Making the Leap: Transitioning from a Corporate Job to Guidebook Author
When I resigned from my corporate job, my plan was to be active, to be outside, and to volunteer. Although I had grown in my career and was surrounded by warm and friendly colleagues, it felt like the right time to take a risk, try something new, and step out of my comfort zone.
A year and a half later, I was offered the opportunity to write a hiking guidebook for Seattle with Avalon Travel. Luck and timing played a role in landing the job and yet, at the same time, it felt like my life experiences — my passions, strengths, sense of adventure, and heart — had funneled me towards this adventure.
My first guidebook, Moon 75 Great Hikes Seattle, was published this May. It feels surreal, and I catch myself thumbing through the pages at night. I learned that life experiences and personal strengths — however disparate — can lead to surprising opportunities.
Here is how I made the leap from working in a corporate environment to writing about the outdoors:
1) Reflect on what you love and channel it.
Piano was my first love and it still holds a special place in my heart. It has taught me patience, persistence, creativity, excellence, the value of investing your time in a long-term goal, and how arts connect us to the world around us. I learned that something written on a page could convey nature in a profound way. Liszt wrote music that brought nature to life by evoking the sound of waves in a lake in “Au lac de Wallenstadt”. Performing a piece like this made me believe that, for a reader, nature can be alive in the same way — there was something wonderful, joyful, rewarding, and valuable about conveying nature to another person. This belief was my inspiration for writing about trails and taking photographs. I brought the reader along with me as we explored subterranean canyons, a series of waterfalls, big, bold Mount Rainier views, and grassy hills of bright, breezy wildflowers.
2) Show up for every opportunity, no matter how big or small.
In 2009, my job at the Tucson Symphony Orchestra was cut to part-time due to the financial crisis. As I struggled to figure out what to do and how to support myself, my friend Bobbi offered me a place to stay in her studio in Washington State. Figuring the job market was better in the Seattle area, I packed up my stuff — and my cat, Bubba — and drove north. When I arrived, I registered with several temp agencies and soon landed a two week assignment at a corporation. I knew it could potentially lead to a full-time job, so I busted my butt those two weeks. My hard work and dedication paid off. When the same job became available five months later, the office remembered me and, after my interview, I was offered the position.
In another example, after my phone interview to write 75 Great Hikes Seattle, I was asked to submit a book proposal. I knew the proposal was my real interview and was determined to knock it out of the park. Even if the proposal wasn’t accepted, I could offer to write articles for Avalon Travel or ask to be considered for a future opportunity. After two weeks, I delivered the best proposal I could: 27 pages highlighting my hiking expertise, work experience, an outline of each chapter, and writing and photo samples. I had no clue whether other writers were being considered or what my chances were, but I was so proud of that proposal. I knew I had done everything I could. A month later, I was offered a book contract to write 75 Great Hikes Seattle.
3) Volunteer with an organization that is meaningful and fits your personality.
Since I love hiking, writing for the Washington Trails Association (WTA) was the best way for me to volunteer and give back to trails. As a Hiking Guide Correspondent with WTA, I learned how to write about trails, what features were important, and overall best practices — it was like going to “Hiking University”. It was the coolest volunteer job I ever had and was a natural fit with my curious, observant, and research-oriented personality. My experience writing about trails would eventually become my training ground for writing a hiking guidebook, and the connections I made were a vital source of help.
4) Stay humble and seek ways to improve.
When writing for WTA, I knew there were more knowledgeable writers out there. I focused on learning what made their write-ups great and worked hard to make mine good, too. I studied well-written write-ups and guidebooks, asked for feedback, read field guides, and called ranger stations and plant societies to understand details such as what species of fish swims in a particular lake or what type of moss grows near the trail. After several months of writing for WTA, I applied for and was accepted into an editing program at the University of Washington. My goal was to improve my writing and learn more about the publishing industry. I had no inkling that a book opportunity would present itself; I just saw it as the next step to move forward and keep improving.
5) Throw yourself into your passions.
Hiking for me is a win-win: a low impact adventure where I can relieve stress, get a great workout, build my confidence, and explore breathtaking scenery. When I realized I could “travel” Washington State by hiking and how motivated I felt after a hard hike, I went all in: I got a satellite messenger so my family could track my adventures, drove further distances to explore remote areas, joined hiking groups, followed the hiking community on social media, and logged the details of each hike I did. I developed a broad, seasonal knowledge of hikes throughout the state, an experience I could lean on when developing the book. Not only that, it allowed me to come to the book from an authentic place: I just loved hiking.
6) Pivot when life doesn’t go your way.
In early 2013, I began working with a triathlon coach with the dream of becoming a competitive triathlete. I had finished eight triathlons and felt I could do better with more focused training. But soon after we started, I developed a deep, searing pain in my back. After multiple doctor visits, I learned I had medical conditions I would monitor for the rest of my life. High-impact sports seemed to aggravate the pain, so I picked up low-impact sports, like paddle boarding, and became a more active hiker. Although I was crushed, and demoralized, I learned there were ways to manage the pain, that my outdoor life wasn’t limited to triathlon, and that I could still train towards a long-term goal, gradually improve my fitness, explore new terrain, and get a rush from an adventurous outdoor activity. Now, instead of racing in triathlons, I climb peaks like Mount St. Helens. Not a bad trade-off.
7) Reach out to experts in your industry.
When writing my book, I knew I wanted to accomplish certain things: become a better outdoor photographer, connect with the outdoor writing community, identify plants I saw on the trail, and learn about Search and Rescue. In order do it, I reached out to experts like professional photographer Ken Stanback, well-known guidebook author Craig Romano, naturalist Stewart Wechsler, and the chair of Seattle Mountain Rescue, Larry Colagiovanni, to ask for their help. Most of the time it was a cold call, where I explained the book I was writing and what I hoped to talk with them about. Each was willing to help me understand topics in their respective fields at a deeper level than I would have observed on my own, and made my book more informative.
8) Lean on people who believe in you.
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King writes:
Tabby never voiced a single doubt, however. Her support was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given. And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough. (King, 74)
After I read those words, I hurtled downstairs to read them out loud to my husband, Onur. They were true for me, too. When loneliness and self-doubt crept in, Onur radiated warmth, support, and positive energy. His belief in me never wavered, and it made a difference.
9) Take the shot.
When my cousin, Kate, emailed me the job posting for 75 Great Hikes Seattle, it would have been easy to write it off. I had never written a book before, nor had anyone in my family. Even with my WTA experience and a corporate career under my belt, it felt like a big leap. But just like moving to Washington State on my own and making the difficult decision to step away from my stable career, I figured it was worth a shot. And it was.