Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Best Job I Ever Had, Was a Seasonal Job

Seasonal jobs aren't really understood by those that have never done it. When I was in college at Loyola University Chicago. getting my B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations - the words "Seasonal Job" never came up in classroom discussions, one-on-ones with professors and academic advisors and in casual chit-chat with friends and family. We're so focused on getting that expensive piece of paper wrapped in a leather-bound cover with our school's insignia on the front of it and instantly starting a 9-5, traditional career job, the second we cross that graduation stage. And while I'm not going to tell anyone that's the wrong path to follow- I will recommend thinking twice about it.

Why? As we grow and the years rapidly fly by after graduating, we need time to explore. Not just this incredible planet we live on- but to seek out who we really are as a person. Between finishing college and starting my first career job, I had less than two weeks of 'life' before BOOM... two years filled with commuting more than four hours a day to sit in a poorly lit, bland cube staring in front of excel sheets and coding boring amounts of copy for eight hours a day. Wake up, do this, go home, sleep, repeat. It was honestly miserable and after about a year in to this routine- I was immediately regretting everything. Sure the money was excellent and living this polished-up image of a young professional wearing business casual clothes may have been impressive. But my work/life balance was overwhelmingly harsh and it eventually felt so fake, hinting that this wasn't a lifestyle for me.

So in desperate need of a change of pace, I quit that job, and spent the next 12 months working three, contracted, full-time seasonal jobs across the country.

In the spring I spent a little over two months working as an Environmental Education Naturalist at a YMCA camp located on a beautiful lake teaching school groups and rental outings about outdoor recreation and natural sciences. Did I know anything about the material I was going to be teaching? No, of course not, but my passion for the outdoors was unchained finally and allowed for eager, quick-learning. The pay was embarrassing, like in all seasonal jobs. The free housing and food were...meh, but the memories and experiences, were filled with pure joy. This 'new' lifestyle was relaxed, slow and I liked it.

After my Spring contract was up, I continued to work another seasonal job, this time a six-month position as an Activities Director at a different camp, YMCA Camp Matawa, a place I grew up at as a kid and had worked before. 14+ hour work days. hundreds of kids from around the globe, living in the rural Wisconsin country, the best sunsets, spending all day and night outside, a whole family of fellow co-workers I treasure dearly and... cheddarwurst, after cheddarwurst, after cheddarwurst (camp food at its finest). A typical day ranged from teaching wilderness survival and mountain bike classes, driving a heavy-duty truck towing 10 canoes, fixing hardware on top of a 60ft climbing tower, playing capture the flag, singing ridiculous songs and acting out skits around a campfire. Don't let anyone tell you wrong, working at a summer camp is the best job you'll ever have. It was quite possibly the most enjoyable summer of my life. It had been half-a-year since I left my horrible, post-college, full-time career job and I could already tell my life --on all different levels-- was on the upward swing and I was growing.  The best thing about these two seasonal jobs I already had under my belt, was that every single day, you felt like you were making a difference and positive impact on someone's life.

It seems like people my age these days, go West to start something better and new. That's what I wanted to do next and Colorado was calling. YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch was hiring Rec Attendants and Rec Programs Supervisors. As the cool, fall Wisconsin winds began to arrive, I packed up my car with almost everything I owned and drove some 2,000+ miles out to a tiny town called Granby, located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains at nearly 9,000ft of elevation. I had my departure date set for October 7, with the return date to WI was unknown, and I was okay with that. A completely new state, new people, new job, new me. I was intimidated and scared sh*tless at first, but the reality set in soon and I began what would be so-far, the best life decision I've made thus far. I learned more about my self, what I want in life and what's important to me in those five months than I did in the past 25 year's I've been alive combined.

Sure, I lived in a small 10x10 furnace with no windows, shared a community bathroom where you disposed your used toilet paper in a trash can and yelled out 'flushing!' to avoid third-degree burns in the shower, ate glazed plastic cafeteria food and drank piss-poor coffee, mug after mug... but I had mountains. Tall, prosperous snow-capped mountains, 360 degrees around. Had a rough day or an ounce of stress? Just look up and awe. Those mountains were also the stage for some of the most picturesque sunrises at 630am. The sky lit up with fire, every morning over Berthoud Pass, the Indian Peaks and Snow Mountain. Even now back home, a few thousand miles away from Grand County, I still get the chills thinking about just how breathtakingly beautiful Colorado is. Colorado was my escape, freedom and pure adventure.

