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How I Became a Travel Photographer

Over the years, there is one question, no matter what direction my career seems to be heading at any particular moment, that remains the biggest and most common.

How do you do what you do?

I figured it would make sense to put my whole story in one place. This post won’t be advice. It’s just my life as it happened, and what I’ve learned so far.

What, exactly, do I do? Today, I am a freelance photographer and blogger focusing on travel, adventure, wildlife and culture. I am concerned with issues of conservation, social issues, and overall encouraging a greater sense of empathy for people, places, and other living things on our planet. In addition to my photography and writing work, I lead adventure trips and workshops that focus on many of these areas.

The main things I get hired for:

• Photography
• Social media posts or campaigns on behalf of a brand
• Blogging
• Marketing campaigns
• Trip leading, workshops, speaking and teaching

Who are my clients? They can be brands, hotels, tour providers, non-profit organizations, travel boards and destination-based services. Usually, the companies or organizations I work with are aiming to go deep into their story or a message they hope to communicate through their product/service. My job is to either tell that story through my work, or to appropriately figure out how to do so effectively and creatively on their preferred medium or platform.

My job also includes my custom trips, and will evolve from there I’m sure. The direction my work has taken has developed organically, led by a desire to connect people to whatever is outside their comfort zones.

Currently, when confronted with the question, “What do you do?” I would answer that with “travel photographer.” But if you asked me this a couple of years ago, I would have said I was a blogger. If you look at my older photos on social media, most of them were of me, not by me. This is just one example of how creative careers evolve, shift, and change. There is no right answer, and there is no blueprint for how to do it.

Before starting this blog, I worked in outdoor education as a guide and trip leader. And before that, I was a student wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life like many of my peers.

STARTING AT THE BEGINNING

I first found my love for photography in high school. My first camera was my dad’s old Nikon F camera. I shot mostly on black and white film, and loved the creativity and experimentation photography allowed me. I applied for art schools with my photography portfolio, and was accepted to the School of Art + Design at Purchase College. I got there and felt really intimidated. I come from a town where careers in art were not encouraged, and people told me I couldn’t make a living doing photography. I told myself the same. I changed my major to graphic design, thinking it was a more “employable” option.

Me in art school. Twas a time.

 

I got a job at a summer camp after my freshman year. I saw it as an opportunity to do something different, meet new people, and make a positive difference in the life of kids or teenagers. That summer, I found out I loved being outside. I loved hiking, camping and nature. And I loved connecting with young people. I was also working at a mom & pop camping supply store during the school year, which helped me acquire the gear I needed.

The following fall, I got the idea to take my outdoor knowledge to another level entirely by doing a course with NOLS. I got my butt kicked on my 30-day program in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. But the course also challenged me in a big way, and gave me a deep appreciation for the outdoors and everything that getting outside of your comfort zone can teach you. You can read more about my NOLS experience here.

Spending 30 days in the wilderness impacted me so deeply that I got back to college and decided I wanted to study science. This was rather dynamic since I had already taken two years of visual arts classes. I talked with one of my advisors about drafting up a proposal for an unconventional interdisciplinary major that combined art and science. I proposed a course of study that allowed me to focus on both art and environmental studies, specifically in the area of marine ecology. It was approved. For that, I am incredibly grateful to my two advisors, one each in art and science, who advocated for me and believed I could pull it off.

The next summer, I got a job as a canoe guide for the Boy Scouts of America in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. It was my first time canoeing at this level, but I was fresh from my NOLS course, and loved learning the new skill set required. I had also come to enjoy spending my summers outside and challenging myself both physically and in my facilitation skills.

My first Wilderness First Responder course simulation. (It’s makeup. And toilet paper.)

 

Coming back to school, I wanted more hands-on experience in the field with science. I had also never left the country, and was determined to do so. I asked my advisor in the sciences, a marine ecologist, if he had any colleagues abroad who might be interested in mentoring me in an internship. He did–– in Portugal. After significant logistics and planning, I took a leave of absence and spent a semester living in Portugal learning a whole lot about seaweed. You can read about my experience going to Portugal solo here.

LIVING OUT OF A BACKPACK

I got back from Portugal and wrapped up my college career with my interdisciplinary major. That winter, I started thinking about what I wanted to do after graduation. I thought I’d probably work as a guide again, and then apply for advanced programs in marine science.

I had built up enough outdoor experience that I was able to get a job leading adventure trips for teenagers in Europe. It was a step up from my previous guiding job, but had a lot of similarities in terms of leadership and group dynamics. I spent that summer leading trips in Spain, Italy and Greece, and I didn’t make much money, but I realized that this job could be a way for me to travel and do something positive with my time while I figured out the next step.

That summer turned into two years. I met my ex-partner and we traveled and worked as guides together in China, then moved to Australia, where we lived for 11 months. My partner’s goal for our year there was to take advantage of the strong Australian dollar and make a solid amount of money. Over the course of that year, I had many jobs. First I worked as a salesperson in a camping supply store full-time. Next, I worked at an iron ore mine site doing catering–– flying to the site and working 12 hours a day for 14 days straight, then flying home for a week off. My last job in Australia was my favorite one, finally doing something I was passionate about. I led wilderness trips for a company in Southeast Queensland for students from Hong Kong. This was one of my favorite outdoor education jobs to date.

Hiking in Australia, and the backpack I fit all my belongings in for ~2 years.

 

After Australia, we spent four months in New Zealand. We worked on farms and lived outside most of the time. I learned how to budget wisely, and just how far a dollar can stretch if you prioritize your spending and value experiences over things. In Australia, we had each saved a significant 5-digit amount of money, so we were able to enjoy our time (without spending wildly) in New Zealand with that savings and still go home with a decent amount.

Lake Pukaki, NZ. 

 

By the end of our time in NZ, we both felt it was time to go home. I took a summer job guiding in Alaska, and my partner went home to the UK. I spent a few weeks at my parents’ house before starting my summer gig, and during that time, I bought my first ever smartphone–– a $200 Motorola Moto G. Before that, I was the proud owner of many old Nokias (the kind that required T9). After spending over two years on the road, I had tons of photos (just from a point+ shoot camera) and stories to share. My friends and family asked me all the time about my job, about how I traveled for so long, and about my advice for making it possible financially. I had been feeling like starting a blog would be a smart choice, just to put all my thoughts in one place. Instagram seemed like a good place to start. I brainstormed names and landed on Erin Outdoors because it was catchy and available. I wasn’t sure if my Instagram or blog would ever become something, and I didn’t intend on it or expect it from the start, but I wanted to have a memorable name just in case I decided to pursue it on a larger scale.

I started posting photos on Instagram, and bought ErinOutdoors.com. Though I owned the domain name, it was six months before I did anything with it. After Alaska, I headed to Guatemala to visit a friend and work for a volcano hike company. After a couple of months in Antigua, I realized I was ready to set up a home base, and that I wanted to be in the States. I lined up a job working in the Colorado office of one of the teen adventure companies I had previously guided for. It was going to be my first office job and for once, I was really excited to be in one place.

I got to Colorado, found a place to live, and bought a car with the rest of the money I had saved from Australia. I had a few weeks of free time before my job started, and flew back to my parents’ house to visit for the holidays. I felt very strongly that I needed to start the blog then. I figured out how to install WordPress (you can learn pretty much anything from YouTube videos), got a free theme, and wrote a couple of posts. I didn’t really share that the blog existed far and wide at first. I wasn’t trying to make it big, I just wanted an outlet for my ideas.

