I have come to realize the transformative power of time in nature. My first taste came when I took my daughter for a short hike near Squire’s Castle in the Cleveland MetroParks. She was 4. It was just a walk in the woods; but for her, it was an opportunity to broaden her horizons, learn new skills, and develop confidence. When we set out, she was timid about walking up hills, navigating tree roots, falling down, climbing over fallen trees – basically, everything you do on a hike. But we persevered, and in the short time we hiked I could see her self-confidence grow. Each time she climbed over a tree, walked up an incline, or made her way through a bumpy section of roots, she became more sure of herself, more confident, and proud.
The following summer I had my epiphany – the realization that I was happiest being outside, working in nature. I re-visited my past – the conservationist ethos I learned in becoming a PADI certifed SCUBA diver, thinking about friends who went through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), time I spent sailing. I developed 4 criteria for my ideal job: (1) spend some time working outside; (2) a moderate amount a travel; (3) talking to people/public speaking; and (4) talking to and networking with people.
Taking stock of my life I recalled how, in college, I became enamored with experiential education. I attended a BreakAway Retreat where we played a game called Build a Community. We divided into 4 teams and had to “create a community” in our quadrant of the floor. Any improvements needed to be approved by the “Housing Inspector.” At some point, we all learned that the “Housing Inspector” was more lenient with some groups than others. While this was a gross over-simplification, it served to illustrate socio-economic disparity and class striation. I was taken by the way the exercise was facilitated, allowing students to reach their own conclusions – we learned by experiencing a particular result. I remembered searching, unsuccessfully, for a way to apply this pedagogical model in my professional life.
I dug into my life experiences. I considered working for PADI, or an environmental organization, or as conservation lobbyist. I was all over the map, trying to tease out the theme of doing something related to nature and conservation. And then, over the course of a few more months, a plan emerged. I realized that I wanted to create an outdoor-based business consulting company that takes lessons from skills learned and used in outdoor education and applies them to create effective business strategies. And after more research, I learned: (1) that there are actually people who do this; and (2) that very few of them are based here in Ohio. To me, this means it is a business model that can work, and that there is an open market in Ohio.
In researching my new project, I came upon a school of thought that touts the benefits of outdoor education, even breaking it down to a physical level, describing changes to the brain that occur when we spend more time outside. NatGeo recently aired a special called Call of the Wild that describes the benefits of spending more time in nature. I learned that spending time in nature can improve mood, and that businesses are applying this outdoor-experiential-education model to improve leadership, teamwork, and decision-making.
So my goal is to create a consulting firm/outdoor education company that teaches leadership skills and facilitates team building through lessons learned outside. I want to work with business people, high school and college students, and entrepreneurs. My plan is to create customized outdoor education packages from 2 to 5 days that will allow participants to learn about their leadership styles and create solutions that will improve business function.