I know, it’s an odd title for a post, but hopefully it will make sense in a minute. One of our big concerns about taking a work kamping job for the entire summer was that would we feel resentful about the job because it was “keeping us” from seeing the beautiful stuff. We spent hours talking to people about this possibility, and a large part of the reason we chose Alaska for our work kamping job was because we felt the more dramatic the location the less likely we would feel resentful. Keep in mind that we’ve spent the last five months doing mostly what we wanted, and that’s how most people in this lifestyle like it. And although we picked Alaska, we knew we weren’t staying in one of the tourist destinations, like Denali. Several people who used to live here said, “Why would you go to Glenallen?” or “It’s the most boring place in Alaska.” Seriously, lots of people were concerned both by our choice of work kamping for the summer and by where in Alaska we were choosing to park for four months.
Consequently we were a little nervous. Maybe we would feel resentful, or unhappy, or “stuck” because we couldn’t do whatever we wanted. It turns out that that hasn’t been the case at all. I know it’s still early (we are only just starting week 3 here), but so far neither one of us feels that way at all. On the contrary, we really like the work we are doing. Both of us feel like it’s a fair days work for a fair day’s pay, and we get to do it in a beautiful place with truly spectacular weather. I am sure there are more breathtaking places in Alaska, but it’s pretty amazing right here. I freely admit a huge part of that is the way that Darlene and Marc are treating us. We have been working in all aspects of the campground, and the little improvements we have been allowed to make are really rewarding. When someone borrows a DVD for the night, or grabs a book, I feel great about that. When I complete a section with the weed eater, I get immediate satisfaction because it looks so much nicer. There is plenty of work, and we go to sleep tired and satisfied with a job well done, which is no small thing. In my corporate job I often experienced feelings of “Am I really making a difference?”, but here the difference we’re making is immediate and noticeable. Plus, Darlene and Marc truly seem to appreciate our help. They are not falling all over themselves or anything (which is good because that makes us uncomfortable anyway), but they take the time to express their gratitude for what we’re doing. They also are really concerned that we have a good time while we are here. They are keeping an eye on our experience outside of work and as much as possible making sure that we are having a good time.
Having said all that, I am really struggling with the transition from working for a large corporation to a small business. All of my adult work experience was for 2 extremely large corporations, and I liked it that way. There were rules, tons and tons of them, and over time I learned how to navigate the complicated environment. When I would get frustrated by how long change took, I would think longingly of working for a smaller company where changes could be implemented quickly. As a “change agent” the bulk of my job was talking people into making changes, implementing those changes, and then monitoring the results. I liked it very much, but sometimes it felt like I was pushing a big boulder up a hill. Now I am in a situation where change is relatively easy, but what I didn’t count on was a much higher level of ambiguity. I never was very good with ambiguity, I always put it on my reviews as a self-improvement category, and it honestly never occurred to me that in a small business things would be so fluid.
At first I thought we were all just “settling in”, and maybe that is the case, but more likely it is the nature of a small business. One of the major advantages of small businesses over large corporations is the ability to be nimble and respond quickly to changing business needs. Here I am seeing that in action every day. On the one hand it is heady stuff. Having the ability to make a change and immediately see the impact, good or ill, on the customer and/or revenue stream. On the other hand, it creates an environment where every day, or even every hour can be different. That’s new for me, and honestly I am still adjusting. To be clear I am not talking about adapting to a customer need on the fly. This I like and think I am very good at. It is changes in how we do paperwork, close out the night, clean the bathrooms, etc, that leave me feeling uneasy. A huge part of me yearns for the structure that I found so confining for all those years. Contrary right? All in all this is a very good experience for me. The odds are that we will be working in small business environments much more than with large corporations, and I need to learn how to function effectively in this world as well. Luckily, since Lee has a lot more experience in this arena he has been helping me find my way. And again, Marc and Darlene have been very understanding as I muddle through.
At this point you might be thinking “At your age why put yourself through all of that?”. Well, unlike most of our peers, we always knew we would have to work on the road. In order to travel as we wished, we also knew we would have to work in different capacities than we had in the past. We could be resentful of the fact that we have to work at all and then transfer those feelings of resentment to any job we have, but what is the point in that? I know some work kampers do that, and frankly, shame on them. We aren’t going to stop being who we are as workers simply because we make less money and have less responsibility. At the end of every day we want to feel like we provided more value than the money we were paid, but we also need to leave the job at the end of the day. That’s tough for both of us, but we are working on it. Not everything is our problem to solve here, and the trick is recognizing that and being OK with it. That really is the key, and at almost 50 this is not a skill I have ever been able to master. I absolutely need to figure that out though, or I will start feeling resentful, and that would totally be on me. No one is asking me to take that on, it’s just in my nature, but if I am going to make my life all about a job, I might as well go back to the corporate world. I went to a lot of trouble to leave all that behind.
Anyway, the work is good, the people are nice, and we are in a beautiful place. We thought that combination would be enough for us, and so far it really is. To slightly change subjects though, I should say that how we define a beautiful place may be different than other people. The country is full of breathtaking vistas and many RVers make a tour of them and after a few years are done. For me a beautiful place is about more than the view. It’s about the people, the animals, the art, and the quirky little attractions we find along the way. When you drive through a place and get out and take “the picture” you can say you were there and you experienced it, but the level of experience is quite different. Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many, places where we have done just that, and that’s just fine, but as I have said before when you “live” in a place, the experience is different. The type of beauty you see is different.
How can I explain this? Picture a beautiful landscape photograph of a mountain with a forest and a river in front of it. The overall scene is breathtaking, but there is also beauty in every little corner. The flowers, the trees, the birds, maybe an animal all live in one little corner. You can kayak on the river, hike the trails, see the view at different times of day in different light and in different weather. That big, beautiful mountain scene is made up of many smaller little vignettes, and if you just jump out and take a picture, you will never get to experience any of that. Not that it is all good of course. There are bugs, overgrown trails, other people, and bad weather that can all get in the way of experiencing the area. And it can be boring. Some days I am out and everything I see has an innate beauty and other days I feel like if I see one more tree, rock, or whatever I will go crazy. I don’t love every landscape (there were whole sections of desert that I didn’t care for) and I don’t love every experience despite the beautiful setting (10 straight days of rain in the Redwoods comes to mind.). I get bored, frustrated, annoyed, and irritated just like before, sometimes all in one day. The difference is on the whole I still have the feeling of “I can’t believe this is my life!”. When I compare the “now” to the “before” it amazes me. Three years ago the thought of me spending the summer working in Alaska was unthinkable. Seriously, it would never have even crossed my mind as a possibility. And now that I am actually doing it, and for once in my life I am trying to really live in the moment of it.
I could spend my time focusing on the things that I don’t like, but why in God’s name would I do that to myself? I could also Pollyanna, pie in the sky, gloss over the reality of the experience, but again, why? I spent too many years of my life thinking about “someday” and that someday is here right now. I have no expectation of perfection (Lee and I may differ in that respect). All of the really great things in my life have come with some level of sacrifice (raising children comes to mind), and since I don’t expect perfect what do I have to be resentful of? I know I am spending a lot of time on this, but so many people were genuinely concerned about us that I sort of feel like maybe I am missing something. Or maybe it’s just too soon, and that’s fair. We certainly do better when things are new than later down the road when the shiny wears off. I hope not though. I hope this is the start of a new way of seeing things, and a new way of living.
We will see, and as always, all I can do is be as honest with myself and all of you as I can bear to be.
But really, this doesn’t suck. At all.
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