I started at my new job and really enjoyed the structure of it. Having a full-time office job (my first) gave me the space and time to have an actual life outside of work. I made friends, I went on hikes by my house, I bought plants and a blender. I was blogging on the side, trying to stay disciplined with it, with the exception of the summer months.

Though I worked in the office, during the summer I led trips for the company. That summer, I led a couple of back-to-back trips in Costa Rica. When I got back to the office in Colorado, I was unexpectedly let go.

BECOMING A “BLOGGER”

Getting fired isn’t really something you plan for. At 25, I felt invincible, and it was a big surprise. In retrospect, it was one of the best things to happen to me, and I was naive to think that it wouldn’t. I had a couple of options: get another full-time job, or try to see if blogging was a potential income source. This was not the start of the blogging world–– there were well-known travel bloggers already making it. I would read and re-read their websites trying to figure out just how they made it possible for themselves. I wanted to know everything. I was reading so many blog posts from the same bloggers that I felt like I knew them in person.

With a few thousand dollars saved, I decided to take my newfound unemployment as an opportunity to go on a road trip both for personal and professional reasons. I had done a good amount of traveling internationally, but hadn’t seen much of the USA. I wanted to explore the National Parks, and had an idea to install a platform bed in my car. Here’s the set-up I ended up building. I put my room on Airbnb and left for about two months. I had bought an iPhone, borrowed a camera from a friend, and tried to take photos and write as much as I could along the way. This was also the first time I started meeting people from Instagram in real life, which still felt a little strange to me.

Halfway through my road trip, hiking in the Grand Canyon.

 

The experiences I had and the connections I made on that trip were a solid foundation for what my career would become. I didn’t know what I was going to do for work exactly, but I knew what kind of lifestyle I wanted, and I knew what I cared about. I knew I wanted to follow a sense of purpose in my work, and that I wanted to figure out how to make that possible.

When I got home to Colorado, I needed to find a job ASAP. I didn’t just get one job… I got several. I never stopped blogging, but I still wasn’t really sure how to monetize it, so it remained something I did on the side. At the time, I knew I wanted more experience with social media, and I already knew I had some skill in that area from growing my own Instagram account (to about 10k at that point).

I got a job as an intern for filmmaker Aly Nicklas in Boulder, and picked up a few social media accounts to manage for my friend Tiffiny Costello, who is a digital marketer. I was also house-sitting, dog-sitting and babysitting whenever I could. In addition, I picked up a part-time restaurant job, which ended up being the hardest of my jobs to quit when it came time. You can read about my restaurant job here.

While balancing my jobs, I started getting emails from brands inquiring about working with me. They wanted to send me products in exchange for a blog or Instagram post, and I was excited about the opportunity. Outdoor gear is expensive, and it was a huge win for me to get it on a trade basis. Through working with Aly, I was able to see what it was like to be on photo and video shoots for outdoor brands. I started to feel very limited by my camera set-up of my iPhone and a GoPro, so I bought my first Sony camera (Sony a5100). I helped run social media for the Born Wild Project and worked on various photo shoots for brands as a model or blogger. Meanwhile I started getting more inquiries from brands. I was experimenting with vlogging on YouTube and starting to take photography more seriously.

On a project in Mexico with Aly Nicklas, Alisa Geiser & Ali Vagnini (who shot this photo)

 

Over time, more emails were coming in and I started spending more of my time on paid blog content. Eventually, I had to quit most of my freelance jobs to focus on my blog and social media channels. I bought my first full-frame camera (Sony a7R ii), and started being more bold in my trip planning. I learned from trial-and-error how to pitch potential trips to brands and how to put together my package offerings. I even developed an trip that my followers could join me on–– a seven day custom adventure in Greece.

I started doing more photography. It felt like coming home. I started learning Lightroom & Photoshop and getting more comfortable with my camera. As my skill set expanded, I looked for jobs that were photography specific. I made more connections, I refined my proposals, I deepened my relationship with my existing clients, and I found a community of incredible people who were pursuing their own creative endeavors in ways I really admire.

I’m not sure if you ever get to a point where you really feel comfortable when you do what I do. If that does happen, then I’m not there yet. It’s still as much of a journey as it has always been.

MY BIGGEST STRUGGLES

UNCERTAINTY

With the exception of my 7 months at the 9-5 office job, I never had all of my income coming from one place. I have had extended projects and campaigns, but I always have to figure out what the next project is. I also don’t really know what the next year or five years will look like because I’m creating that future for myself. The uncertainty of all of that can be unnerving at times.

SELF DOUBT

There have been times when I felt completely unqualified. I felt like I didn’t really know what I was doing, or that I was not as knowledgeable as my peers. If I didn’t know how to do something, I’d feel self-conscious. I would compare myself to other people and wonder if I was doing things right. I even caught myself feeling guilty for getting certain jobs because I felt I was too much of a newcomer in the space. I now know that all of this is normal, but none of it is true–– doubt and imposter syndrome are both very real, especially for those who are trying to do their own thing or start something new.

FEAR OF FAILURE

Once I actually committed to trying to be a blogger and photographer, my fear of failure got loud. I am grateful that I’ve always been able to give myself a reality check that my personal worst-case scenario is not that bad, but fear still shows up. For me, it has revolved around what people will think of me if/when I fail, and that I won’t accomplish the things I want to. I have had to re-frame my fears and assure myself that no failure is worse than not trying in the first place. Every failure I’ve experienced has taught me something valuable.


MY BIGGEST LEARNINGS

IT’S A PROCESS

A career is not something that is given to you in a complete package. It doesn’t appear out of thin air. A career is something that is built slowly and refined over time. It is made up of all the things you learn and re-learn, the mistakes you make, the failures you earn and each moment you get up afterward. Though sometimes I took an indirect route to each point on my journey, it all had a purpose. I think that is true for everyone, no matter how much things make sense (or how much they don’t) at any given point. My journey was not a straight road from point A to point B. It was about following my curiosity where it led me, and continuing to move in the direction that felt most purposeful.

IT’S ALL ABOUT PEOPLE

Another important point that I am always reminded of is that I could never have done this alone, nor would I have wanted to. There were moments early on where I would catch myself being cynical and acting like I could do it all by myself. But there is no way. You need help. Personally I had a lot of it. People shared their expertise and experience with me. They helped me through complicated times. They gave me their time, their advice, their attention, their connections, their support. Along the way, I have met some of the most inspirational people who constantly push me to be the best version of myself. The importance of networking is huge, but prioritizing nourishing and genuine relationships is what is really important. Never get so caught up in the business of it that you forget this!

DON’T TAKE IT TOO SERIOUSLY

You can never take anything too seriously. When I was living in Australia working odd jobs, I stressed out so much because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I was so self-critical, and it prevented me from enjoying the moment. I now know that a tremendous amount of trust is required on this road if you want to, you know, actually enjoy your life. Remember to have friends, make time for them often, get outside, breathe, treat your body well, read, go to the movies, go to concerts, ride a bike. Just make sure you’ve got a life outside of work, and that you do things that have absolutely nothing to do with figuring out your life’s purpose from a career perspective. 😉

To some extent with my life/career-related posts, I feel like they all end the same way. Let go, be open to what happens, learn from your failures and enjoy the ride.

I hope this was helpful.

If you’re looking for practical tips or advice, check out the following posts, as themes are similar:

FULL BLOG ARCHIVE


Feature photo taken by Renee Hahnel.

