Never Did I Ever...
In December, I will mark the tenth anniversary of my first university graduation. I've had three. Well to be fair, I didn't go to the third as for me, that particular qualification was more of a necessity than a true academic achievement. The other two - a Bachelor and a Master respectively - were absolute pinnacles of accomplishment, and provided a sense of closure to what were two very significant periods of time in my life. I was an academic, and devoted myself adoringly to my studies, even if they did sometimes get the better of me. At the end of it all, though, I had a Master's degree to my name before my 22nd birthday. I was - and still am - fiercely proud.
I had grand ideas of what I wanted to achieve with my fancy pieces of paper. At the very least, I wanted to have my years of hard work rewarded - vindicated, even - with a job title that was commensurate to my qualifications, and within my area of study and interest. And yet just like an uncomfortably large number of highly-qualified graduates, I was found wanting. Ultimately I ended up working in a job I never thought I'd do: classroom teaching.
Here is where the focus of this episode comes in - the word "never." In 2010 I literally verbalised the sentiment that I would never be a teacher. Four years later, I found myself standing in a classroom facing a group of teenagers and realised I both enjoyed the work and was quite good at it, thank you very much. So there's one "never" that was totally launched out the window.
When I finished my Masters, I swore I'd never study again. But because I enjoyed teaching so much, I needed to legitimise myself and gain a qualification. So back to study I went. Twelve months and a Graduate Diploma later, there was another notch in my academic belt, and there was another "never" that proved to be untrue.
It didn't take long for more "nevers" to fall like dominos. I continued teaching, for a while. But one thing led to another, and I found myself leaving the profession. Prior to working in education I worked in retail, and when I left I swore I'd never work in retail again. After quitting teaching, I spent three months working in an outdoor equipment shop, in an enormous shopping centre. So much for another "never."
And in the last two years, "nevers" that I didn't even know existed have surfaced.
Never did I ever think I'd run my own business, let alone one in the adventure tourism realm.
Never did I ever think I'd be out in the mountains hiking, leading other women out into the wilderness, for a living.
Never did I ever think I would have not one, but two cats living happily and lovingly in my home, as I was - and still am - a dog lover.
Never did I ever think I would overcome my crippling arachnophobia, and have it replaced with a totally irrational fear of waves, especially as I once considered the rolling ocean a place of pure happiness.
Never did I ever think I'd be fit, and strong, and able to navigate across complicated terrain and interpret the weather and identify animal tracks and survive out in the wild with only a reasonably small backpack full of equipment.
Never did I ever think I'd work outdoors full time, with no walls or fluorescent light or recycled air or water coolers or computers.
Never did I ever think that as a scholar with qualifications from some of the finest universities in the country, I would be later be completing a course of study - a fourth tertiary qualification - at a tafe, and that said course would test me, try me, challenge me, introduce me to whole new activities and adventures, and inspire me in a way I never perceived possible.
Never did I ever imagine I would spend my winters in the snow, working on the chairlifts, climbing icy towers with hooks and a hammer, and skiing to my "office" each day.
Never did I ever picture myself heading out into the white-capped hills to identify skiable terrain and camp in the snow, or that I'd be teaching others how to do so.
Never did I ever believe that I would become a competent mountain bike rider, an owner of a boutique brand of bike, an ambassador for that brand, and an entrant in the downhill mountain bike race scene.
Never did I ever think I would actively fly the flag for women's participation in the various mountain activities that I partake in.
Never did I ever think I would have a story that would be interesting enough to go to air nationally.
Never did I ever think I would be called by strangers who heard my story, telling me what an inspiration I am to others.
Never did I ever think I would live a life defined by adventure, and restricted by nothing but my physical capabilities and the limits of my imagination.
And if someone had have told the 19-year-old Bachelors-graduate me that in ten years' time I'd be sitting in my home in the Victorian High Country writing a blog for my hiking tours business, whilst gazing lovingly at my new, shiny, deep-purple, long-travel mountain bike with a cat asleep on either side of me, having just returned home from a weekend adventure in the snowy backcountry teaching a Canadian ski patroller the fine art of snow camping, and having just completed my second winter of working as a lift operator at a ski resort, I'd have laughed. Loudly. And with utmost incredulity. It is so far from what I wanted at that time, so far from anything I'd experienced up until that time, so totally contrary to whom and what I was as a person, and from whom and what I wanted to be. My life as I know it, as I love it now, would have been totally inconceivable and totally unattractive to the person I was back then.
I thought I wanted to be dressed in crisp expensive clothes and shoes, working in a city office, living a professional life. I wanted to be able to boast about having an executive-sounding job titled. I wanted to be able to justify my academic achievements. To me, that would equate to success, and success would equate to happiness.
My current, collective job title, as I see it, is "Professional Dirtbag." I work in dust, in grease, in mud, in snow, in sweat, in blood. And I absolutely adore it. It has taught me to appreciate a life devoid of stress and pressure, and to enjoy physical work in a beautiful alpine setting. My academic achievements, despite having occupied most of my adult life, have seemingly no bearing on what I do now. Or at least, not directly. At university I learnt how to find information for myself, I learnt how to distill that information into relevant and concise packages, I learnt how to discipline myself to get things done in time and to a standard, I learnt how to query and critique and solve problems. I learnt how to get enormous projects done quickly, efficiently, and with as little fuss as possible. So none of what I did all those years ago is redundant. Nothing ever is. Everything contributes to accumulated experience. And all of it was pertinent at the time, and I look back on my scholastic life with great fondness.
The moment is what matters. The present is what matters. And taking opportunities as they manifest themselves matters the most. There are only two "nevers" I believe in: that you should never let an opportunity pass you by, and that it is never too late to try something new. At the age of 18 I skied for the first time. I now work at a ski resort, and have learnt to guide and ski out in the backcountry. At the age of 24, despite a lifetime of riding bikes, I learnt the art of mountain biking. In four weeks, on the weekend of my 30th birthday, I'll be riding in my first downhill race on my own custom-built bike. Also at the age of 24, I put on a pack and hiked up a mountain for the first time. I now own and run a hiking tours business.
So as I reflect on the journey - nay, the adventure - that Skadi has taken me on so far, I find myself feeling that fierce pride that I felt at each of my university graduations. I have learnt and accomplished things I never dreamed possible, but I have only done so because I allowed myself to try. The idea that I could "never" do a thing is now foreign. I've come to realise that I'm only held back by the limitations I place on myself. So to remedy this, I don't limit what I do - without being totally rash, of course. I like to say that I ride for tomorrow, meaning that what I do today will absolutely impact what I can do in future - so fun is always calculated! Yet with this notion of calculation I threw career and convention to the wind to define my tomorrow my way. If it doesn't work, I'll at least know that I gave it a shot, and won't look back wondering, "What if?"
So never hold yourself back. Never let an opportunity pass you by. Never believe that it's too late to do something new.