Value Every Minute......

15th Jul 2014

If you want to make a career as an instructor you'll undoubtedly have a rich and varied working life.  You'll meet amazing people and have the chance to travel to brilliant places.  You're very unlikely to get materially rich but you'll make a reasonable living and if you entered the industry just for money the truth is you should have made a different career choice anyway.
If you become an instructor and have a family you'll have all the things I mentioned above but need to be careful your family doesn't suffer because of your prolonged absences and anti-social working hours.  Getting this balance right will often be the hardest part of your work.  
If you want to become an instructor who has a family and also runs a guiding business it gets more complicated still.  Juggling a life in the mountains, the requirements of a family and the need to keep feeding your business fire will sometimes seem like the toughest challenge of all.
Before you take the plunge it may help to seek some advice from someone that has done all three.  Here's my survival guide to juggling a lot of balls.........
Use Technology
I am writing this on a flight.  I spend a lot of time travelling and, if you become a roaming instructor, you undoubtedly will too.  Similarly, I spend a lot of time in every type of accommodation from hotels and tents to mountain huts and tea houses .  It really helps if all that dead time can be put to use.  Embracing technology can really help.  
This is being written on an ipad mini which accompanies me almost everywhere. During this flight I've written this blog post and answered a load of emails (that are now sitting in my outbox and will automatically get sent when I get back to a wifi source).  Before I got on the flight I was also updating some documents using the free wifi at the airport.  By using Dropbox I was then able to save them onto our office system ready to be used later. 
Ipads are also great for word processing and answering emails but it's the huge range of apps that are the biggest boon.  There are far too many to go into much detail but on this trip alone I've used the superb Flight Board app to keep tabs on my flight info, a calculator app, weather app, a currency converter,  I've posted up a few photos and updates to Facebook and Twitter via their apps and used a world clock app to keep tabs on times at home.  My ipad will also easily share with my iphone which I often use to take photos and it stores books, films, expedition documents, an app for my Go Pro camera and a host of other handy electronic wizardry.  This little piece of electronic genius has really revolutionised my travel efficiency.
I use Skype and Facetime a lot too.  Facetime is perfect for staying in touch with family and you really can't beat seeing each other rather than just talking on the phone. Similarly, I often use Skype for business conversations as it is so much more time efficient than travelling across to see someone.  Of course there are times a face to face can't be beaten - but technology can often really help.
Of course, a lot of the functionality of technology relies on wifi so you can get ruled a bit by always being on the hunt for that magic juice.  Fortunately it's getting to the point where you can find it almost everywhere.  It's easy to find in airports, hostels, restaurants and cafes and a host of other places are becoming wi-fi'ed up.  It even looks like it will become widely accessible on flights in the not too distant future (it's available on this Emirates flight for a reasonable $5) and you can now frequently find it in places as off the beaten track as Himalayan tea houses! 
Instructors also end up working in the same places quite often so you will build up a mental database of where it's available. I know, for example, that if I sit outside a particular pub in a certain place in Scotland I can get a great wifi signal whether it's open or not.  Similarly, I have learnt which cafes have the best signal, which pubs won't mind me sitting with one pint and working at a corner table for ages, which accommodation is best to use and even which table in certain places will get me both a good signal and also have a power socket nearby.
The same applies to other technology.  The best investment I made in our vehicles, for example, has been hands free phone kits.  Now long journeys can be used far more efficiently by making calls.  Friends have learnt they'll most likely hear from me when I'm on the road and I sometimes stack up calls if I know I have a long journey coming up.  It's good time management and there's the added bonus that the journey whizzes by too.
Plan Ahead
Planning everything is so important.  Tonight will be my first night back with my family for 15 days and we've got a rare free weekend day together coming up.  It has already been carefully planned to ensure the day doesn't just drift away.  When I get back from the airport we'll head for a family meal and then tomorrow we are heading out for some climbing followed by a cinema visit.  By planning ahead the children have something to look forward to and we know it will happen.  Similarly, birthday parties, holidays and any other special events need to be considered well in advance so the diary doesn't get double booked.
Be organised
It is normal for me to jump between very different activities.  I may get back, for example, from a day's mountain biking and then the next day be guiding a multi-pitch climb.  It is normal to be living out of a duffle bag for a week or sometimes a month.  It is normal to need to hop efficiently from one packing job to another and, along the way, to have other sets of equipment to deliver to  instructors that are working for us.
Sometimes friends comment on the tidy office or my neatly packed car and I can't deny I'm a bit on the OCD spectrum.  I also know, however, that if I can get things packed quickly or have a list to follow then in the long run time is saved and things don't get left behind.  So, I do have lists that can be ticked off and I do have tidy shelves and neatly stacked storage boxes but it's all part of the time efficiency master plan.  Good personal admin makes time.
Make an effort
I know I am harping on about valuing every minute but sometimes, when you get home and put your feet up, it is hard to find the motivation to get out and do something energetic again, particularly if your days work has been physically tiring.  But experience has shown me that making the effort is always worth it.  A few hours on the bike or some bouldering seems to develop more energy than it takes.  A walk at sunset will send you to bed with a buzz rather than feeling flat.
Know when to get help
No one is an expert at everything and knowing when to accept this and hand the job over to someone who knows better can be a big timesaver.  Whether this is the end of year accounts, an outside agency to do the catering for a corporate group or someone to fix a computer.  Similarly, maybe sometimes it is worth the expense to get someone to plan an event or clean a vehicle.  It's all a calculation of how much your time is worth versus the cost.
Choose Your Work
It takes some time in the outdoor industry before you can pick and choose work but with perseverance it does come.  The key thing is that all work is not equal. Sometimes you might find yourself staying away from home when a better choice could have meant you were more local and could have been home for the evening. Sometimes that job away doesn't even pay any more.  Making some smart work choices can really make a difference to how much time you are around.  
Value Every Minute
Lots of people work away and I'm not claiming mountaineering instructors have a monopoly on being away from their families.  Far from it.  I know people doing half yearly stints overseas and others working significant blocks of time away from family and friends.  In comparison my working life is really a doddle.  But there is value in everything and being away can be hard.  I have missed birthdays, family get togethers and parties.  I've been away when friends have had parties just the same as when significant work events have taken place and I'd have wanted to be able to attend.  
Having said that, I love travel and I hope my journeys inspire my children to love it too. I also love my life in the mountains and know that, although it takes me away from my family, it is a life force I cannot manage without.  I just try to ensure that when I come home I give as much energy as I can muster to making my time with my loved ones as valuable as possible.  Become an instructor, travel and run a business - just do it smartly!
Posted by Paul