March 16, 2009

Outdoor Jobs: Where Do You Begin?

This recession is doing funny things to people’s career goals. On the one hand, it is forcing us to reevaluate our plans and think practically about our futures.

That’s mostly a good thing. If our heads had been in the clouds, they are not any more. Of course, the flip side is that people are abandoning their career dreams to focus on what they think (hope?) is a “sure thing”. Things like recession proof careers, steady paychecks and stable 9-5 jobs.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that living your life responsibly and paying down your mortgage are bad things. Not at all. But if the means to that end are leaving you empty and unfulfilled, trouble could be brewing for you. It’s like the old adage asks: Do you live to work? Or work to live? And if you work to live, shouldn’t you at least get to enjoy your work (if not love it)?

Which brings me to today’s topic: Outdoor jobs. For some of you, working outside in the blazing sun and freezing rains would be tantamount to torture. For others, however, there is be no greater reward than working in nature — whether as an outdoor educator, a park ranger, an environmentalist or a forest fire fighter.

Sadly, these are the very types of dream jobs that people are abandoning in droves for the perceived safety and security of a desk job. Of course, if you are one of the “no greater reward than working in nature” types, then soon enough, that cubicle is going to start feeling like a cell.

So when you begin yearning for the expansiveness of the great outdoors, what should your next step be? Where do you start your quest for an outdoor job? And how do you balance that dream with the practicalities of feeding your family and paying your bills?

I have talked before about the value of internships. If you are a college student or a recent college grad, now is the perfect time to land a summer internship at a national or state park.

Whether your major was archeology, botany or web design, national park interns can contribute their knowledge and experience while gaining invaluable experience in a field they love. Plus, what better way to get your foot in the door and start making career connections?

What if you are already working full-time at an unfulfilling job? How do you begin to make the change to a job you will love? Why not spend a few hours a week volunteering at a park? All of the national parks welcome volunteers, as do state parks and local wildlife refugees. Assignments can range from teaching youngsters to clearing trails to planting trees.

Volunteering is a wonderful outlet for practicing your skills, confirming your passion for the field, and connecting with professionals who can help you as you begin to job search in earnest. (For more on the value of volunteering, check out this post from last week on volunteering your way into a new job.)

Federal Outdoor Jobs
From North America’s national parks to the U.S. Forest Service to the US Fish & Wildlife, the federal government is the gate keeper to many of these great outdoor jobs. To plot your strategy for landing a federal outdoor job, check out JobMonkey’s extensive research on federal employment practices, salaries, benefits and more.

The bottom line: As employees, finding our way through this recession isn’t going to be easy. And sure, there are some jobs (real estate flipper, Ponzi scheme operator) that probably do not to be “downsized.” But working at a job that makes invaluable contributions to mother nature (and human nature, for that matter) is not one of them! You can work to live and love to work, with some planning and perseverance. So if an outdoor job is your dream, don’t give up on it.

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