We live in a society where we are conditioned to follow the crowd. While many of us love the idea of thinking creatively, being adventurous and taking risks; in reality it’s more often just the ‘idea’ that we love and nothing more. I feared I too was just like that, until I realised I really did need more than just the idea.
After finishing high-school I followed the crowd into university and commenced a degree in accounting. However, before enrolling in this degree, I had done my research, read the brochures and pored over websites. As a qualified accountant, I could look forward to roles that required candidates to be ‘adventurous’, ‘bold’, ‘courageous’, ‘entrepreneurial’, ‘innovative’ and ‘curious’. This sounded like a perfect fit for me and I was excited to start the journey.
Upon graduating I found it relatively easy to find a role with a top firm. Employers thought I was interesting because of my various adventure stories and tales from the wilderness. They considered my outgoing personality and my ability to talk to people to be valuable traits for their business.
You beauty! I’d landed a job because my new employer liked me for who I was.
There was only one problem. Ninety-five percent of my role involved me sitting behind a screen in an office tower, not talking to anyone for hours. My weekends were filled with further study to complete the exams required for official accreditation.
Growing up, I’ve climbed mountains, run ultra-marathons, slept in the freezing cold, and spent many gruelling hours in the saddle on multi-day cycling expeditions. Yet none of these experiences seemed to come to close the challenges I now faced as a young accountant. The ‘adventurous’ and ‘entrepreneurial’ journey turned out to be many long hours of unsatisfying work filled with endless levels of stress and no work life balance. My experience didn’t quite meet my expectations.
It was quickly becoming apparent that this career wasn’t for me. This was a bitter pill to swallow given the years of dedication it had taken me to get here. Nevertheless, I began putting my mind to figuring out what exactly I wanted to do with my life.
Since I was young, I always loved the outdoors and in particular high-quality outdoor gear. I was obsessed with testing my own limits and the limits of my gear in unforgiving environments. At school I had completed the Duke of Edinburgh award and throughout university I’d always taken opportunities to travel and explore the outdoors during breaks.
After many long hours of consideration, I devised a plan. I would stick it out for another couple of years in the corporate world and then look for an in-house accounting role with a big outdoor brand. I even flew down from my home in Brisbane to meet with the Australian country director of Patagonia, based in Torquay, VIC. This was an awesome meeting and lit a spark for something new. However, even before I’d arrived back home, I wondered whether even such a move would simply be a case of same thing, different place. After all I would still be an accountant.
With such thoughts, my new plan lasted only a few months. I was a mess and I literally couldn’t stand one more day in that office. I didn’t want to become one of those miserable middle-aged office workers who turns up each day to a job that they don’t enjoy. I was ready to take make drastic change, only problem was that I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.
And then I realised perhaps my ideal job had been right in front of me all this time. While at university, a mate and I had tried our hand at selling small runs of ultralight outdoor gear online. We knew a lot about the space from personal experience and both of us had worked retail jobs for many years so had a few ideas on sales and marketing. Our first product had been a lightweight camping hammock. Inspired by their popularity overseas, we’d loved the idea of ditching tents and sleeping mats, in favour of an ultralight sleeping system. We’d developed a parachute nylon hammock under our new brand – Alton Goods.
However, Alton Goods had only ever been a hobby, generating just enough income to break-even. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the process of design, manufacture, testing and sales. While many of our friends were early customers, we had also enjoyed increasing interest from the general public and people were buying our products.
After an agonising few months of desperately trying to fix my career crisis, I had a crazy thought. What if growing Alton Goods was my dream job? I loved the outdoors, adventure and challenge. Working in retail while at Uni, I’d enjoyed talking to people about something we were both passionate about. And I really enjoyed selling products that I knew were high quality. Alton Goods was the manifestation of my passion and my strengths.
I used up my remaining annual leave and escaped to Japan for several weeks of skiing to think things over. Returning to Brisbane, I decided now or never. I quit my job and agreed with my mate that I would take over running Alton Goods full-time.
Yet, this was still an incredibly daunting decision. Alton Goods was barely turning over ten thousand dollars a year and its customer base was loyal but only small. But I threw everything into trying to see the brand succeed. The objective was to develop and produce high-quality equipment designed for exploration.
That fateful decision was made just over twelve months ago and I’m still here today. I cannot believe what has been achieved in such a short period of time. I’ve also been blown away by the support I’ve received from the outdoor community for my little Aussie outdoor brand. And while it continues to be hard work, I am genuinely happy and can confidently say that I love what I do.
I live a more frugal life now but every morning I wake up inspired and excited. I get a huge buzz every time I chat to my customers about their experiences with our products and I still get to spend loads of time testing new gear out in the bush.
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in my experiences and that there are many people out there who want to take the plunge and chase their dreams. When someone asks my advice, I tell them to do it sooner rather than later. It might be hard to begin with, there will be challenges and there is no guarantee that you will succeed. But you won’t know unless you have a go.
I still don’t know if I’ll succeed, but I’m sure not going to sit around wondering.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.