On being an amateur professional

Amateur – Origins, late 18th century: from French, from Italian amatore, from Latin amator ‘lover’, from amare ‘to love’.

Our campsite one Friday evening nine miles from the chair where I type.

Throughout my so-called adult life, the outdoors has been an overriding passion for me. Something I love and invest myself in fully. It is where I gain a lot of my identity and feel very passionate about overall. The overall arc of my life always equated to how I can spend my free time outdoors. It is how I ended up in Moab after all.

And I do mean outdoors. Though backpacking is my first love, it is time spent outside, that is my goal. It can be a hut trip with friends while skiing one weekend, a camping/hiking trip where we explore multiple trails or routes in an area, or combine a hike with my other love of history.

And we are starting to explore the trail known as the “Colorado River” via packraft now. PCO Joan

But I love to spend time outside, however, and wherever I can. Be it in my current home of the high desert, my former home of the Colorado Rockies, or finding the beauty in such places as the High Plains or Eastern Woodlands, being outside is my life goal.

For a period of the past two years, I’ve been a so-called professional in the outdoors. Meaning, I’ve guided, been paid to write a book, and even offered the opportunity to teach some classes earlier this year. I cobbled together a modest living doing what I enjoy overall.

But then COVID happened. And things went pear-shaped. Guiding dried up locally, another potential writing contract did not materialize, and the classes became canceled.

But through networking with a volunteer role here in town, I managed to land a non-tourist based job here in Moab, relying on my twenty-years of experience in the IT field. As I’ve mentioned before, having a core IT skillset primarily within infrastructure support (desktop, servers, networking, administration) is similar to being an auto mechanic: An in-demand skill set that keeps me employed and pays the bills.

Due to my vocational history, I found myself reluctant to retake an IT gig. I did not like the person I became working in a corporate tech company – Burnt out, gaining weight, and (crucially) not able to enjoy my time off.

But, here I am three months later, and dare I say, I’ve found satisfaction in the job?

I earn half of what I used to collect, but it is more than enough for our needs esp with the lower cost of living we have here. There is no on-call, no holidays, or weekends. And not being a technical company, the IT challenges are easy enough for me with a sustainable workload. My immediate boss, I gather, has an arc similar to mine, which means that he chose to work in Moab rather than his previous role in charge of a division of over sixty people. And my senior colleague seems grateful for the assistance I provide so he can address items that take a deeper dive.

But, crucially, I am freed up to do what brings an immeasurable amount of happiness to my life. No surprise that means nearly every weekend spent with Joan exploring the backcountry in some manner. Spending almost every weekend outdoors means more to me than a six-month hike every couple of years or so. By far.

Which means I am not a professional outdoors person by some standards.

But what does the word “professional” mean?

A good friend of mine retired as a volunteer firefighter a few years back. I once innocently asked what differences are there between a volunteer and a professional firefighter? He politely, but firmly, said volunteer firefighters ARE professional. I quickly understood what he meant. And took that lesson to heart over the years.

From DK Decals

As I am now in a somewhat similar volunteer role, I understand on a more visceral level what he means. I have certs to keep up and obtain new ones, have to adhere to protocol and standards, attend meetings, and attend training sessions. And the senior members stress the importance of being professional in all situations. So, being paid is not the arbiter of professionalism.

And that brings me to my current situation. Though I do make a very modest amount of money off this website and the occasional side gig, I am not a full-time outdoors person.

I am an amateur.

And I do not use that word in a derogatory sense but rather in the original sense of the word. Meaning, I am persuing the outdoors with gusto. With passion. And for the love of it.

This website, and my online presence in general, is part of that love. But I realized I am more content collecting a paycheck overall rather than hustling for jobs or marketing myself more aggressively. Acts that take time away from my outdoor time. And that is not acceptable. There’s a major caveat with this, though: As long as what I do for a paycheck does not interfere with what I need in my outdoor time bank in the end.

And living in an area rich with outdoor opportunities, and not many people outside of the popular attractions such as Arches National Park, means my outdoor time bank funds get spent outside. Rather than spent driving further and further to avoid the crowded areas as I did back in the Front Range of Colorado.

So I’m back to what I did in the past before my career “progressed,” and the corporate culture became entrenched more so in Colorado: Collecting a steady paycheck, getting outside as often as I can, and content to do some side jobs once in a while. However, I now have a partner who knows every once in a while I’ll get the urge to take off by myself.

How long will I keep this IT gig? Don’t know. But if things continue on this arc both nationally and personally, I doubt I’ll give it up anytime soon. I’m not willing to take a leap right now at this time for financial reasons. Nor do I think it is wise to encourage others to travel far for their outdoor vacations.

But I do know that I have the skill set to pick up another gig if need be as well in the future.

I do not wrap my identity in being Mr. Famous Outdoor Person. The people who are Famous Outdoors People know me, and those that I respect, respect me, too. I’ve always said I’m the session player of this obscure niche – competent, know the well-known people, and unless you are into this small bubble…you have no idea who the hell I am. 🙂 But that’s cool. Nicky Hopkins and his piano work made Loving Cup memorable after all.

So call me an outdoor amateur but a professional one. I am outdoors for the love of it. And think I do it well enough. I am content to be outside when I can and how I can. And if a few people learn a thing or two from what I do online and appreciate the work, so much the better.

We’ll see what the months or years bring, but being content is pretty damn good. I am an amateur after all, and just being outside is enough in the end.

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Gene Curp
Gene Curp
4 years ago

Glad you have a little financial security that doesn’t wreck your life. Famous Outdoor Person I would guess would not bring happiness. Enjoy your niche. Sounds perfect for you.