INSPIRATION SOCIAL MEDIA

17 Inspiring & Adventurous Women of Color to Follow in 2018

Over the past few years, I have had the pleasure of meeting many amazing and inspiring women on Instagram. And I’ll be honest that in the beginning, most of the women I followed looked very much like me.

The thing is, if diversity is truly one of your values, then your belief should absolutely extend to your Instagram feed.

These are some of my favorite women to follow for inspiration in travel, the outdoors, photography, advocacy, leadership and life. They also happen to be women of color.

They are travel bloggers, photographers, athletes, adventurers and business coaches. Some of them are friends, some I have talked to online, and some probably had no idea I existed until now. 🙃

If you are looking for inspiration, these gals are serving it up by the ton, every day.

Enjoy!

INDIVIDUALS

Glo Atanmo | @glographics | theblogabroad.com

If you enjoy travel and are not following Glo, please advise what rock you have been living under, you need to get on that! Glo’s adventurous outlook on life is contagious, her sense of humor relatable, and her writing refreshingly honest. When Glo tackles a more serious topic, which she does often, she does so in an educational manner with a humorous flair. Glo’s posts always leave me feeling inspired, or give me something to think about, or both.

 

Why have I been so happy lately? I want to talk about two simple words that have some real weight behind them; Personal. Growth. Take a moment and think about the last time you took a step back and did a real, honest life evaluation. Are you doing what it takes to get to where you want to be? We all have high and low seasons (life happens in waves) but I want you to think about if you’re can be making better daily choices to push yourself out of your comfort zone and thrive. Are you being challenged? Are you learning new things? Are you living with a positive mindset? Are you setting yourself up for success? These past weeks, I’ve been making a lot of small changes that have me feeling fantastic about where I am right now and what’s on the forefront. Sometimes all you need is to start taking action with one thing and watch the rest fall into place. So, let me here it… what’s ONE way that you want to challenge yourself in the upcoming weeks? #siempregirando Photo by @rico.png

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Sienna Brown | @siempregirando | siempregirando.com

Since finding Sienna on Instagram a couple of months ago, she has become someone I look forward to seeing in my feed every day. Her stories are always injected with positivity and productivity–– helpful and necessary reminders for me as a freelancer. Sienna is an ex-pat currently living the digital nomad life in Spain, and she talks a lot about creating a life you love wherever you want to base yourself. Overall she is a ray of sunshine. If you love motivating and inspirational content, check her out!

 

As I hiked 23 miles this weekend with the bare necessities on my back, I thought about my first backpacking trip at age 14. After my grandma picked me up from a weekend in San Rafael Swell, Utah, I could not stop raving about it. I told her about filling my nalgene with river water that had bugs and dirt, but using iodine tablets to make it drinkable. I gushed about sleeping without shelter for the first time, about watching shining celestial bodies shift above me as the night wore on. I explained that we weren’t allowed to bring technology, not even watches, so we went to bed when we were tired and cooked when we were hungry and woke up with sunrise. I effused about the rock art and horse skeleton and campfires and crossing the river with 30 lbs on our backs and fiery canyon walls. And that night as I washed red sand from my hair and cleaned dust from my ears, I was grinning as I came to a realization… I didn’t need much to be happy, just some food, friends, shelter, and beautiful surroundings.. That was enough to make me feel more at peace than I could ever remember. That was enough to make me feel alive. // Feeling alive in Haulapai and Havasupai lands ✨ 📷 : @caitlinrathbun

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Ashleigh Thompson | @ashanishinaabe

I met Ashleigh last summer through our mutual friend Len Necefer of NativesOutdoors. I enjoy following her for her colorful images and personal reflections from her time spent outdoors. Ashleigh is a runner, hiker, climber, and she writes beautifully. I have learned a lot from her honest perspective as a Native woman in the outdoors, especially when it comes to recreation.

 

My world. #reflectionstories

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Paola Franqui | @monaris_ | monaris.me

You will rarely find a photo of Paola without her camera. Paola’s work is a kaleidoscope of streets, windows, and fleeting glances from strangers. Her work makes the viewer feel as though they are peering into a private world. She is truly talented, and someone I look up to when it comes to travel photography.

 

Remember those times when you were praying and begging on your knees for things that you have now? Gratitude does not solely revolve on being thankful for things when received. It’s about being thankful for everything around you even when it’s bleak. I have observed and witnessed countless of times in my life that when I am wholly vibrating in gratitude, that’s when doors open up and abundance comes rushing in. And when I’m not, the doors stay shut. It’s something so simple, yet we get in our own heads long enough that it turns complex and we just forget. When your bank account is down to two digits, when you lose someone you love, when traffic is churning your head, when mundane routines suck the juice out of your life, when things are falling apart and things aren’t going the way you had plan. It’s easy to forget. Yet we tend to focus on things we don’t have enough of, instead of things we already have. It brews in the small moments that most go unseen. Small, tiny mindful moments that has the magnitude to shift realms. Like waking up to the golden light shining through your window and watching a galaxy of dust float through it. Or eating your food mindfully and slowly, imagining how it grew and how a golden star fed it to feed you. Or remembering to look up at the night sky when it’s so dark that you can see the Milky Way. Or when a complete stranger gets out of their own way to help you when you need it the most. Or when you watch people in public transportation and you become fully aware that they are living a life as complex as your own, you realize that they’re not that much different to you because you’re both sharing the same air and breathing it the same way. Or when you’re diving under the ocean waves and they bring you the sudden clarity of how tiny you are in the universe yet how significant it is that you have this life. Or the way the last light of the day disappears into the ocean as dusk consumes us, turning skeptics into mystics. That’s when you feel it. That’s when you close your eyes and feel gratitude settling in your bones. Then something twists the doorknob and the universe comes flooding in. @KEEN #Aphlex #FollowYourFeet

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Stephanie Dandan | @stephanie.dandan | stephaniedandan.com

Stephanie’s work is a breath of fresh air and a tall glass of cold water in one. In her images, she captures moments and emotion so well. They carry a sense of thick nostalgia that makes you wonder if you lived inside that moment in a dream once… or was it real life after all? Stephanie’s writing is vulnerable, gritty, and unapologetic. Seeing things through Stephanie’s eyes is a treat, and a multidimensional one at that.

 

Lee Litumbe | @spiritedpursuit | spiritedpursuit.com

Lee’s photos transport me across the world. I love that her feed is a mix of photos of her, food/views, and the people she meets along the way. She travels to and writes about many locations I don’t see tons of travel bloggers visiting (especially in Africa, but not exclusively)–– her intention with this to challenge society’s assumptions and stereotypes. The respect she has for the places she visits and people she meets is obvious through her thoughtful photography and captions, as is her attention to detail. An added plus: her outfits are always incredible.

 

Today at a meeting my boss asked what made us smile today. I instantly thought of watching lightbulbs go off in my students heads today. (We’ve managed to get to a special place in math where I’m actually teaching them new topics instead of rebuilding skill and reviewing and I love it) Even two of my students who generally struggle, were able to understand the concepts. AND IT WAS THE GREATEST FEELING EVER. 🎉🎉🎉 It’s an insane feeling to watch connections be made right in front of your eyes, and it instantly makes all the fighting and eye rolling and frustrated glares completely worth it. In those moments, there’s nothing that could put a bigger smile on my face. So tell me, what made you smile today? 😁

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Ari Watkins | @ariiiwatkins | ariwatkins.com

Ari and I met when she came as a participant on my Greece adventure last summer, and wow were we lucky to have her. Think of Ari as your virtual supportive friend who will give you a hug and make you smile when you need it most. Online, she shares her journey of living abroad in Thailand and finding purpose, meaning and gratitude along the way.

