I’m very proud to be a GetOutside champion for Ordnance Survey. I run a group of businesses based out of North Wales as The Rawles Group Ltd and I get to work and play in the outdoors all the time.
It hasn’t always been like this.
I started my working life in jobs like refuse collector and warehouse worker and it ended (well, that chapter!) with IT sales and earning huge amounts of money but being desperately unhappy.
In 2013 I made the decision to make some drastic changes. My relationship ended, I sold my house in Hertfordshire, quit my job and moved to north Wales to ‘start again’; start a business, work in the outdoors and look to live my values.
To some, it’s the dream, but how did I go about making this change, and is it as awesome as people think?
Let me explain by answering some of the most common questions and statements made...
Why did you do what you did?
I was unhappy. Really unhappy. On paper my life should have been incredible but I was in a dark place. It took a while to realise that it was deeply connected to my values. In that I wasn’t living them. My world was goals oriented and materialistic, when unhappy I’d buy something, a quick fix, then spiral into darkness again.
People ask me about the ‘one’ thing that led to my decision. It wasn’t one major thing it was a series of things that happened in quick succession. I took myself off to the Brecon Beacons for a few days of walks and basically unpicked everything and agreed the re-build plan with myself.
I love to plan and I found my love for the outdoors again. As a kid I spent a lot of time outdoors and right up until the career world kicked in I’d be off outside and adventuring as much as I could.
My decision was to take ownership of my happiness, live my values and pursue my passion for helping others. I also wanted to follow my love for the outdoors and adventure.
It wasn’t about the cheesy lines like ‘following my heart’ it was about taking ownership while minimising risk and leveraging skills that I have to improve the chances of success.
You’re so brave…
Well, not really. While it may seem like a snap decision the reality is I went through a load of soul searching and planning. My first port of call for the thinking was around the consequences of what was going to happen and the risk.
I had some cash in the bank so could afford to take some time to make things right. There were no kids to consider and I wasn’t married or had things like joint mortgages to worry about.
Just imagine quitting my job, changing my life and then not being able to put shoes on my kids feet. That's not an acceptable risk and not one I had to consider. But I did consider all the risks, consequences and what my support network was like if things went sideways on me. My conclusion was my risk profile was low. I had a support blanket so to speak...
...if things went belly up I had the people in my life to catch my fall.
Now, do you think it’s brave? I don’t. My respect goes to the single parent (or any family) who is working multiple jobs to ensure their kids have the best they can offer. The ex-military veterans living with PTSD and life changing injuries while struggling through life.
All those living with mental health issues and battling the fact that people can’t see what they’re living with but having to put a best foot forward. Emergency services workers and the health service who give so much for others yet don’t get what they need in order to help. You get the picture. I’m not brave and what I did was highly calculated and planned.
The wages aren’t great and you offset that against quality of life.
Kit, travel, food, insurances, personal and professional development etc. all cost a lot and you can suddenly look at your bank account and have some very twitchy moments.
Injuries can be devastating. Yes, insurances can offset that but they rarely work in your favour. This happened to me. I snapped my wrist and it had a massive impact on my capacity to earn and therefore live. It sent me spiralling downwards and I had to do a lot to arrest the mental fall.
You accept a lot of risk on the behalf of others. It’s a big task to take people to places that are high consequence and everyone is looking at you to lead and decide. I’ve seen many leaders crumble.
What’s it like working in the outdoors?
The first thing I will say is that it’s amazing. I am so fortunate to help people to achieve and inspire plus I get to see some wonderful places on this beautiful planet.
That said, it’s not all amazing and I have to be very careful with a few really key things.
When you do what you love to earn a wage you have to be careful that you don’t lose that love. You may think ‘it could never happen’ but I have seen it happen to other leaders who have become miserable and that comes across in the way they engage with people and the outdoors.
At times you have to be very diplomatic with those whose expectations far exceed their abilities and have tough discussions and conversations when necessary. Working in the outdoors requires leadership, group management, diplomacy, confidence, patience, teaching and much more.
