Balancing career and adventure.
January 27, 2013 8:45 PM   Subscribe

My friends are all prepping for careers, and I'm wondering how I'll balance mine with the many things I want to do that are (probably) mutually exclusive. Looking for insight.

I am three semesters out from graduating with my bachelor's degree, double-majoring in urban planning and geography, and will have my GIS certificate either when I graduate or shortly thereafter. I plan on getting a master's degree in planning, and my mentor (not to be confused with my academic advisor) is encouraging me to attend a school that gives a free ride to a Ph.D after graduating with a master's there. So, basically, I expect to have a pretty sedentary job for most of my life. I could steer toward geography instead, but really I want to work in urban areas.

The trouble with that is that I absolutely love being out in rural areas, in the wilderness, in "nature," whatever term you want to use. There is so much I want to do. I want to walk the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end in one trip, I want to spend time sailing - not days, but weeks, or even months - and I want to climb mountains.

I guess what I really want to know is: Is this realistic? Is there room to do this and maintain a full-time career? Or should I be prepared to quit my job every couple years, spend a while doing what I want, and then find a new job when I get back?

Further, if anyone has experience or knowledge about careers in planning and/or geography, I'd very much like to chat. Neither of my advisors at college are very helpful to me, and I'm feeling like I don't have as much of a plan as I'd like regarding where to look for jobs and such.

Putting this in "work and money" because it's more of a work question than a travel or education question.
posted by Urban Winter to Work & Money (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Two things.

1. If you are thinking of a career in academia, or of doing a fully funded PhD in the social sciences/humanities, there's a strong chance you will be spending several years of your life living in a rural area, because that's where the funding and the department you want to be in are.

2. Granted I don't have a 9-5 corporate job type of career, but I do have a sedentary office-oriented one, and I managed to take off on multi-month travel adventures at several points during my twenties. I don't think this is something that is going to be impossible for you to do.
posted by Sara C. at 8:53 PM on January 27, 2013

I just thought of another angle on this.

In a lot of ways, this is what your twenties are for. Especially if you don't intend to immediately pair off and start a family, or go into hundreds of thousands of dollars of professional school debt, or commit yourself to something else that puts you on an unwavering course of WORKWORKWORK.

Will your career somewhat be an impediment to having all the adventures you'd like? Sure. You'll have a job, and you'll have to be there during daylight hours on weekdays for a lot of the year, and you won't be completely free to do whatever you want. On the other hand, that career will likely pay you money that you can use to have better adventures. And it's nowhere near as demanding as parenting a toddler, or doing a medical residency, or a lot of other stuff people spend their twenties doing.
posted by Sara C. at 9:22 PM on January 27, 2013

Yes, it is doable. I am not in your field, but I have a career (not just a job) and I just spent nearly two months traveling. And I plan to keep the career and continue to take multi-week vacations about twice a year. I've met a lot of people while traveling that take 2-4 weeks off from their varied careers to travel, not just those that quit their jobs for 6-12 months at a time.

What I recommend doing is find companies with flexible or generous vacation allotments. Some places will allow you to take sabbaticals (usually unpaid) if you can tie it into your work, while others will allow you to take unpaid time off or leaves of absence. I have some friends who work at companies that have no limit to vacation time, technically, though in practice that means telecommunuting or being on call if needed. (This is generally the tech industry). Depending on your skills, you could negotiate for extra vacation time as part of your compensation when hired at a company, too. So there's options out there, but not all companies offer them so you'll need to shop around with this in mind.

You may need to prove yourself indispensable to your company or field for a few years before you can earn this flexibility, or have something else to bargain with. Plus, you will almost certainly need to schedule large vacations around work commitments. Example: I took my last vacation after my last project ended, and asked for approval six months in advance.