 

believe it or not, i had multiple pre introductions to fly fishing. once in the tenth grade i convinced my English teacher to take me out of study hall and teach me how to cast. i was not interested, i was skeptical. i was tired of reading Walden and could not for the life of me understand the man’s obsession with fishing. i liked time spent with D.White, i tried harder at the comma splice rules as a result…it obviously did not last. # earlier this year post 100k in Argentina my boys were fly fishing, we camped near a lodge kind enough to let a ragtag little bunch stay a couple nights. the boys went upriver to flyfish… i drank fernet in hammocks w/ @elliot_wr # then i needed to learn to flyfish and i found myself out on the river with @_chadbrown_ . and i fell in love with river time, with distilled moments, with the focus and patience required, with the opportunity to begin to understand river ecology. this is what we share at @soulriver_runsdeep. this summer there will be six mission driven experiences in wild spaces at risk of environmental threat. we are looking to bring PNW based inner city youth and veterans together for leadership development, healing & learning. there are definitely some chance for folks from further away, so don’t hesitate b/c of that! super proud to be a part of this organization. please hit me up with questions, tag someone who might be a good match and please share my info with anyone curious! we are accepting applications for participants until January 21st!!! really hope we can share some river time! # ✨📸✨: @_cammcleod_

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Faith Briggs | @faithevebee

I started following Faith about a year ago when she became one of Columbia’s new Directors of Toughness, traveling the world on serious expeditions and testing their gear. Faith is frequently on the trail, and her Instagram stories remind and motivate me to go outside and get moving. In addition to photos and IG stories of her adventures, Faith shares her journey in writing, from reflections on her athletic accomplishments to discussing the many layers of privilege people in the outdoor industry need to unpack. She’ll give you something to think about and some motivation while she’s at it.

 

To be compassionate, is to be brave. Compassion asks questions, and waits patiently in the uncomfortable silence of unknown Compassion creates space for growth and change and movement And affirms the unexplained One time I sat in child’s pose for an entire yoga class In pain from an illness that I’m still learning to live with Angry, tears pooled beneath my face on my purple mat Then the teacher touched the small of my back and said softly “Meet yourself with compassion.” So I stayed there, for another hour, forehead pressed to the ground. Compassion calls us to stem the gap of unfamiliarity And resist the culturally conditioned response of fight-or-flight To love beyond reason, and rally against judgement. Every day my job requires me to extend compassion to those on the outside But I’m still struggling to follow the guidance my teacher gave me that day And I’m ok with that…so, I guess I’m getting somewhere.

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Noël Russel | @noel_russ

Noël has one of the most beautiful hearts I have encountered in this crazy online world. Her photos are lovely, but it is Noël’s writing that will really move you. Her storytelling is soft and nourishing. Her words are intentional and their meanings are deep–– she muses on everything from her connection to nature and God, to her family and ancestry, to her life and her work at a homeless shelter. I deeply admire Noël for her kindness and strength: both obvious in anything she posts.

 

It’s easy to think that my life is all sunshine salt water and rainbows judging from the places I’ve been or the photos you’ve seen but trust me when I tell you that this isn’t always the case. I am not always fearless. My life is far from perfect. Most of the time when I’m writing or sharing words of encouragement, it’s because I am the one who needs to read them. There are days when I feel broken or simply not good enough and today was one of them. There are times when I need a shoulder to cry on and a vent session with a friend, times when I get worried or anxious of the future or regretful of my past. No one’s life is without a certain percentage of pure bullshit – the point is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move the hell on. I don’t want to dwell on the things that have gone wrong. I am actively choosing to invest my thoughts into what can go right – how I can succeed in whatever tiny ways I can. And it takes work. Sometimes putting a smile on your face and walking out of the door is the strongest thing you can do, and that’s okay. So if you are feeling alone in your doubt, your pain or your sadness – know that you are not alone. We are all in this together. ☀ #projectinspo

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Jinna Yang | @projectinspo | projectinspo.com

I first encountered Jinna’s work a few years ago when she traveled the world with a life-size cardboard cutout of her father as a tribute to his life. From there I was inspired and motivated by Jinna’s writing, which continues to be uplifting and supporting whatever she writes about. Her photos are crisp, cool and clean; I especially admire her underwater and abstract images. Jinna’s perspective is unique, always finding light without ever having to invalidate the darkness.

 

“What can I do?”. “Que puedo hacer yo?”. These are questions I get asked every day! “What can I do to fix and protect our planet?” “How can I, as a single individual, make a difference if millions of others are not?” Well, I’m here to show you how easy, important, fun and beautiful it is to incorporate consciousness into your lifestyle. 4 years ago, these words never crossed my mind! I used to order 3 to-go coffees per day to stay awake in the corporate world without thinking about the waste I was creating on a daily basis. Over 1000 cups per year to be exact! I was one more human caught in my own world, not paying attention to anything going on outside of it, until the day I started reading more about sustainability, watched many films, and understood that every action I take can either continue to exploit our home or can help heal it. Easy steps and little shifts in routines and mindsets that CAN have a positive and healing impact on our planet. Think about this for a second: We, globally, use and discard 1 million plastic bottles PER MINUTE. 91% of this is NOT recycled. In the US only, we use and discard half a BILLION plastic straws per day! This is plastic that takes 400+ years to decompose. Plastic that always finds its way into our oceans; killing and poisoning sacred animals needed for our survival and to keep our oceans healthy. Why are our oceans so important? They absorb 93% of the CO2 emissions we produce, making our oceans our main protector against global warming! Now, what can YOU do to protect your home? Our mother. Head to my blog to read all about the eco products I carry with me 24/7 or my ways of reusing and getting creative, like the skirt I’m wearing. It’s a tablecloth transformed into a skirt! I had unused tablecloths from Bali and India, so…I took them to my seamstress and asked her to give life to a skirt and a pair of pants from those unused fabrics! That easy! Click the link in my bio to read more, tap the photo for conscious brands, and make sure you follow the non-profit I’m an ambassador for, @sachamamaorg. They are a must-read for information on sustainability and climate change! 🌎🌿💚♻ Ready to #gogreen? 😍 #ecofriendly

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Valeria Hinojosa | @waterthruskin | waterthruskin.com

Valeria is a blogger focused on making her lifestyle as sustainable as possible. I met her on a retreat in Costa Rica, and her passion and commitment to an eco-friendly life is incredibly contagious and encouraging. She is always sharing her favorite tips, products, and thoughts about living more consciously. Valeria proves that it is possible to create a life you love in a sustainable way.

