What Being An Instructor with Outward Bound Taught Me About Living

I joined Outward Bound to try and empower others, little did I know how much my own perspectives would change in the process.

As an instructor, I found it easy to get caught up in tasks, group management and time frames. So easy in fact that I often forgot why I was in the dense jungle bushwhacking my way to a summit behind a lost group...or standing in the middle of a uninhabited island surrounded by 12 teenagers. Here are a few lessons I learned from my participants and our journeys. 

1. I don't need that much stuff 

One of the first things I realized when I started as an expedition leader was: Everything I need to live comfortably fits into a single sea kayak. Then later, a single 70L backpack. Pre-outdoorsy me would have laughed at the idea. I mean how can you possibly fit everything you need into such a small space? What about if this happens? Or this comes up? What do you mean I have to go without showering for days on end? The whole idea seemed almost barbaric! Yet there I was, on day 7 of 8, sweating it out in the dense Hong Kong summer, sat in a large, heat trapping, closed deck sea kayak, and completely happy. I had spent the past 7 days with a group of 12 teenagers and 1 other instructor. We battled rough seas with novice paddlers and called a different island home each night. I took showers in the summer rain, baths in waterfalls and rinses in the sea – sounds idyllic doesn’t it? And it was, for the most part. Everything I needed to keep me comfortable was there, plus a few luxuries such as banana chips and my kindle.

I soon discovered that no matter the course length, be it 5 days or 18, my general gear list was the same (only variations being if it was a hiking course or a sea kayaking one in hot or cold weather).

2. Make time for things you enjoy 

I’m sure most of us have experienced that little bargaining we do with ourselves, our significant others, ours parents or our teachers. That dialogue that looks a lot like “well if I do ___ now, then can I do ___ later?” It’s a daily conversation we have to try and make sure we get to squeeze in that little extra bit of fun for ourselves and make whatever task ahead more tolerable. And as an outdoor instructor, I’ve had this conversation a lot. From participants asking if they can skip dinner to avoid washing dishes to groups determined to wake up at the crack of dawn in order to enjoy more free time in the evenings, every day brought a new bargain. At first I thought of it as quite comical and cheeky, but now that I think about it, they were making time. Making time for things they enjoyed. And if that isn’t admirable then I don’t know what is. These small daily interactions helped me to realise that while time is fleeting, I am the master of my own time. I will do with it what I must do, and make the time for things that bring me happiness. Even if it means waking up at 6am every morning.

3. You're never too busy to appreciate the little things 

Sure you may have 12 participants who have never touched sea water in their lives about to experience a jetty jump; all flailing madly, limbs going every which way and excited squeals and exclamations about how the sea is “too salty.” All of this happening while you are trying to coax that last team member to take the jump. Sure, right behind all this madness is the next group eagerly/anxiously awaiting their turn, the boss is looking at his watch wondering if these kids will make it to lunch on time, and the skipper is waiting for the jetty to be clear before docking. It can be chaotic, but that still doesn’t mean that every time, at least one person out of the mad scene would stop to point out the gorgeous view of either the sun setting behind the mountains or the light dancing in the waves.

It serves as a wonderful reminder that no matter how caught up in things we seem to get, there is always time to stop and take in the scenery, leading to a temporary moment of serenity...before the kids start chanting your name and it’s your turn to jump that is.

4. Your body will follow where the mind leads (physically + mentally) 

The power of positive thinking is truly remarkable and something I once wrote off as a myth. Yet time and time again, it has shown me its true strength. It has the ability to make even the most exhausted groups paddle that much further and the most insecure of minds to begin to believe in themselves. 

My participants mainly consisted of city youth struggling with the extremely competitive academic environment that is bred in Hong Kong. Most had never touched the ocean, let alone camped on an island. Most had never had to cook for themselves either. The combination of this often culminated in a very interesting scene and frustrations among the group ran high at times. Yet the sense of pride and accomplishment they experienced was evident in our daily evening discussions. The outdoors provided them with the ability to believe in themselves outside of their individual rankings in school. This sense of accomplishment led to incredible determination that pushed the group beyond what they believed their physical limits to be. Novice paddlers smashing 25kms in open sea in 1 day, just 2 days after learning what a kayak was. 

Positive thoughts leading to positive results. 

5. The world spins madly on 

We could have been gone for a week, a month, a year. None of it makes a difference to the world at large at the end of the day. So don't sweat the small stuff and just keep living the life that makes you most happy. 

Published: October 18, 2017

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Tiffany Fernyhough

Alberta

Outdoor Educator from Hong Kong + New Zealand | Currently in Alberta, Canada