I have a quote by Maria Lugones (2003) celebrating “…bi- and multilingual experimentation;/code-switching;…caricaturizing (sic) of the fragmented selves we are in our groups…crossing cultures; etc.” I recently read it and disagreed with it for the first time. Messing with the cultural norms as they stand may be a worthwhile endeavor, and living between jokes at home and jargon at work is reality for everyone, even monolingual humans. However, I bounce between two different work environments and have learned that living in the language and culture of both workplaces is tough. Additionally, my bosses recently caught me in a crossroads, demanding that I choose one primary work culture, language, and set of norms. I wonder: how do I relinquish pieces of myself?
Let me explain further. I identify as an outdoor educator because I work for the nearby Outward Bound school and spent the last few years revolving around outdoor education jobs. I step into the Outward Bound warehouse/office complex and settle into a distinct language cemented by training expeditions and time invested in those co-instructors, trainers, supervisors, and students. I have deep relationships with most of my coworkers, with whom I plan for and instruct low privilege, inner city students on expeditions. I am dedicated to the mission of character and leadership development through challenge and adventure.
But Outward Bound only schedules me to work sporadically. After several months of living in my metropolis without constant work from Outward Bound, I finally acquired another job. Now, most of my days are spent inside a bicycle shop, where I work as a bike mechanic. Since March, I have became separated from Outward Bound’s community, culture, relationships, and inside jokes. I wasn’t there during the busiest season in Outward Bound’s year, which means I can’t fully speak my coworkers’ codes anymore. I more frequently speak the language, inside jokes, stories, and drama of my bike shop, even though I don’t identify easily as a bike mechanic.
The backbone of an outdoor education job is seasonal employment, as students and programs are driven by access to activities outside. In most places, these jobs last two to five months, and outdoor educators must move on to another place, another job in order to eat and ply their trade. This unattached, unsettled life is tough, and eventually outdoor educators (dare I extrapolate to anyone living a seasonally employed life by choice?) find themselves at a crossroads: do they live a settled life with family and community, using personal resources and vacation time to take trips to where they want to go with whom they want to expedition? Or do they continue to use organizational gear and transportation and get paid to scratch the outdoorsy itch, sharing the outdoors with others while remaining seasonally unsettled and unattached?
I meant for this summer to chart a different path: balancing the financially stable, settled life of a bike mechanic with the seasonal life of an Outward Bound instructor. I have lived the summer of a bike mechanic with only bits and spurts of Outward Bound – not enough scratching to fully satisfy the itch but only enough to make the itch worse. As the summer winds to a close, I know that I’ve entered the next stage of my outdoor educator crossroads: I tried to create a third route and have been stymied. Where do I go from here?
I want to emphasize that living as an outdoor educator is a privileged life – folk may be living beneath the poverty line and stressing about nothing in bank accounts, but they actively choose to live this way. Every outdoor educator has alternative options, unlike seasonally employed folk such as migrant farm workers. However, after spending my career as an outdoor educator teaching folk to love their lives, I struggle to reconcile that message with my job reality.