It was 1995 and I was on the phone with a recruiter for a final interview screening for a potential job in a major corporation out west. It was in my grandmother’s kitchen where I arrogantly turned down an offer to work for ‘the evil empire.’ I had just graduated from University with a Computer Science degree and while I already had my full-time career job in a local family firm, the job and my life was based in Ohio–a place I thought, if I was going to build my life somewhere, it could be anywhere and why would I settle for Ohio? I wanted to be out west where a recent visit to Seattle had illuminated the lifestyle I was looking to create for myself. Out west there were mountains to climb, rivers to kayak, trails to explore and so much more. The landscape was something I had never seen before and with Mt. Rainier rising above everything, silhouetted against the Seattle sky, I knew this was the place I wanted to be. My plan was to work hard and retire young, and this idea set the stage for my current situation. Am I retired? Not really, but I am living more closely the life I had envisioned all those years ago and I have a better understanding of what I am willing to sacrifice (or not) to have the life I want.
I was ambitious and bold, moving to Seattle on my own and turning down the job offer from Microsoft. If there is one thing I have learned in life it is that everything has it’s time and people have to do what they need to do, even if in the end, like me, you take the harder route to get there. Less than a month after I moved to Seattle I had a contract job at Microsoft and went fulltime a year later. It was the age of the dot coms and anything was possible. People were getting wealthy quickly and with myself getting hired into a corporation that was itself booming, this quick wealth accumulation only aided my belief that retiring young was possible. At that time, my idea of retiring young seemed to resemble the notion of having a family, buying a house, settling down, or something like that; naturally climbing was in there somewhere but not at the heart of it. It was a traditional view of how life should be lived. Maybe it was my unsettled upbringing that made me yearn for the traditional, more settled life, but in actuality, my lifestyle has been anything but traditional.
My passion for climbing soon made me realize that the call of the outdoors would never ebb and the lure of a possible climbing outing would somehow always find its way to the forefront of my thoughts. My life started to revolve around climbing, training and travel.
I hit my original retirement milestone in 2006 and quit work to explore the open road and see what climbing fulltime was like. I wanted it to last as long as I could, but failed at finding a new source of income. The dot coms had all gone bust and the economy was struggling. It was a good time to be free and climbing, but eventually, the money ran low and in the end, my retirement lasted only 18 months before I found myself back in the rat race of corporate America.
This time, however, I was unwilling to sacrifice some essential components I had created in my new lifestyle, such as my ability to change my backyard based on favorable climbing conditions. I also became more protective of my personal time. The golden hand cuffs had been removed when I quit and I wasn’t about to enslave myself once again. It became necessary that for me to function at a high level in my job, I would need access and time to train and climb in addition to work. My ability to work remotely was key to this endeavor.
I had been working in some remote capacity from as far back as 1999. I was good at it, but still learning through trial and error since the role was unique and not many people were allowed that flexibility. Technology has changed the world dramatically since that time and though today’s world boasts the ability to be successful as a mobile worker, in practice, the corporate culture is not ready for that kind of change. Office workers are rooted in the idea of cubicles and water cooler decision making conversations. We build software to enable people to do business anywhere, anytime and from any place, yet, businesses struggle employing and making these types of mobile employees successful. An often unfair reality of trying to succeed in this type of role is to accept a flatter trajectory up the corporate success ladder.
Further, in today’s world, you drive your own career. Microsoft is a business where they promote that very idea. It is up to the individual to make sure they are tracking in their career, not their manager. If you are a remote worker, your success with this is critical. People don’t understand how to leverage you and if you are out of the office, perception can lead to exclusion. Because I was constantly managing office perceptions, my life was built around climbing but focused on work. Every minute of every day, from waking to sleep and on weekends, if I wasn’t putting in time for work, I was thinking about it. This constant vigilance created the freedom to fit in climbing and training. Unfortunately, the downside was that for me, there was never an end of the day or the beginning of the next. My days blended together with some long nights and early mornings, but I didn’t mind because I was climbing, training and working and my life felt full and fulfilled.
While balancing the stresses of corporate life, I learned how to create training and climbing sessions that were super-efficient. Over the years, I was impressed by how much I was able to continue to improve as a climber. 10 years ago my personal best was 5.12b/7b. I could onsight a 5.12a/7a+ but those grades still felt at my limit. 8 years ago I found myself doing my first 5.13a’s/7c+. And, 3 years ago, I did my first 5.14a/8b+ and 5.14b/8c. During this time, I’ve also been on the US National Team, competing in bouldering and rope world cup competitions in Europe, Canada and within the United States. I have traveled and climbed all over the world. And, I have done all of this while maintaining a highly stressful, all-consuming corporate job in a highly volatile business, working with senior leaders in major influential industries across the globe.
Despite enjoying the challenges of working in a prestigious company, when the pink slip was handed to me back in July, it was without hesitation that I signed my farewell to that life. I set off smiling because I knew there was something greater that I could create for myself, especially now that I am once again unhindered by corporate demands–traveling and climbing full time. I continue to focus on creating my next career through the networks I am building and the people I am meeting, some of whom are on varied segments of a similar path I’m paving for myself. If there is one thing to take away from my time in corporate America and my life as a rock climbing athlete, it is to never sacrifice those things that make you happy. You only get one life and I believe we should live it to the fullest and stop sacrificing it to traditional ideologies that might not be who or what we are really about.
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