Now, that said, I don't know your field and I don't know how common or easy flexible vacation policies are to get, and with academia I claim total ignorance.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 9:31 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've quit my job as an electrical engineer twice to travel (sabbaticals / unpaid vacation weren't realistic given the 6-12 months I've spent on the road per trip). It depends on the industry and how in demand you are but it can be done. It's largely fear and the illusion of job security that keep people who are genuinely interested in it from doing so.
posted by MillMan at 10:12 PM on January 27, 2013

I freelanced for a few years, which gave me the freedom to travel (and eventually move to) the other side of the world. It's not realistic for every career, but it worked well for me. I also currently have a job where I could take a few months of (unpaid) leave to travel/volunteer/etc if I wanted to. In this case, it means my co-workers and I works very hard to balance out that flexibility.
posted by third word on a random page at 11:32 PM on January 27, 2013

Ask the grad students at your uni what their summers are like?
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:13 AM on January 28, 2013

I know a few tax accountants who have negotiated travel the world vacations with their firms right after busy season. And a coworker was able to wrangle a six month sabbatical to teach for a semester in Haiti. So it's just a matter of making it a priority.
posted by politikitty at 12:26 AM on January 28, 2013

You might have a much better idea of what you want to do with your career than I did at that stage of life. I didn't really know what I wanted to do, although thanks to the tech bubble, I had a great range of jobs to pick through at graduation.

But after only nine months, the company collapsed (not expected, it had been around for 65 years). I took up a volunteer role (kind of like Peace Corps) and went to live in Thailand for a year. I came home and studied law, while I worked in a job where I got to travel to Africa. I went on exchange as part of my law degree and lived in Finland for a semester. I followed that with six months off and crewed on a yacht across the Pacific. I came home, finished my law degree and then ended up in a completely different area of work - which has given me opportunities to travel all over the place. Wouldn't have predicted ANY of that when I finished my degree!

While it might have looked (and felt!) like flitting around, my rules of thumb for all of this were:
1) You don't need to know the whole plan, just do what you want to do next that excites you (NB: there are some careers that are very structured where this doesn't work).
2) Have a Plan B - I would always try to have one option that I liked and that was within my control to make happen if I didn't get that job or get into that course.
3) Being sensible with money gives you more options (to take time off, or take the right job).
4) Choose what you will enjoy more, not what pays the most (so this might mean taking the job that will give you the flexibility that you need).

The only thing to be wary of in this is that at some point, you will start to be up against people who HAVE been sitting in an office the whole time, and this may hamper your ability to step up to the next level of role. However, on the flipside, without the adventures that I had in my twenties, I wouldn't be in my current role. And in spite of going through the tech wreck and the GFC, I have not had to look for work for more than two weeks at any time (I did get a retrenchment payment from one job, so didn't start looking for about three months as I wanted the time off, but once I started looking, it was back to the office for me).

What was the question? I guess my answer is more of an anecdote to say there are a lot of different paths and a lot of options you may not even know about. But I feel like I have been able to have an adventurous life and a career - though it is only in recent times I would describe it as a career, it just seemed like a series of different things until slowly a pattern emerged.
posted by AnnaRat at 12:33 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you like being in the outdoors, you could do research that requires wilderness based field work. A friend of mine is a geologist, and has spent weeks in the high arctic doing his field research.

But the rest of the year, he does spend a lot of time in offices/labs.
posted by jb at 7:30 AM on January 28, 2013

The trouble with that is that I absolutely love being out in rural areas, in the wilderness, in "nature," whatever term you want to use. There is so much I want to do. I want to walk the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end in one trip, I want to spend time sailing - not days, but weeks, or even months - and I want to climb mountains.

You will have a better idea of how to craft your professional life if you have a better idea of what you want out of your "adventure life." It sounds like you haven't done a lot of hiking or sailing (you mention "walking" the AT and climbing mountains as though they're separate things). If you are truly driven by the thirst for adventure, then be sure you're getting out there whenever possible, doing day-trips, weekends, backpacking, rafting, exploring what climates/seasons/types of undergrowth you prefer to adventure in* & generally getting to know what you really want instead of a general "I want an adventurous life!"

*Ex.: I don't care for backpacking in the Adirondacks; it's mostly evergreen forest so you never see the sun, no broad vistas, no changes in scenery until you reach the summit. Makes for very comfortable temperatures and a helluva payoff at the end, but not my preference.
posted by headnsouth at 7:55 AM on January 28, 2013

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