Lawyer > Wilderness Instructor

Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, 35, Lawyer, Wyoming

"I'm climbing four days a week."     Photo: Peter Yang

On New Year’s Day 2010, my two-year-old son broke his femur in a skiing accident while we were vacationing in Lander. I spent eight weeks there while he recovered, thinking about life. For a ­decade, I’d been moving up the law-firm ladder in California and relegating what I really love—climbing—to the weekends. My husband and I decided to just stay in Wyoming, and I started looking for work with an organization whose ­mission matched my core values. I applied for an internship with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) as a blogger. Within a few months I was hired as a writer, and this summer I became the diversity-and-inclusion manager and trained to lead wilderness courses. NOLS is flexible with schedules, and we’re encouraged to spend nice days skiing, climbing, or running. Some meetings happen on bicycles. I make a fifth of what I made as a lawyer, but I’m at least five times happier. I’m climbing four days a week, and I play with my son outside every day.

HOW YOU CAN DO IT: Build a strong background in ­wilderness travel, and get certified in disciplines like climbing (the American Mountain Guide Association’s guide program: amga.com) and paddling (the American Canoe Association’s instructor workshops: americancanoe.org). NOLS offers a 35-day instructor course (nols.edu). Full-time instructors earn $16,000–$40,000 a year. Search for jobs at outdoored.com and coolworks.com.

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