 

10 whole years ago this month I left my corporate job with salary, bonus and benefits worth six figures, I shaved my head, and I moved to Japan to teach English. That single decision ten years ago changed my life. Since then I have lived, worked and studied on four continents and I have traveled to six continents multiple times, reaching 110 countries and territories. Travel is so much of the fabric of who I am, thanks to my awesome parents who took us on international trips fairly regularly from my first trip to Uganda when I was six. What has transpired over the last ten years has been a journey of self-discovery and understanding more about the world around me. I know myself better than I ever have and I am happier than I’ve ever been. It took a long time to get here and A LOT OF HARD WORK, but I am happy that I have arrived. I have made soooooo many new friends and had brief but meaningful exchanges with strangers all over the globe. Thank you to all of my friends who have supported me via couches, beds, spare bedrooms, airport pickups, happy hour dates, late night convos and photography skills. As I embark on the biggest journey of my life this year I look forward to more interactions with strangers, friends and family, more self-discovery and more global exploration. If I’ve met you before I would love to know where and what that initial meeting was like!! Put it down below. This should be fun! #THEcatchmeifyoucan ⚪⚪⚪⚪⚪🔵⚪⚪⚪🔵⚪⚪🔵⚪⚪⚪⚪⚪⚪🔵⚪⚪⚪⚪🔵

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Jessica Nabongo | @thecatchmeifyoucan | thecatchmeifyoucan.com

This woman is on fire. Jessica has traveled to (easily) over 100 countries and territories, writing and sharing her vibrant photos along the way. She also founded Jet Black, a travel agency that creates trips and curates itineraries to countries in Africa, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. On Instagram, you will find Jessica’s photos and captions to be bold, full of life, and unapologetically real. Her posts are lively reminders to keep pursuing the life you want on purpuse.

 

Hola todos! Just thought I would take a moment to reintroduce myself on this platform.. whether you personally know me or we just met here’s a little info about me: -My name is Karen Ramos I was born on the central coast in California but both my parents are from Oaxaca. -I just finished up shooting in Mexico with @rei for a summer campaign we’re working on, they sponsored my trip down the coast and in return I create content. -When I was 24, I founded, with the help of all my amazing friends, a 501(c)3 nonprofit called @getout.stayout It connects youth and kids of color to the outdoors through experiential educational outdoor excursions. (Follow us!) -This is my personal Instagram page and my political opinions are not a reflection of @getout.stayout .. from time to time there are posts that you may see and not agree with. That’s completely okay 🙂 I believe that something as simple as the outdoors is political and has had some deep rooted problems that we can no longer afford to ignore. -I am a @nativewomenswilderness ambassador, I believe in what they stand for and if you haven’t already go check us out. -I have the cutest, craziest, adventure pup named Frida. I picked her up off the streets in Oaxaca two years ago while on vacation. -After this trip I don’t really know what’s next, I have a free semester before I start school again and I quit my job to be out here… so I think I’ll just play it by ear.. And lastly I try to keep it as real as one can on an online platform, sometimes I make mistakes and I am sorry .. but I appreciate all the support the community has built around this page. THANK YOUUUUUU!!!! • • • • • • • • • • • • • #naturechola #LatinoOutdoors #getoutstayout #naturechola #getoutstayout #LatinoOutdoors #WylderGoods #diversitynadventure #everyoneshike #melaninbasecamp #unlikelyhikers #hikeitbaby #vasqueview #sponsored #nativesoutdoors #nativewomenwilderness #cholaxbomb #sup #diversifyoutdoors #indigenousrising #bajaroadtrippin 📷: @llituma1

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Karin Ramos | @naturechola

Karin lovingly shares her adventures in the outdoors and in the realm of advocacy–– the non-profit she founded, Get Out, Stay Out, seeks to get kids, especially kids of color, exploring outside. Karin’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoor industry is both important and inspiring, and something we can all learn from.

 

I’m 25 today. My mum’s spent an entire year reminding me I’m going to be “a quarter of a century” (she’s put a lot of effort in making me feel old 😂) but today is that day. I’m not a big birthday person and I’m not that great at planning things out. So I can’t say I had many life goals for 25, other than wanting to be happy and I’m glad I didn’t. Nothing has turned out as expected and the best thing that ever happen to me was that turning point leaving university, feeling completely lost, broken, confused and not knowing what to do. I don’t know why we place so much pressure on young people to have it all together, to plan out their next 20 year career move when I can’t even plan out what I’m going to eat for dinner 😂 …if I could give you advice it would be to breathe. It’s okay not knowing what on earth you want to do. I’m so glad I gave myself time. I wasn’t just burying my head in the sand (though it was lots of that too 😅). I spent time pursuing interests, which happened to be taking pictures. I made friends with guys who had those same passions and I was spurred on by a mother who never said I “can’t” but asked me “how?” and gave me the time to work it out. I’m still working life out, but I’m so blessed things are slowly coming together. I’m not sure what my next 25 years will look like, but I’m trying to give myself the patience, faith and grace to act on just the next step, without always knowing the bigger picture. *breathe* _ Self portrait, January 2017

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Holly-Marie Cato | @h_cato | hollymariecato.com

Holly is a photographer with a talent for capturing the perfect moment.  Her images tell personal stories, challenge stereotypes, and inspire connection. Holly’s work has inspired me to push myself in travel photography, and to share the images that feel more raw and real to me. Though her photography can be serious, Holly’s Instagram stories usually aren’t. Pro tip: Don’t watch them anywhere it might be inappropriate to burst out laughing.

 

 Ambreen Tariq | @brownpeoplecamping

If you are involved in the outdoor community, I sure hope you have heard of Ambreen. Though her feed is full of lovely outdoor scenes, it is her vulnerable and candid writing that I enjoy most. Ambreen shares openly about her experiences in the outdoors: positive, challenging, peaceful, whatever it might be. And she doesn’t only share her own opinions, but objective truths that are important for people of every background to read and consider.

 

Thurka Gunaratnam | @thurka | thurka.ca

I recently stumbled across Thurka’s Instagram account and found myself cracking up watching her story highlights. She is a filmmaker and educator, and is also definitely one of those people who seems to do just about everything (how this is physically possible, I’m not sure). Thurka’s videos on YouTube shine a (very funny) light on her culture and personal experiences. I am looking forward to following more of Thurka’s adventures!

 

I did a short interview with @outdoorresearch [link in bio] for #sheadventures month and to briefly touch on how media often portrays women, my personal challenges in climbing and managing a busy schedule. Three things I wish I had noted in this piece are: . 1.) There are so many incredible groups and people who relentlessly, selflessly give to the community, improve the lives of countless people, and seek to encourage more diversity and support for underrepresented groups. @thegnarwall and @j00kab00 with @verticalgeneration, @browngirlsclimb, @boccrew, @melaninbasecamp, @shelmatic with @heyflashfoxy, @indigenouswomenhike, @missmeghanyoung, @gleeabel, @paulinadao… The list is endless. I wish I had mentioned that these groups and individuals do so much more than any one person’s (my) singular goals for themselves when it comes to championing important issues. . 2.) Representation is important. Climbing media is largely homogenous and often reinforces stereotypes of what it means to be or look like a climber. These issues are important. If you find yourself angered by mentions of diversity or inclusion, ask yourself why. It is also important to note that many stories are being published about the entire female experience while really only speaking about the experiences of a select few. We can support more women by making sure we consider how different each woman’s experiences and struggles can often be. 3.) Too many women of color grow up feeling ashamed of our features that don’t fit into the *standard* portrayal of beauty. It’s a narrative woven into so many of our personal experiences. I’m ready to see all of these issues continue to be discussed and challenged. Future generations do not need to repeat this. #brownisbeautiful #browngirlsclimb . 📸: @forestwoodward

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Melise Edwards | @meliseymo

Melise is a rock climber, and though I am not a climber myself, it would be hard to not appreciate the photos she shares of her outdoor accomplishments. But what I love most about Melise’s feed is how openly she shares about her journey, whether she is talking about mentorship, inspiration, failure, representation for women and POC, or her challenges and accomplishments in a scientific field. I guarantee you will find something to relate to in what Melise so graciously shares.


GROUPS

There are so many epic groups celebrating WOC on Instagram. Here just a few, some women-specific and some not:

@indigenouswomenhike

@nativewomenswilderness

@melaninbasecamp

@browngirlsclimb

@travelnoire

@outdoorafro

@latinooutdoors

@blackgirlstrekkin


 

Don’t see your favorite inspiring WOC here? Please share in the comments below, or add a link to your own Instagram/blog!

INSPIRATION JOURNAL TRAVEL

Travel Won’t Fix You

Travel won’t fix you. Maybe that’s a strange thing to say, and maybe you disagree. Maybe you have had an experience so profound that it did turn you into a better version of yourself. So let me clarify.

Some of us are guilty of driving off into the sunset and thinking that is the end of the story–– poof, our worries are over.

The story never ends with just us and the sunset. For travel to be a permanent fix, you’d have to be running forever. And running, well, it takes energy and stamina and a lot of drive, and it can get uncomfortable quickly if you’re not used to it.

I don’t know if you’re looking to be fixed or righted or patched up in some way. I know that’s not what travel, by itself, does at all. Indeed, flinging yourself into the unknown is rarely comforting.

So if you are wanting to be free of your imperfections, do not seek travel. Should you find yourself chest deep in worry, know that the view from the airplane window will not absolve it for you. And if you head down the road looking for that something you can’t quite name… well, the act of seeking offers no guarantee of defining it any sooner.

I don’t share this in order to be discouraging… that’s the last feeling I want to leave you with. I promise there is hope in here.

I want you to know that travel isn’t going to fix you without your participation. Throughout my adult life, and perhaps throughout yours, there was always this hint that travel is the miracle cure for dullness, for heartbreak, for existential crisis. But in my experience, travel made all of those things way worse at some point before any of them got better.

I sought travel for the first time when I was 21. I, like many, was guilty of romanticizing it–– I thought cobblestone streets and port wine on the river would result in the clarity I was so desperately seeking. I was a student of many things, but I wasn’t truly learning from life quite yet. I was a stubborn student of myself alone, thinking I knew everything in my short existence.

Travel, like many things I thought I understood, kicked my ass.

Another time I hoped for a quick fix, I moved to Australia for a year with $800 cash and a backpack. What could go wrong? Sitting in my room in a suburb on the outskirts of Perth, I stared at emails from friends telling me just how lucky I was. Meanwhile, I was just getting by. No fireworks or exciting love story. Just working a full-time retail job like I could have done at home, except with less friends and more depression. But it’s supposed to be better than this, I thought. It’s supposed to be exotic and fun and adventurous, right? Funny thing… you will not enjoy something if you’re constantly labeling your experience as lesser-than.

I remember biting off more than I could chew on more than one occasion. More than one solo trip I thought I could conquer. More than one hotel room I didn’t leave during daylight hours. More than one landmark I did not visit because I was too anxious to go alone.

I have done stupid things in more countries than I can count. Fell in love once, lust more than once. Hiked up mountains unprepared, stood on a volcano in a thunderstorm like a human lightning rod. Not smart. I trusted the wrong people and offended the right ones, got ripped off and fooled and hurt and embarrassed. In New Zealand, my ex-boyfriend and I had a screaming match in our car in the pouring rain. Travel didn’t fix us then. I still feel the heartbreak of that scene, the bruise of it. But travel had no way of holding me back from myself–– instead, it peeled away all the layers of home to show me who I really was, and why I made the choices that I did. Through all of it, the stuff I’ve shared publicly and everything I never will,  I feel lucky to be alive and carrying all of those experiences with me.

No matter how hard a trip was, no matter how tough it was, or how broken I felt, I kept coming back. I kept making it work. I kept saving money for the next trip, or applying for the next job in a new place, or couch-surfing in whatever city I could get a cheap flight to.

Yes, there was fear that felt bigger than me. There was my heart beating fast in my chest on trains and in taxis and other places that should have just been easy. There was disappointment and boredom and anxiety and enough dread to fill a mid-life crisis. There was challenge and pain and joy and triumph, too. Because the things I dealt with in my life were never going to just disappear and be replaced by what I thought travel would be. Travel just added another layer. A thick one.

I began to see that although travel would never fix me, it would give me more challenge to work with. It would help me build my toolbox, so I kept coming back to it. Travel requires you to do more. It requires deliberate choices. It puts all of the weight on your two shoulders and asks you to name the specifics of each day, each moment.

When I thought travel would spit me out clean and whole, I was wrong. I wanted travel to scoop me up in big comforting arms and sing me to sleep. But it doesn’t do that. Travel is far more discerning than that–– it’ll put you through wringers you didn’t know existed. Travel had me overcoming impossible odds, finding serendipity and meeting God, though I could have never identified any of that at the time.

So when I say that travel won’t fix you, know that I mean it lovingly. I mean it with excitement and joy and incredible hope.

It does not fix you and does not make you more comfortable in your pain. It does not soften loss. It will not gloss over the mistakes you’ve made, or patch a broken heart. It can’t promise to heal you or give you clarity, regardless of if you are looking for it or not. But maybe after all the miles you’ve walked, and the stories you’ve lived, travel will present you an opportunity. And maybe in that, you’ll find the strength to fix yourself.


Model: Adaeze Azubuike.

INSPIRATION JOURNAL

Deep Thoughts from 2017

Every year I write these yearly personal reflection posts, I start with some kind of statement like “what a year,” (wow that’s very original, Erin) and 2017 was no different.

I want to note that the title “deep thoughts” is meant to be facetious, if you didn’t already get that. These are entirely personal, and none of them are going to cure cancer. But I share them because if they help one person, then that’s enough.

This was a year that many things really came full circle for me, the biggest theme being my creative interests. I have written before about my longtime passion for photography–– something I had given up on in my early 20’s out of fear and doubt. The second half of this year marked my full return to it.

In continuing my yearly tradition (Deep Thoughts from 2016, 2015 and 2014), here are my very personal reflections from 2017.

LONG TERM VISION BEATS SHORT TERM WINS

Short-term wins are great ego boosters. One-time gigs can be a good thing (and even necessary!) for your bank account. But if they are not contributing to your long-term vision for your future and the world you want to live in, my opinion is that it may deserve more thought. Sometimes we don’t know what the hell our long term vision is in the first place. But with every opportunity, relationship, and job we pursue, we can ask ourselves if that thing is aligned with how we want to be and/or the vision we want to work toward. This way of thinking allows us to say no to the wrong things and make room for the right things.

MENTORSHIP IS INFINITELY VALUABLE

From time to time, I look back on articles on this blog and find it so funny how I wrote as if I had answers! I never had answers, and I still don’t–– but this is the most comfortable I have ever been with admitting what I don’t know. As a recovering know-it-all, this feels really good and refreshing. This year, admitting the room I had to grow allowed me to learn from friends and mentors more than I ever have.

Earlier this year, I was at a Sony conference and plopped myself down next to landscape, travel and humanitarian photographer Colby Brown. He was super friendly and receptive, so I asked him a few questions about his path and business and took his feedback to heart. Fast forward six months and I found myself in a helicopter with Colby above the Namib Desert in Namibia. This is because I identified him as someone I could really learn from, and did whatever I could to get myself in a position where I could work for, with, or alongside him. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of mentorship, and the investment (time, energy, money) that it requires.

PAY ATTENTION!

I’m a God person, but please feel free to substitute The G Word for The Universe, or simply for your own inner wisdom, as I truly think this applies to everyone regardless of spiritual belief. Look, you get a lot of clues in life if you are open to receiving them. Until this year I ignored the things that were right in front of me– signs that were all around me consistently– because I thought I knew better! THAN GOD. Noooooo. Things that are not for you will never be for you, no matter how much you try to push and pull and manipulate them. Things that are for you will always be. Stop trying to contort yourself into a job, relationship or situation that isn’t working. Let go and see what flows instead.

