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We left the outdoors to work in an office

Believe it or not, some people are actually eager to take their work inside.

We left the outdoors to work in an office

It’s become cliché: The story of cube farm inhabitants breaking free to head off for the greener pastures of outdoor work. But what about those who started outside—whether in the military, as a camp counselor or even a “ski bum”—and decided to head back inside to the climate-controlled confines of office life?

That’s a thing, too.

Madeline Enos made that decision—leaving her work with a trail-building crew in the Texas Conservation Corps to join a tech company earlier this year.

“I knew that working for an agile and fast-growing tech company would have tremendous opportunities for professional development. I wanted to learn the tools of the trade, hone analytical skills, and get great mentorship from digital experts,” she says. “My love for the outdoors is not diminished, and should I choose to work in the environmental sector again, I'll be bringing a valuable new skill set to the table.”

We talked to Enos and other former outdoors workers about their biggest challenges in joining the office world.

Challenge: Interviewers will think I can’t hack it

Transitioning from leading a group of kids on a canoe trip in the wilderness as a camp counselor to managing a team on a client project can seem unrelated, but the responsibility required and the ability to think on your feet is the same, says Hugh Haller, CEO of the Camping and Education Foundation.

Solution: Translate how your skills apply in the office environment

In the wilderness, you constantly have to be prepared to deal with the unexpected, and the same is true in many offices, says Haller, who has helped several camp counselors transition into the corporate world. “The problem-solving skills and creative thinking that are honed in the woods can be transferred to the boardroom,” he says, pointing out that the onus is on the job seeker to draw that clear-cut tie to the interviewer so they don’t have to fill in the blanks themselves.

Challenge: Worry that the office world won’t be as fulfilling

Doing conservation work in state and national parks was the perfect fit for value-wise for Enos. So when she decided it was time to move to the next stage of her life, she did fret that an office job wouldn’t be as satisfying.

Solution: Find a company with a mission you can support

When Enos interviewed at tech company Software Advice, she was relieved to find a company culture that reflected her own values. “The right company and team can make all the difference,” she says, adding that she finds her work supporting small business and the company’s commitment to philanthropy rewarding.

In addition, she made sure the company valued work/life balance, noting that her supervisor is supportive of her volunteer work. She recommends returners do their homework to make sure that a company truly practices what it preaches.

Challenge: I won’t get to move around a lot

This was the toughest part for a Steve Gera, a former Marine Corps officer turned NFL coach who then joined the corporate world: “I gained 20 pounds in the first six months of my corporate job and strained my hamstring on a run—all because I was sitting upwards of 80% of my day rather than 20% as a coach and platoon commander.”

Solution: Make your environment work for you

Give yourself permission to get outside and move around during the day, says Gera, who recommends using a standing desk. Set aside time each hour for a brief walk, or take walking meetings. And stick to an exercise routine on your off hours.

 

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