Most people I've met in 9-5, full-time career jobs think that seasonal jobs aren't "Real Jobs." Sure at a laughable $5.25 an hour, it may not seem fiscally so, but with the work you actually do- you are working a real job. I got a chance to work outside every single day. How great is that?  My work uniform usually consisted of flannel plaid shirts, jeans, sunglasses and winter boots. Daily duties of the job including anything from teaching rock climbing and teambuilding classes to teens, educating inner-city middle-schoolers about avalanches and snow science, helping run a tubing hill, chopping cords of firewood with an axe, leading snow shoe hikes in the woods to see moose, putting down (good) coats of ice on our ice rink with a bootleg mini zamboni called the 'Bambini', repairing anything from vacuums and pool tables, to computers and broken bows for archery.  The best part- I even worked on our dog sledding team at YMCA of the Rockies, grooming miles of trails at dawn on a snowmobile, handling all 19 characteristic Alaskan Huskies and managing the program's logistics. Where else do you get experiences like this? It was never-ending fun during the day followed by campfires with s'mores under starlit, Colorado skies in the evenings to be later capped off with late-night N64 'Mario Kart' or 'Goldeneye' marathons after. Another key difference I've noticed between working a traditional career job and a seasonal job, is how much more personable and caring your bosses and other superiors are. They're role models who actually want to get to know you and help you succeed. You're not just known as 'employee____'.

We lived as glorified ski-bums in a small mountain town. One of the best benefits of having this particular seasonal job was the free access to ski world-class mountain resorts like Winter Park, Copper and Steamboat. A $20 season pass to a small, family-run ski resort just minutes down the road allowed for daily skiing in the morning before work at noon. Unique bar after bar in the county had its own character and charm for apres-ski with your best friends. With the few dollars we brought in each week from our hard-earned paychecks, we drank craft beer from Colorado's best microbrews. And if your car didn't have a roof rack for skis or snowboards, you stuck out like a sore thumb.

The most valuable part about this seasonal job out in Colorado, and the other two I worked this past year, were the people I met. People come from all over the world and from all different backgrounds and situations to work seasonal jobs. We all do it for a reason. Maybe you just got out of a divorce or graduated from college and are taking a gap year before jumping into the real world. Maybe you just needed a break from your old routine and craved  just something different. Maybe you just want to ski. Maybe you want to grow closer in faith, building your relationship stronger with the man above. Maybe you want to travel across the country and this is a temporary stopping point. Maybe you're retired and looking to volunteer and give back. All of us, use this seasonal job as a prime opportunity to discover who we really are. We see what our strengths are, what we suck at and what needs rapid improvement. We might being trying out this job, to find what we want to do professionally down the line, using it as a resume builder.  We're all here for a reason. And that's a solid commonality that bonds us all together in a special way.

We learn what we value in people, whether it be in close relationships or best friendships. When you bounce between so many seasonal jobs, in so many different places meeting a complex variety of so many people- it really comes down to quality versus quantity. You'll meet and get to know people who are ever-inspiring, motivated, genuine, loyal and just- honest. These are people you can go on hikes with in a blizzard up a mountain, hang out with in a hammock during a two-hour off period, have deep, real conversations with while doing laundry, grab a bite to eat with off-campus and engage in epic venting sessions, stay up late with you on your last night of the job while you pack to go home and the ones who will hug you tight, lending a shoulder to cry on when you're shaken to your inner core. But you'll also come face-to-face with people who you just don't click with, are jealous of your work ethic or only get to know for a few days before their contract, comes to a close. While it will suck, it's just a part of working and living in a seasonal employment environment. You push to ignore this however, and surround yourself with those who treat you better. These new, similar-minded good friends who shine in your eyes everyday at this seasonal job, are the ones who matter. They'll engage in some of the most thought-out, real conversations, give you solid advice on everything, swap stories and tales and just laugh with you. These are the ones that that after weeks, months and years go by; you'll still be in contact with, laughing over past memories at that seasonal job you once worked at together. These are the ones who will call you up from half-way across the country to check-in on you and your next, new chapter in life. These are the people that really helped me (and will help you) shape into a better person and the thing you'll miss the most once your contract is up. I can't even find the words to express the gratitude for the best friends I met at all these seasonal jobs.

Seasonal jobs may have their ups-and-downs, but contrary to what so many people have told me... they are real jobs. You can stay in a seasonal job as long as you want or as short as you'd like. You'll learn way more than you'd ever imagine, see places of the world you've never set foot in before and meet some of the most important people in your life. There's no shame in working a seasonal job to figure out what you want to do next, and when you do, leave proudly with your chin up and head held high. Be proud of the opportunity you had and grateful for all it gave. And if down the line things don't go as well as expected or you're stuck in a rut, go back and find a seasonal job to re-light your flame. Do it and don't regret it.