I am continuing my interviews with people who start over and begin again. We all have so many different reasons for why we want to try something new or start over. We also have a lot of automatic fear built in, starting with the big one: What if I fail? I hope these interviews will help by first showing you why and how someone started over. We’ll also look at any challenges along the way and any advice they have for someone who wants to begin again. First up in 2018 is Shannon who writes a blog called Must Hike, Must Eat. She was working at her dream job, helping children and families through the National Head Start program when she was laid off. What she did after a layoff was to start blogging about her hiking and eating adventures.
Can you please introduce yourself; tell us what you do and where you do it?
Hi! My name is Shannon Cunningham and I am an avid hiker and backpacker in the Northwestern area of the United States and I have a website, Must Hike Must Eat, where I share my outdoor adventures and healthy recipes for both home and trail.
Your first career involved working with families and children. Can you tell us about that career and if it’s something that you always wanted to do?
I have always worked with children from a young age but when I first went to college it was to be a graphic designer because I loved art! As things turned out, I ended up changing directions and moving into the child development field and working with children for the last 25 years with the YMCA and National Head Start program which I truly love and reflects what is important to me. Helping young children reach their potential and their parents to be the best first teachers they can is so important.
In my blog, I write a lot about trying new things and people who start over. You were laid off after 16 years in your career which I know not only hits the wallet in terms of money but also takes a toll emotionally. What steps did you take to move past that?
I think the hardest part of being laid off was feeling like what I (and my fellow coworkers) did with the children and families didn’t matter to the program. That it wasn’t valued. In order to not take that personally, I found I needed to focus on what the layoff presented in terms of pursuing other things that I loved and knew I was good at. I wasn’t sure where I would end up or where the money would come from but I knew it was an opportunity to grow. I was not only practical by updating my resume, I launched myself out into the online world with a blog that shared my passions for being outdoors and creating healthy foods to eat both at home and when I am out playing in the mountains to see what kind of connections I could make for a possible new career.
You started blogging and hiking….how much experience with either did you have before you started?
When I started my blog 6 months before my layoff (I had lots of warning), it was my first experience with writing online (I had kept journals for years). Hiking I have done all my life (my mom is a big hiker) but backpacking was newer only about 8 years. What was new about this was that I was writing about hiking and sharing that passion with others. It was an amazing feeling! Within a few months I was invited to be on a local hiking podcast, asked to contribute recipes to an outdoor camping cookbook and now two years later I am writing for the major hiking resource in Washington State.
I’ve been reading your different sections of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) did you ever have any plans of hiking the whole trail all at once or has the plan always been to hike sections?
My goal has been to eventually hike the whole thing, maybe in another 15 years or so, but I am working on sections until that happens. I have completed two states so far with California being left. There are some beautiful sections down there, like the Sierras, that I will probably do before then as my schedule allows. My fiancé is, also, working on a new career by going back to school this year to become a teacher and we hope that will allow him to join me on my PCT adventures. We like to joke about our “tiny house” and how we will live in a van traveling to hike and backpack once the kids are older!
What do you love most about your new life and what do you miss about your old career?
Right now, I am enjoying the beauty and stress of both. My new pursuits are basically a full-time job with all the writing and networking but it isn’t paying the bills yet so shortly after I was laid off I took another job in my field. What I love the most is how the community of people that share my passion for being outdoors has grown immensely; it is such a joy to be a part of a “tribe”. I am even a moderator for a Facebook group of over 85,000 people who all love hiking and backpacking like I do! I plan to keep one foot in my old career as long as I am needed and feel productive but when the opportunity presents itself to leave I will gladly move 100% to traveling on my new path. My internal timeline is that by the time our youngest children are off to college (another 7 years or so), that I will be able to write and hike for a living.
Along with all your hiking, it appears that you eat Paleo on the trail. Can you explain what Paleo is and how you can make it happen on the trail?
Sure. Paleo is a lifestyle that revolves around eating whole foods that don’t cause inflammation and moving organically, it’s less of a diet than a framework. I started 6 years ago when I was dealing with some health issues related to getting older like arthritis and perimenopause and I find it has really helped me to feel better and be able to do the things I enjoy doing with less pain and hormone swings. The main way that I make it work on the trail is by making most of my own food, often by dehydrating meals I cook from scratch. This allows me to include more nutrition than would otherwise be found in store-bought products at a fraction of the price. I substitute typical grains for things like vegetables and sweet potatoes and reduce the amount of sugar and other unnecessary fillers.
Do you have any dream hikes outside of the Pacific Northwest?
Absolutely! I would love to do the El Camino, my mom and I are talking about doing that one in the next few years. A friend hiked in Norway last year while visiting her family and it looks simply stunning! In general, I have a lot of amazing countries I would like to visit one day and most likely it will be to hike and backpack as a way to experience all they have to offer.
Did you get any advice or help from others who have gone through a layoff?
I don’t remember receiving any specifically from someone with their own experience but I’m, also, not sure that I asked. As part of my old career, I am familiar with the resources available to people who are laid off so I felt pretty confident in that. I think the biggest advice at that time that I heard was simply to follow my passions and not worry about the money. Everyone who knew me was so excited when I started my blog because they have all been following my adventures for years and it seemed like such a natural thing to do. In fact, they are all waiting for me to write a book!
And to go along with that question, what advice do you have for someone gets laid off and isn’t sure what step to take next?
I think this would really depend on how prepared you are for the possibility of losing your job; having a good savings account or equity would make a big difference. In my old position, I was used to not working during the summer so I had saved 3 months’ worth of income which made things less stressful. This should be everyone’s goal (or as much as you can) because we never know if we are going to lose a job or be injured.
You first task when you lose your job and you are looking find a new one will most likely be to market yourself. My advice is to have someone else write your resume or at least help you write it. We are less likely to toot our own horn or recognize skills we have than someone who knows us. They will be able to see you in a different light and help you think about other possible paths other than the one you have been on. Also, I joined networking websites like LinkedIn and found it not only can connect me to possible job opportunities, it helped me to process all my experience and passions so that I could better market myself in the direction I wanted to pursue.
I think the biggest thing to remember is that as much as we love what we do, our work is not our only identity and we can recreate ourselves to be whoever we would like to be. Also, whatever you do after a layoff does not have to be what you do for the rest of your life (something I am learning from my millennial son). Be brave enough to try something you have never done before and just see where it takes you!
You can connect with Shannon through the following links: