A letter to the Wilderness

A little over two years ago I trained for a job in wilderness therapy. I left West Virginia with an unsure mindset of what this job would look like. I road tripped out to Utah for an eight day training for a job I had no idea if I would be good enough. Those eight days were spent with a collection of individuals from all different backgrounds and experiences. The staff trained us in this job as much as someone could without throwing us to the wolves. We all got a taste of sleeping under a tarp, living in the desert, and the various skills needed to work with teenaged boys. Halfway through that training, I was convinced I wouldn’t make it through the training. I was convinced I wasn’t cut out for a job, it seemed so incredibly difficult. I inevitably took the gig and my life was changed forever.

When I initially went for this job I assumed it would be a stopover gig. One that I would last for at most 6 months. I couldn’t imagine that two years later I would still be in this job, as a lead, and discovering a niche that I was incredibly good at. My first few shifts at this job I was shy and timid. I had no idea how to build rapport, hold boundaries, consequence or exist fully in the outdoors. I felt as though I was a fraud. I had no right to call myself a field guide. What did I have to offer in this world? How could I help a population of people who didn’t want help? Did I have anything to offer them? These were they types of toxic talks that went through my mind time and time again during my first few months as a field guide. The constant feelings of inadequacy. 

As I slowly got comfortable within this job I realized it is something no one knows what they are doing. It is something that gets easier over time. Something that becomes trial and error. One of my bosses once told me on a drive out to the field, “if you don’t fuck up you’re never going to learn.” That has slowly become my mantra out there. Once I learned to let go of the pressures to be perfect in my job it got a whole lot easier. 

Wilderness therapy is not for the faint of heart. It also isn’t for the heartless. It is a job that pushes you to show empathy when it is really freaking hard. It is a job that you are rarely thanked for. Becoming a wilderness therapy field guide has taught me to have grit. It has taught me that being a women in the outdoors is inspiring. It is something that I didn’t think I could do, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else. As I am getting ready to say goodbye to my time working in the wilderness with troubled adolescences, I am struggling to put into words how it has impacted me. It has swiftly become a job that I am confident in, passionate about, and weirdly attached to. It is hard to imagine a world where I am not working 8 days in a row without showering.

After the two years, I can honestly say working in wilderness therapy has changed me for the better. It has taught me patience. It has taught me to be detached from outcome. It has taught me how to show empathy towards a person even if they are getting on your last nerve. It has taught me that in order to do a good job, you need to be willing to work on yourself. I have learned so much about myself in leaning into this job. Things that at times I didn’t want to realize or learn. This job has taught me that I am resilient. My time has come to an end. I am hanging up my pack, and moving on from the world of wilderness. It feels weird to think that after two years I will no longer work in wilderness therapy. I know I will be able to go back if I want to, but for now I will look back in gratitude for my time in the wilderness. From the staff to the students, each person has changed my life for good.

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