be able to afford to own a home.

Surprisingly, I was good at it. I was busting our car loans and home equity loans left and right. I bought my dream home, an old two bedroom house on over an acre of land. The house had cheap wood paneling from the 1970s, avocado green sinks and carpet in the kitchen but it was surrounded by tall pine trees and I could walk out of my door and onto public land where I could walk my dog for hours without seeing anyone. It was everything I ever wanted.

I got pay raises and gained more responsibility at the bank. I helped open a new branch where I oversaw the daily operations as branch manager. Around the same time, I became a father and suddenly my home that was everything I ever wanted wasn't good enough. My wife and I started to dream about living on the Colorado Front Range where there was more opportunity. I'd make more money, we'd have a brand new home and we'd be living the American Dream.

We got exactly what we thought we wanted by moving to the Front Range. I accepted a job as Assistant Vice President of a Bank. We bought a brand new home in a neighborhood with a pool. The only down side was I had to drive further to get into the mountains to do the things I really enjoyed. It seemed like the thing to do, everybody else was doing it.

What's most important

I was proud to be raising my children in a middle class suburb that reminded me a lot of the way I grew up. It never occurred to me how much I wanted to get away from that kind of life just a few years earlier and how I struggled to understand why my parents had chosen a similar path for raising me.

Overtime, banks were bought and sold the way they seem to do and suddenly I was given the title of Vice President of a $2 billion bank. My mom was proud, but it never really meant anything to me. I went through the motions and lived for weekend hikes and family car camping trips.

Banking slowly became unbearable to me. I was a commercial loan officer for a bank that couldn't loan any money. I was literally expected to show up every day but wasn't allowed to do what they hired me to do. I read news online and slowly used social media to build a business for my wife while I sat in a bank and pretended to be busy so the customers wouldn't know the bank was actually in financial trouble.

Then I quit. I realized the title of Vice President meant nothing to me. I didn't care about having money in the bank, driving new cars or keeping up with the Jones'. I had followed my dreams and gotten everything I ever wanted but then I took it too far and ended up in a position that took me away from the mountains and filled my days with work I wasn't passionate about.

I worked from home building my wife's business and tried to figure out what type of work would really make me happy. I kept coming back to the outdoors. I was never happier than while on a hike, camping trip or out snowboarding. I promised myself I'd never work in an industry I didn't enjoy and I searched for opportunities with outdoor companies.

I started working for a small backpacking company based in Boulder to get my foot in the door. Soon, I was hired by Sierra Trading Post to join the social media team. This was an opportunity to use the skills I'd learned while building my own family business to grow an online community about the outdoors.

Since I've been at Sierra Trading Post, I've shot video on my weekends and vacation days. I report to work on Monday morning where my job is to share the stories of my weekend and to inspire people to get outdoors. I have less money in the bank but I've blurred the line between work and play and I'm having fun every day.

It's been a crazy ride with a major detour but I'm truly happy to do something I enjoy doing. Giving away free gear, educating people about the outdoors and helping more people get outside is a lot more rewarding than loaning money to businesses. I don't regret any of the choices I've made as each turn taught me a lot about myself and about what I wanted out of life.

These experiences beg the question, What is most important to you? Are you living the life you truly love? If not, what is keeping you from your true calling?

Keese has shared a totally different view on work/life balance. Read his post then join us 4pm June 5, 2013 for a Twitter chat on this topic. We'd love to have you share your thoughts. Join the discussion at #STPLive.
Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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