From the Instructor Lens: How I Learned to Embrace Challenge Working for Outward Bound

Making the Most of the Little Moments

"The Meaning of Life is Enjoying the Passage of Time." I try to manifest this quote in all parts of my life, be it personal, professional, or social. I feel especially humbled to be seeing it through the lens of a first year Instructor at Outward Bound. I came to work for Outward Bound because I’ve spent a lot of time in my 20s thinking about legacy and what my impact can be. I realized I want to be remembered for living a life of adventure, for making a difference in the lives of others, and for making the most of the little moments that fill the time between the big ones.

Maria with a backpack on in the woods

In trying to create that legacy, I vowed not to settle when it came to making a living. There was a time where my thoughts were consumed by the idea that we spend such a high percentage of our time as adults at work, so why not find something that I love? As I wrapped up an internship in May 2019 I had a perfect opportunity to shift into a new career path, with the mindset that whatever it was it should fuel my passion. I decided to put office life behind me and expand my comfort zone with a career at Outward Bound, with little idea of what that would entail. I didn’t know much about Outward Bound as an organization apart from the Google searches I did before I started, and I had few expectations of what the experience would be like. I had spent a lot of time over the past year exploring new outdoor pursuits in Colorado and decided that I wanted my next career to be one that involved both the outdoors and changing lives. Although I wasn’t sure exactly how Outward Bound would help me accomplish this at first, I felt confident from my research that this organization had a deep sense of purpose in helping others grow. Fast forward to the beginning of September, when I found myself on my staff travel expedition for my Fall Apprenticeship at Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound School (CBOBS).

Maria looking at a map with two students

The 6 Month Letter

Commonly on an Outward Bound expedition, students are asked to write a “6 month letter” which gets mailed to them, as you might guess, six months after their expedition. Sitting there on a perfect Fall morning during my apprentice expedition, sunshine trickling through the trees, a very welcome breeze blowing, I wrote my own 6 month letter. Below is the letter I wrote to myself on September 7, 2019, the morning after my first night alone in the woods:

Dear future Maria, 

Wow. What an experience this [staff] training expedition has been. Right now, I’m sitting on my staff travel solo and it’s probably the late morning. My fingernails are so grimy. I feel sticky and smelly. But I’m also doing great. I’m feeling so proud of myself, for stepping out of my comfort zone and chasing this job opportunity [with Outward Bound]. At first, it felt like the “cool” thing to do, but deep down I was worried. ‘What if I didn’t like it? What if it didn’t feel right?’ Everyone I’ve told about this apprenticeship has said, ‘wow that sounds perfect for you!’ ...and for a few weeks leading up to this expedition I worried, ‘what if it isn’t?’ And if we’re being honest, in my first few hours and first couple of days [of this trip] that feeling sat heavy. My fears of the unknown felt debilitating and I struggled hard to find myself and open up. But as I sit here, a few days and several miles in, soaking in the warm sun and the fall breeze, most of those fears have shed away. I feel connected with the outdoors, I feel connected with the idea that I’m meant to do something epic. And sometimes that means sharing discomfort. And fear. And anxiety. And pushing through all of that in order to grow. This opportunity is going to be a  powerful stepping stone in my career. It’s going to open doors to opportunities to make the outdoors a place for everyone. Maria, I am so proud of you at this moment. For not settling. For trusting the process. For speaking out for yourself. For letting yourself grow. I hope you cherish this high you're feeling and this experience. 

Love,

Maria

How It All Came Together

Almost exactly 6 months after this letter was written, it was springtime and I was gearing up to instruct my first expedition. As I opened and read my letter on a particularly cold, tough night of the expedition, it all clicked: the way I felt as I wrote that letter is the feeling we are working to recreate in each of our students on our expeditions. The feeling that if you choose to see difficulty and discomfort as a challenge, and believe that you are capable of overcoming it, you can begin to apply this mentality to obstacles in everyday life. We want our students to realize that they are capable of more than they believe or have been told, and to cherish that feeling. I remember the hours of my staff travel during which I felt uneasy, and I vowed to hold on to that feeling to use it as a way to guide students who might feel similar during their expedition.

Maria Talking to Students With a View in the Background

When I applied to work at Outward Bound, I couldn’t have imagined what the experience would shape up to be. In fact, I still don’t know. I'm a few months into the experience and I’ve already been tested in so many ways:  early mornings and long days filled with physical challenges (turns out 50 lbs is a lot to carry for several miles a day!) and unforeseen difficulties on each course... But the biggest thing to come out of my first few months at Outward Bound is that I’ve intentionally created a lens through which I view challenge as opportunity. I want to continue to grow as an instructor in order to help others find that through the outdoors, like I did.

A Loving Community

While I’ve been fortunate to work at many awesome places, I can safely say that the support and love I receive from this organization is unparalleled. I’m constantly being thanked for my hard work and made to feel appreciated even in tiny moments. The community at CBOBS is blooming with unconditional kindness and genuine love for each other, the work, and the outdoors. I’ve also learned to authentically appreciate the challenges of trail life. Pooping outside, pushing through a long day of miles, setting up a tarp in the rain... there's always a lesson to be learned. I’m ecstatic that I can confidently say I’m right where I’m meant to be. The idea of going to work each day is so exciting. I feel inspired to foster growth in others through challenge, and to make the outdoors a space for everyone. There is a sense of community that comes with these challenges and as I’ve leaned into it all I’ve found a job and, more importantly, a community that I love.

Maria with her hands in the air on top of a rock
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