During the first semester of my freshman year at Texas Tech University, I remember going to our campus rec center to work out — running my typical mile, lifting the same weights and repeating the routine I had done throughout high school.
One day while walking past the rock wall, I saw a staff member up at the top, yelling "Rock!" as she dropped something. I thought to myself, "Why would anybody want to do something that dangerous?"
Fast forward a few months, and I talked with another staff member who told me all these crazy stories about raft guiding, rock climbing and working at our university's Outdoor Pursuits Center. I had no idea you could do any of these activities as a part-time on-campus job, especially being surrounded by a never-ending desert in Lubbock, Texas. The staff member's passion caught my interest, and I thought, "I need a change of pace."
So I went for it.
I was always somewhat outdoorsy. I liked to go hiking. But I never thought that I'd be doing the things that I'm doing right now — setting routes at the wall, teaching whitewater kayaking in my hometown of San Marcos, Texas, co-leading a Grand Canyon backpacking trip, or even building my own bike.
I soon realized that this part-time job would become my passion and a potential career path. Throughout high school and going into college, I struggled with the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was always going back and forth between doing something that makes me happy every day or something that would be able to provide for my future family or self.
As a finance major, I found that my happiness would not lie in crunching numbers and working in an office, but rather in impacting students' lives while engaging in an active and fulfilling life. After training and being immersed in the close-knit culture of the Outdoor Pursuits Center, I found my confidence and a passion for outdoor recreation and education.
Instructing peers on different outdoor activities has become near and dear to me. From introducing someone to whitewater kayaking, suffering together on a rough mountain bike ride, summiting the tallest peak in Texas, or even sharing a meal together, others' involvement creates my happiness.
Working in outdoor recreation means constantly learning something new, whether that be hard technical skills or communication and interpersonal skills. Once fall semester began, the full-time professionals within the Outdoor Pursuits Center found better career opportunities and resigned from their positions. Without the guidance of full-time staff, our program has been navigating through new changes, leaving me and a small group of student leaders in control of the program. This means that we are responsible for both the administrative duties as well as the day-to-day operations. As an undergrad, these new responsibilities carry both excitement and pressure to perform at a much higher and more professional level.
As an interim supervisor, I've learned that leadership takes patience, compromise and, most importantly, trust. By trusting fellow staff members and giving them more responsibility, we effectively work together and inspire each other to perform at our highest level. Despite disagreements and complications, I've realized that maintaining a sense of fellowship surrounding outdoor recreation and education is paramount to our program's success.
Moving forward, I hope to use my leadership position as an example for the staff. One day, they'll be in these leadership positions, and I'm eager to discover where our program will go and the changes we will endure. Ultimately, the future of campus recreation is determined by the culture and actions that employees want to set. In the outdoor recreation community especially, I hope to continue fostering a welcoming and encouraging mindset that includes all peers, regardless of prior experience or background.
Without being curious and without the desire to push my comfort zone, I never would have become the leader I am today. Constantly learning new skills and increasing my knowledge is what allowed me to break out of my routine and continuously seek improvement. I hope that in my future career as a graduate assistant and ultimately a professional staff member at a campus recreation center, we will adapt to push our students in the same way. By broadening this community of learning and leadership, we can create a more knowledgeable and confident student body.
This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Outdoor rec helps break routine, build leadership skills." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.