Looking for Guidance

Hey Steph!

There are a few questions lying heavy in my mind lately that I haven’t been able to sort out. I think you could really offer some guidance for me to hopefully be able to answer those questions…or maybe help me consider if I’m even asking myself the RIGHT ones. First, I think it’s necessary that I tell you a little about myself and help you understand where I’m coming from and where I want to go. Because how else would you understand how to help me get there?

I’m 21 years old and in six months will have a bachelor’s in nursing. I have been climbing for about 3 years now. I’m a fast learner, with a strong will and an even stronger head, that’s made me progress pretty quickly. I learned on sport but have developed a love for traditional climbing because it will allow me to go on the adventures that I’ve always dreamed of but never had the opportunity to go on. I want to widen the spectrum of my knowledge of climbing to include mountaineering and to learn all I can about surviving in the mountains. I want to combine this with my passion to help people by learning more about wilderness emergency medicine, and straying away from the frustrations and limitations of conventional medicine and further my knowledge in more holistic practices. It would be the ultimate experience to be able to combine these passions of mine and let it take me to all corners of the world, pursing my desire to bring quality health care to people who desperately need it, all the while surrounding myself with the natural world. For me, the outdoors have always been a place where I feel the most at home and the most at peace. I’ve always felt a connection there that resonates deep within my soul. Now climbing has been an avenue to take me there, meanwhile challenging me physically and mentally in ways I’ve never experienced before. It’s hard to explain really, the gravitational pull I feel within myself to achieve these things.

So here I am…six months away from graduating with a BSN degree from Alabama with little to no money and a pretty unreliable car and the BIGGEST dreams. For the first time ever, there’s technically nothing stopping me from leaving anymore. Everything is finally wrapping up. To many people’s surprise, there are plenty of quality single-pitch climbing opportunities anywhere from 30 min to 2 hours away from me and, of course, multi-pitch just next door in North Carolina…sooo I’m not exactly deprived. There’s also a small, close-knit climbing community here that I love. I’ve had to search long and hard to find the things I’m looking for here, but I’m pretty happy and I’ve definitely made the best of what this tiny section of the world has to offer. However, I want more. My soul is CRAVING the wide-open spaces, the big wall climbing, the desert spires, and the mountaineering excursions you just can’t find in the southeast. That’s not even considering the limited educational opportunities and narrow minded conceptions on health that are prevalent in this area. At the same time I want to travel and experience different people, cultures, climates, and geographic’s. I want to learn as much as I can about myself and this world that we live in.

So my question is…how do I decide what to do when I graduate? How do you know when to go for it and throw all practicality aside? Do I stay a year at the hospital I precept at to gain experience which will open me up to endless opportunities within my career that will then allow me to travel and support myself (and further my career at the same time be able to climb)? OR do I get out west as fast as I can, with the scraps of money I’ve managed to save and finally indulge in my wildest fantasies,live cheaply and simply in my gas guzzling car, letting everything else work itself out over time as I gain footing in the unfamiliar territory? My judgment is so clouded by my desire to pursue my passion for the outdoors that has up until now been restrained by responsibilities at home. I’m having trouble sorting out my thoughts because of the emotion tied into this decision. My already limited patience is wearing thin.
I know the decision is ultimately up to me, but I wanted some advice from someone that’s already been there to help me gain a wider (and wiser) perception of this particular time in my life. I ask you because we seem to share many of the same values, like living simply, veganism and nutrition, climbing, and the sense of adventure that allows you to grow spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I can only speculate that we seem to share a similar driving force (however difficult to define) behind our reasons for climbing, for seeking adventure. Many of the things I hope to one day achieve, you’ve already been doing for 20 years. I know you can’t tell me what to do but I was hoping you could, at the very least, offer some guidance…or maybe even just share some thoughts or experiences you’ve acquired over the years.

I can’t end this email without saying what an incredible role model you’ve been for me and how much it has helped me to know that there are other women out there that share similar interests and ideals, that live with the ferocity, thoughtfulness, and passion I feel within myself, and pursue a life full of meaning and self discovery. You’re blog has helped me stay focused and successful when life’s certain trials and tribulations threaten to stray me off-track. When I started climbing and stumbled across your blog I couldn’t believe there was another person out there that I could relate to in so many various ways, and it’s been very comforting and inspiring (and makes me feel less crazy for having these huge dreams.) It gets rather lonely sometimes here in the deep south.