KNOW WHEN TO BE PATIENT

I can still hear my grandmother repeating “patience is a virtue” to me as a kid, advice that always fell on stubborn ears. I have historically rushed into things and wanted to see immediate successes, but there are some things that are really only good with time. There is no substitute for practice or experience, and you can’t get down on yourself for lack of results if you haven’t been actively trying for a good while. So do your thing consistently over a long period of time. Know when to pursue something, but also be gentle with the process, and know when to be patient (personal progress), and when not to be (standing up for what is right).

RUN YOUR OWN RACE

How amazing is it that you will never be successful running someone else’s race? You will never be able to do exactly what they’ve done, because you aren’t them! Their shoes won’t fit you. How incredible is it that you have full permission to stop comparing yourself to anyone else, because it is actually 100% absurdly useless?! Ha!!! This one felt like unlocking a secret golden treasure room, one that I hope to return to whenever I need the reminder.

Your path is yours and yours only. Don’t know where your lane is yet? That is OK. You’re already on it, so stop trying to force it. Experiment with anything that feels exciting to you, and if you fall into the comparison trap (we all do), scoop yourself right back out.


I would love to hear about your reflections from this year, so please share them with me in the comments or link me to your blog posts. Here’s to another year of learning for all of us. Wishing you a healthy winter solstice and a joyous start to 2018.

INSPIRATION

Keep Going

I woke up with this message on the tip of my tongue, but I don’t always wake up with something clear on my mind. Sometimes I don’t feel like trying, to be honest.

Keep going. This message is for you, but it’s for me, too. Because there are days that it’s a challenge to do anything that feels productive. I end up wasting my own time, doing things that aren’t important. And I think as entrepreneurs, we don’t talk about this part of the gig nearly as much as we could.

This blog has always been me, always been real, always been the high highs and the low lows. I’ve been writing here for nearly three years, and when first I started it, I did not look at my future in a crystal ball and see my life as it is right now. I didn’t see much of anything. I had just moved back to the States from traveling full time, had taken a job I wasn’t really sure about, and wasn’t clear on any kind of vision. I started this blog on a hunch that people might find these words helpful someday. That hunch never promised me a clear or straight shot to success. But it did prove to be a foundation for something–– I just had to decide on what to build, and then get to building it.

Today, I just want to offer you some encouragement. Whatever it is that you are fighting for, dealing with, working toward: keep going.

Nobody promises you ease or flow, it’s up to you to find it. We don’t get the final product dropped on our front doorstep, or success delivered in a package. It’s up to us to create it, and to struggle and learn with it in the process. And I do mean process–– something that takes time, energy, patience, and a little bit of luck along the way.

If you’re pursuing a path less traveled, be prepared to commit. Be prepared for it to last a lifetime. Be prepared to take your best guess most of the time. Be prepared to sit with yourself throughout your seasons of both loving and hating the journey. Of successes and inevitable failures, both of which you will learn from. I’m telling you this because I’ve been through it.

Part of my work involves writing. There are days I don’t write, and there are days I write and I don’t like any of it. I don’t wake up feeling inspired every day. And there are certainly periods of time when I don’t think my work is very good. That is just how all of this works. There are days when you think you’re a genius. Those are balanced out by the days you think you’re a total failure. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. (and no, you’re not a total failure.)

Do not discredit your journey, today or ever. Look at the big picture. Look at how far you have come. And keep going, because the world needs your innovation, your creativity, your words, your love, your ingenuity.

If there has been any key to my success, it’s that I’ve been doing this consistently without giving up. Hard stuff takes discipline. And creativity is, well, hard. So notice what is working, ditch what isn’t, and pursue what is. There is no magic pill, no secret key I possess that you don’t. It’s just hard work and creativity over time. It’s not like the people who you look up to have “made it.” It’s not like they live in a perpetual state of having “made it” after they booked that one gig or had that one photo published in that one place. Everyone is looking for their next mountain to climb.

My friend, we have to bet on ourselves. We have to make joy a habit. We have to let it be easy when and where we can. Sharing truth matters. Bold, real, gritty truth and experience. Connection fuels this world and its movement and you are invited to be a part of that by doing whatever it is that you do.

I come back to a lot of the same themes from time to time–– but I do so because they are important. A creative and adventurous life is often also full of doubt and fear. We can’t let those things get in the way of actually doing or actually creating.

If you feel like you have lost your momentum, it is up to you to find it again. Movement inspires movement. Remind yourself that you have taken many steps before, and many more are required of you. So take another step, and keep going.

INSPIRATION LIFE ADVICE WITH ERIN

Your Question: Is there time for everything?

Hi, Erin!

Do you think there is enough time for “it all”? By that I mean, personally, right now I’m 24 and I want to go back to school and finish my bachelors degree then get my PhD in either psych or history. I also want to be a full-time adventurer and environment advocate. At some point I want to hike the PCT from Oregon up to Canada. Want to join the Peace Corps too. Then there is the simple dream of working at a brewery and sleeping in an old Toyota Land Cruiser and reading the books and research studies I WANT to read and writing things I WANT to write. Is there time for all of this or do you think we have to narrow our dreams down to one or two manageable things? My mom tells me if I want something badly enough and I’m willing to work for it I’ll get it but I still feel this pressure that I should be settled down by a certain age and, even at 24, I feel like I’m running out of time. My priorities in life aren’t to get married or have kids, it’s myself but there’s still that voice in the back of my mind that says I shouldn’t hike the PCT after a certain age or backpack across Europe when I should be writing a thesis. I’m lost. I get chastised for feeling passionate about too many things then I feel ashamed for craving so much out of life that I don’t chase anything that my heart desires.

–M.


Dear M,

I totally get it. I’ve been there. There is so much out there. So many roads to explore. And it feels like they are one-way streets, but they aren’t. Let me explain.

At 22, I had the same question. There was a feeling of having to do it all right then and there. What was that urgency actually rooted in?

It can come from the fear of falling behind. The fear of never being “successful,” and an unfair definition of “success” in the first place. The fear of having to start over if you make a “wrong” choice. Why do these fears feel true when there are plenty of examples that show us otherwise?

You can always change your mind. Write that down and make it your mantra. We need to shift your thinking from a stressful space to a fun one–– your life is full of opportunity, how f*ing awesome is that?! It is important to recognize that this sense of overwhelm is coming from an immense place of privilege. You are blessed to have so many choices and resources. Don’t mistake this for a guilt-trip–– it’s not meant to be–– but it’s important to recognize the broad opportunities you possess.

“Which of these awesome things should I pursue?” is a fun question, so let’s take the pressure off. Let’s let it be fun. The fact that this is a worry for you tells me that you’re a passionate and dynamic person with a lot to offer, and that is something to celebrate.

First, look at your list of things. Your list of possibilities. What’s the Why behind them? Answer the following honestly.

  • Why do you want an advanced degree?
  • Why do you want to pursue full-time adventure?
  • Why you want to hike the PCT?
  • Why do you want to join the Peace Corps?
  • Why do you want to work at a brewery and live in a Land Rover?

When you answer these, identify which things you’re wanting for the right reasons. Not for prestige, for recognition, or to prove something to yourself about an insecurity. Get really stinkin’ honest with yourself here and see what comes up. Ditch the things you feel drawn to for the wrong reasons and keep the things that feel fulfilling to your soul.