It can really take its toll if you don’t manage time correctly. Back to back bad weather days and travel can really wear you out. Drying kit, sorting plans, managing expectations, planning, dealing with emails and communication, dealing with admin etc. can all get on top of you.
Diary management is critical. People want quick responses nowadays. If you have a few days of outdoors work with minimal email contact then you can lose business and people will find someone else very quickly.
It’s not as simple as ‘wake up, walk and earn’...
The environment is highly competitive and that drives down potential earnings. For example, new mountain leaders are qualifying weekly and there are tens of thousands out there. This is amazing news but it means there is a high level of saturation.
Couple this with a huge volume of (e.g.) Facebook groups connecting people via activities like free walks and wild camps. I know it’s not all about earnings but you’re not helping anyone if you’re evicted from your house in the process of pursuing a passion!
Again, this is all incredible but if you want to earn from the outdoors you have to consider the impact.
I do this with free guided walks to NHS employee’s which is supported by Ordnance Survey and many others do the same. It’s great to see but it’s a huge consideration when thinking about quitting work…
I love what I do, I really do, but it’s not as simple as ‘wake up, walk and earn’ as it comes from hard work, effort and planning.
What’s it like running Aspire Adventures?
Well, at its best it’s a huge amount of fun and incredibly rewarding and at its worst it’s lonely, isolated and scary.
Let me explain…
Aspire Adventures is the product of about 7 years of thinking and planning. To bring together the component parts of what I’ve done as a freelance leader, an old business I started and the things I’ve done under my own name. In my opinion it offers a lot of help and support for people to be their best and that’s what I love the most. That’s why I do what I do.
I get to travel the world, meet new people, engage with businesses and transfer skills to people to help move them to new chapters in their lives. How great is that…?
Well, I’m always chasing invoices, looking at the bank account, checking the environment around, looking to innovate, thinking of new things, planning, networking, responding, marketing, creating content, managing social media etc. It’s non-stop and always on. Not quite the work/life balance people think.
As mentioned, it’s highly rewarding but also incredibly hard work and always feels on the balance between successful and down the pan!
It’s a roller coaster and just managing emotions is a task in itself.
What recommendations do you have for others who want to quit their jobs and work in the outdoors?
My first recommendation is to ensure it’s right for you. Understand that it’s hard work, highly competitive and ever shifting. Understand what the risk of change is and make the right decisions. Perhaps find a better balance in your life rather than going full speed at your job. I can’t answer as I don’t know the consequence of failure and your appetite for risk.
Secondly, get the qualifications you need for whatever you’d like to be doing. Be over qualified so you’re always overly competent for what you’re offering. It could be other qualifications beyond mountain leader or more qualifications than the necessary first aid needed for certain awards.
Be better than the best of what your business or freelancing will offer. If things go wrong on the mountain you’ll thank me for this.
Third, be clear on why you’re doing what you do. Is it to live your values, to help others or just because you don’t want to be behind a desk and ‘some dude on Instagram makes it look amazing’?
All that glitters isn’t gold and during those dark moments you have to pin the struggles to something amazing and that’s your ‘why’.
Fourth, starting and running a business isn’t for everyone. Perhaps you want to start as a freelancer and see what the lie of the land is?
Perhaps start doing stuff at the weekend and dealing with networking to get business, creating some content, understanding the process of invoicing etc. A soft launch in to this world rather than hard reset like I did!
Fifth, surround yourself with amazing people but also be careful. It is highly competitive but also remember it’s business. With social media as it is, very little is competitive edge as it can be copied really quickly.
The principle of ‘guided walks’ isn’t necessarily innovative but how you market yourself and the messaging may be. There's more than this. A lot more. Hopefully this has got your mind thinking in the right way. Social media makes things look amazing but it’s a whole other level of thinking to make the leap into the potential unknown.
...it’s amazing and I am so fortunate and privileged to do what I do. I’m supported by amazing brands like Ordnance Survey and have wonderful friends and family in my life. However, it’s hard work and incredibly isolating at times and I could work 24/7 if I let it consume me like that. I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m suggesting it needs thinking about and planning.
Good luck and let me know if I can help…