Thanks for sharing and thanks for being you,

Ally from Alabama

Hi Ally,
Congratulations on your impending graduation! I think you are in the ideal career path for having it all. The best thing you can do is make choices that allow you to be fulfilled in all aspects of your life. I know several nurses who work as traveling nurses, and they have an enviable work schedule, get to climb much more than most, and often have a lot of choice as to where they want to be and how long they want to be there. If spending one more year where you are will allow you to combine the career you love and the lifestyle you love, I think it’s a no brainer.
Normally I never tell anyone what to do in situations like this, but this is an easy one 🙂
Best of luck with everything,

  • one more year is such a small amount of time in the big picture, especially if you can gain more experience and knowledge in nursing. You can train for outdoor survival where you are, then never stop training when you leave Atlanta. The brain is fueled by knowledge, it is a good idea never stop feeding it. Ally, a person with emergency medical training who wouldn’t want you to go with on adventure with that person, at least it would be nice to know someone will know what to do if I bounce. congrats on a big milestone, keep going. jk.

  • mira

    no way! you are lucky to have such passions coursing through you, don’t wait to follow them…you’ve been “responsible” long enough and you seem like you’ve got the savvy to forge the path you want now, it all begins with small simple actions.

    although as someone who’s been there too I would advise selling that car and getting one that fulfills more of what you need from a life car, even something smaller (and cheaper, like a matrix with over 40 miles to the gallon) can be comfortable to sleep in if you’ve got a good system!

    “the dream of heaven and greatness is the here and now, not waiting for us in our graves” … or on down the line! buena onda, hope to see you around out here 🙂

  • yeah, one year is not that much time, in the long run. it’s so awesome to see such inspiring young people in the world. i’ve recently (in the last few years) come to many of the same thoughts, realizing that our lives are for us to make, and that we can live fulfilling lives without subscribing to “the norm” (which is so far from anything normal. which is probably why it’s called the norm, so people feel better about the silly decisions they make everyday). we need to follow our passions and become who we have the infinite potential to be. When she is done with school, and begins to travel, i know she will be able to find communities that share the values that she shares with steph (we do exist!), and be able to blossom as a human being. it makes me so happy to read posts like this. great start to a great day. thank you both!

  • alex

    Med student here. Travel medicine is the best thing in the world. Dooooo it. Wilderness medicine all the way. A year of sacrifice is nothing compared to the rest of your life doing what you love. I lived in a crappy city for my school for two years and now I am finally out of there and really getting into doing the part of medicine that I really enjoy. You are basically guaranteed a job for the rest of your life as a nurse, where ever you want. Medicine is the best field to be in for the next 50 years. It’s great to have the best of both worlds; that’s what travel medicine for a climber is all about. You get to be a dirtbag climber but you actually can make some money and see the country doing it (and travel medicine pays a ton extra and they pay living expenses, so you basically pocked everything you make after taxes). Enjoy!

  • alex

    PS: Steph, I just bought your first book.

  • art

    I agree with everyone here (another med student, WEMT, etc, etc.) Take the year and work. You’ll hopefully be able to save up a little money for when things get rough, and more importantly, you’ll have the xperience that will make you a lot more valuable. That’s the hardest thing about Utah–there are a ton of new nurses, so the field is flooded. Add in experience, and you’re a lot better off in terms of being able to get a job! Also, I’d suggest going through a WFR course if you already haven’t–it’ll be nothing new to you, but it can help you meet the kind of people that can help you get a job somewhere you want to be!

  • Ally

    Steph and everyone, thanks for the advice! 🙂 Just wanted to update and say that i put myself out there and now have a job as soon as i graduate as a camp climbing instructor/trip leader and camp nurse for the summer in North Carolina!! after that, who knows! just going to keep putting myself out there, following my dreams, and let the universe take it from there 🙂


  • congrats Ally!


These are my sponsors. THEY ARE FABULOUS!