What is the theme throughout the answers that remain? Is it creativity, adventure, giving back? Is it environmental? Does it involve you working behind the scenes, or standing on the stage? Connect the dots and identify the common themes, especially the Why. You can’t go wrong when you are connected to your Why. So can you soften? Can you stop being so hard on yourself?

I know that you want to get it right the first time. Listen: it’s OK if you don’t, and it’s a hell of a lot easier if you get used to the idea of failure right now–– because we rarely do things right on our first attempt. There aren’t right or wrong ways to do this whole Life thing anyway. You can change your mind anytime, remember? You can turn around whenever you want. Failure is only failure if you decide to purpose it that way. Repurpose your failure as a learning opportunity.

Is there time to do all the things? Yes, you’ll make it work! Why does it have to be so black-and-white? Could you work part-time at a brewery, read and write what you want, apply for PhD programs and take a semester off to hike the PCT?  Stop overthinking it, pick one thing to start with, and go for it. It will become clear if it’s the right path once you’re on your way.

Sitting and stressing about a lack of time is a gigantic waste of time. I know because I’m an expert at overthinking. In college, I had six months to write a thesis. I spent one week writing it (the week before it was due, obviously), and spent the other five months and three weeks worrying about not having enough time. The reality is that I always had enough time, I just convinced myself I didn’t.

So start doing. Start trying the things. Where do you feel the excitement? The real excitement–– not the stuff you feel you “should” do. I’m taking about the stuff that tugs on your heart, not your ego.

Your mom is right. If you put your mind to something, you’ll do it. Look at what your own history tells you–– if you always got shit done in the past, there’s no reason to doubt that you’ll get it done in the future. It’s time to put your energy somewhere it can be used. Choose one thing you are curious about, and the answers to your questions will reveal themselves over time.

If you only take one thing from this, here’s what I want you to hear: Stop overthinking and start doing. Don’t let indecision stop you.

If and when you do fail along this journey, take it as a blessing, learn what you can, and get back up. You got this.

-Erin


Have a question you’d like me to address on this blog for everyone’s benefit? Email info@erinoutdoors.com with the subject “Advice”.

BLOGGING INSPIRATION

How to Monetize Your Passion

I work as an adventure photographer and writer. The biggest question I get about what I do… is HOW.

How do I travel so much? How did I get started as a photographer? How do I get paid to blog? How did I make this my job? How do I live such an adventurous life and still eat food make a living?

If you’re curious about what I do and how I do it, see my FAQs here. But let me make it clear that there was a time when these questions plagued me. The career that I currently have would have absolutely baffled me in my early 20’s. How the hell was I supposed to make money doing something I actually liked?!

It turns out it was pretty simple. I had to answer a few important questions for myself really thoroughly and often (they’re coming, keep reading), then I had to take action.

Before we dive in, just a note on this whole analysis paralysis thing you’re probably going through that brought you to this post. In order for anything to happen, you have to do something. This article isn’t meant to be passive. Read it, then answer the following questions.

Let’s go.

WHAT YOU DO THAT PEOPLE WILL PAY FOR?

Make a list of your potential products and services. What are you good at? What do people ask you for advice about? What are you known for in your friends group? What kinds of questions do people come to you with naturally? What are you good at making or creating? What do you enjoy doing?

And which of these things can you make money from?

Are people always asking you for travel advice? For exercises to get a firmer butt? For smoothie recipes? For gardening tips? For super sweet video editing techniques? For makeup or hair? For help figuring out what’s wrong with their car? You don’t have to do all this stuff for free.

Make a list of items you could potentially charge money for.

WHAT IS YOUR THING WORTH?

When I first started blogging for brands and companies, I had no clue what I should have been charging. At first, I worked in exchange for exposure because it was worth it to me at the time.

I get that this is hard. I get that you can’t exactly reach out to a complete stranger and ask them for their rates– not everyone is comfortable talking numbers. Maybe you have to get a little creative. Make sure your questions are specific. Who do you know that does what you want to do? Find some kind of connection to that person and explain where you are coming from. Maybe they can give you some insight.

Do some market research using whatever resources are available to you. That includes Google.

Eventually, you have to pick a price and go with it. “I didn’t know what to charge” is a dumb reason for not selling a product or service that people want. Whatever you charge is probably more than you’re getting right now ($0.00, right?).

If everyone is saying “oh hell yeah” to your rate without trying to negotiate with you, then you’re charging too little. If nobody is responding, or if your pricing is shutting down the conversation altogether, then you’re charging too much or you’re in the wrong market. Change something and see what works.

Next to the list you just made, write the range of what you can charge for each item.

WHO WILL PAY YOU FOR YOUR THING?

Figure out your ideal consumer/demographic. Who are they? How old are they and where are they located? What are they going through in their life? What do they do in their spare time? How much money do they make? Where do they shop? Why do they need your product or service?

You need to identify your target demographic for a couple of reasons:

  1. You might need influence
  2. You definitely need people to buy your thing

If what you do/make is made more credible or valuable by having a large audience, you need to attract this audience (side note- do not buy followers) and give them value. How can you be most valuable to this group of people? How will you attract them? And why will they want to buy your thing?

For each item you could potentially sell, write a sentence or two describing your perfect customer.

WHERE WILL YOU SELL IT?

Where do you want your thing to be available for purchase? If you’re a consultant, how will people know you exist and how will they contact you? If you sell a product, is your store online? Do you sell at pop-ups, craft fairs, trade shows? If you lead workshops, how do people book those?

However people are giving you money, make it easy for them. Look at your own spending patterns. How do you spend your money and why? When you think about your own purchasing experience, what makes it smooth and seamless? What makes you want to buy something again?

Give your customer options, but make the best deal clear and obvious– all they have to do is say YES.

Make a list of how and/or where you will sell your thing.

WHAT IS YOUR PLAN?

Look at your answers to all of the questions above. They should give you some clarity on your next step. It should give you some idea of the options you have and the avenues you could potentially go down. It will also give you an idea of how scalable your thing is– and scalability matters if you are looking to make a fully grown career out of your passion.

If this feels overwhelming, ask yourself which of the things you wrote down is low-hanging fruit, i.e. which one of them feels easiest? Which of these could you start selling this week? Which of these could you start selling today?

Pick one of your products or services, and write yourself a 5-step plan from creation to sale. Here is a personal example:

Getting a project-based photography or collaboration job

  1. Make a list of 5 specific target brands
  2. Shoot or compile images I have taken that are consistent with their branding
  3. Make a portfolio specific to that style
  4. Send portfolio with package rates (& make one of the packages stand out as a great deal)
  5. Negotiate prices and packages

It won’t always be 5 steps– sometimes it’ll be 3 and sometimes it’ll be 10. Monetizing your passion can be big and scary. Breaking it down into actionable steps can make things seem much more attainable. After you make your plan, the next step is setting times or dates for when each of these will be completed.

CREATE, TRY, REPEAT.

Not everything you do will be a huge hit, and you have to accept that right now, otherwise failure will bog you down every step of the way. You can love it or hate it, failure is a crucial part of the process.

Do I think all passions can make you a ton of money? No. Do I think everyone should try to monetize their passions? No. But if you want to do it, now is the time. You are most likely not going to get any more clarity than what you now have. Entrepreneurship, creativity, starting a business or a side-hustle– these are not endeavors that come with a guidebook. You have to see what works and take it from there.

Get to it. And don’t forget to have fun.


 

Feature photo by William Reed Olds-Benton.