Why I Willingly Quit Wilderness Guiding to Work in an Office

Canoe Guiding on the Noire River

It appears I’ve gone in the opposite direction. I’m sure you’re much more accustomed to seeing posts titled “How I quit my job to travel the world”, but that isn’t the case for me. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

As you may already know, I spent 5 summers working as a wilderness guide. I did hiking and kayaking trips in Nunavut for one summer and canoe guiding in Ontario and Quebec for another four.

First and foremost, my passion is being outside, and I also love sharing that passion with other people. So I understand why people are surprised when I say I now work in Toronto’s financial district, in an industry completely removed from the outdoors and tourism in general. Sometimes I’m surprised myself.

So despite my love of the outdoors and guiding, here are my reasons for why I quit guiding for an office job.

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Guiding isn’t as glamorous as it seems

It’s easy to romanticize guiding. You’re doing activities that tourists pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to experience. And you’re getting paid to do it. Even when I look back on guiding experiences, I tend to forget about the negative parts and only think about how incredible it was.

However, guides are chronically overworked and underpaid. Sometimes we’re put in dangerous or uncomfortable situations (cue the bug apocalypse of 2017). Tourists can be really disrespectful and inconsiderate (one time someone threatened to stab me).

Don’t get me wrong, most of the time guiding is great. But remember that it’s still a job and no job is all rainbows and sunshine 100% of the time.

I wanted a home base

My friends who are guides move with the seasons. One winter they’re out in Belize and by summer they’ve moved to Rocky Mountains. Always on the move.

This is great for some people, but I liked the idea of having a home base. I liked the idea of building a life in one place. As lame as it sounds, I liked the idea of making friends in my neighbourhood and visiting my parents regularly and living near a good school if I chose to have kids.

I feel a little differently about this now (the home base part, not the friends and family) and I would someday like to be more location independent, but I still don’t want to be a nomad.

I was offered a full time job right out of university that paid well

This is the point where everyone thinks of me as a corporate sell out. This wasn’t the primary reason for me leaving guiding, however I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a factor.

Between my third and fourth year of university I did an internship with a consulting firm. At the end of my summer they offered me a full time job. They even let me defer my start date for a year so I could finish a second degree and do one more summer at camp.

I knew I’d be graduating with a fair amount of student debt, so having a job lined up gave me a sense of security. In fact, it was only because I had this piece of security that I was able to travel to New Zealand, Australia, Iceland and India on borrowed money for my last semester.

And I actually like my office job

I don’t like how inside it is and I don’t love absolutely every single minute of it, but overall I really like my job. There’s a lot of variety and few days are ever the same. I’m learning so much about different businesses and how to make sound business decisions.

The people I work with are absolutely brilliant (and also just fun to be around). And I feel like I’m working towards something. I’m building a tool box of important skills that I’ll be able to draw on later in my career (and when I eventually transition back to guiding and open my own guiding company).

Will I ever go back to guiding?

Yes! Yes, I most absolutely will. I don’t know what I’ll do or where I’ll be or when I’ll get back into guiding, but I do know I will. Plus, I would eventually like to have my own guiding company (probably canoeing related) so I’ll stay very connected to the guiding world.

Some parting thoughts

There’s this quote that resonates with me: “how you spend your days is how you spend your life.” I don’t know who said it first, but it’s always just stuck. It used to scare me because whenever I’d go more than a few days at a time not totally happy, I’d freak out and think I needed to make life-altering decisions to change my course.

But now I understand that it’s about habits and the little decisions that add up. I’m sure some people will read this blog post and think I’m wasting my days in an office when I could be doing other things outside.

That’s looking at it through a negative lens. I prefer to think of it as each day I bring myself a little closer to where I want to be, and in all honesty, I don’t even know where exactly that is yet. The path may not be smooth or straight, but it’s getting me closer than I was yesterday.

I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this. Anyone else living the office life while still balancing travel, being outside and all the other elements of life? Let me know in the comments below.


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2 thoughts on “Why I Willingly Quit Wilderness Guiding to Work in an Office

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  2. exploringwild says:

    Hi Mikaela, I stumbled on your blog from Pinterest (I do some outdoor blogging myself) and just wanted to say I think it’s very nicely put together. I also love the contrary spirit of this post. I’m one of those who went the opposite direction and left an office job to explore other interests (travel and bicycle touring mainly), but only after a ten year career. I think the most important thing is to just be intentional about these types of decisions instead of simply doing what we think we “should” do. There’s time for it all if we pay attention. Cheers!

    • voyageurtripper says:

      Hi Alissa, thank you for the comment! I will check out your blog!
      I completely agree – either decision can be the right choice as long as you know the reasons you’re making it. I do see myself eventually getting back into guiding, but I think it would be on a part time basis and after I’ve built myself a career outside of guiding – who knows though!
      Cheers 🙂

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