I get asked a lot of questions. I mean a lot of questions. I spend a good part of every morning replying to questions asked via e-mail and voice mail. I get asked a lot of questions at our training courses here as well. I also get asked a lot of questions at speaking venues and book signings. I never get tired of them and am always happy to share whatever knowledge I have about whatever the subject that is being discussed.
Out of all the questions I get asked, there is one question I get asked most often…
How did you make your dream of becoming a survival instructor a reality?
Many ask this question, or some version of it. Some, it seems, are more interested in this topic than survival information. I always find that interesting and because it happens so often, I’m convinced there must be something to it. I thought I’d take a moment to tell a little bit about my story and maybe shed some light on exactly how my career came to pass and how, in fact, I made it happen. The last few words of the previous sentence are written with intention. Notice I didn’t write ‘and how it happened’. I wrote ‘ and how I made it happen’. It’s that small difference that can determine whether or not something comes to pass. We’ll get into more of that later. For now, let’s start at the beginning.
Yes, I was a Boy Scout. And, yes, I am an Eagle Scout.
I get asked that a lot too. Boy Scouts reinforced my love for the outdoors and my interest in self reliant skills. Remember, the Boy Scout motto is ‘Be prepared’ after all. I’ll always have fond memories of my time in scouting. I also grew up on a farm and spent most of my childhood outside. Long story short, I discovered at an early age that I’m happiest in the woods.
High school happened. Then college.
I graduated high school and then went to Butler University in Indianapolis, IN. I actually started as a pharmacy major – HA!!!! It didn’t take me too long to figure out I was hiking the wrong path with that choice – no offense to my pharmaceutical minded friends I settled on a business major. I was now in the city, but found myself in between classes and on weekends wandering the small patches of woods that spotted the campus . I longed for the feeling of being submerged in nature. It was definitely missing from my life and I knew it. It all came to a head one day with a crow.
Yes, a crow. You know, the bird – black with a really annoying call. Well, there was a certain crow that came every morning to the yard just outside my dorm window. It always came early and always made an insane amount of noise squawking and calling. It’s call echoed throughout the small grass courtyard and tormented me awake each morning. Somehow, this daily diatribe of squawks and cackles summoned the inner woodsman in me that the city and college life had so subtly repressed. I decided to set a snare for that crow, which I had now named after one of my least favorite pharmacy professors.
I still remember the thrill and challenge of building that snare. I was trying to outwit one of the smartest and alert birds on the planet. I don’t remember much about college but I remember that incident like it was yesterday. Everything had to be perfect; the trigger I carved from the pine tree in the parking lot, the knots I tied into the dental floss line, the bait, the placement, the timing, everything. It was me against thousands of years of pure natural instinct, now bird-animal against human-animal. For that moment, I was a primitive hunter in the small courtyard of my college dormitory. I’ll never forget the horrified look from the girl looking out her window opposite my room as she watched me haul the flapping squawking crow by the feet up the side of building to my window on the 3rd floor. I didn’t care. No one was going to steal the glory or joy of my primal victory. Part of me wonders if she was happy to see it captured as well.
Don’t worry, I didn’t have the heart to kill it up close so I let him go. Needless to say,though, he never came back. I still say a quick Thank You to the good Lord every time I see a crow. Those birds represent a time when something changed in me.
The moment of action
If you ever want your dreams to come true then at some point you have to stop thinking and start acting. Soon after ‘the crow’ I decided to take steps toward what I determined was my long-term goal: TO TEACH WILDERNESS SURVIVAL SKILLS. I checked with the school administration but they didn’t have a WILDERNESS SURVIVAL major. “What kind of school is this,” I thought. “No Wilderness Survival Major? What has the world come too?” I’m just kidding – I stuck with the business degree but started putting together a PLAN B immediately.
My first book
I spent most of my free time during my sophomore year at college writing my first survival manual. It was a 90 page self published book with hand-drawn sketches of the survival skills I knew at the time – which wasn’t much. I didn’t make excuses. I moved forward. No, I wasn’t qualified to write a survival book. In fact, I wasn’t qualified to write any kind of a book on any subject. No, I didn’t have a publishing contract. I also didn’t have any money. But, I didn’t let any of that stop me. I pushed forward anyway and made no excuses that might somehow allow me to quit. When my friends were down the street partying, I was writing and drawing and researching. Oftentimes, in order to be successful, you must do what others aren’t willing to do. You must be willing to make sacrifices. That was just fine with me.
I photocopied my book at Kinkos and had them spiral bind it. In my mind, I was a published author! Nothing could stop me now!
I remember sitting at my desk staring at a big pile of homemade survival books thinking, “OK, now how am I going to sell these?” Come to find out it is much harder to sell a book than to write one
I called local Boy Scout troops. “Get back to my roots,” I thought. I traveled from troop to troop giving FREE survival demonstrations as an attempt to hawk autographed copies of my new book. That went pretty well but I didn’t like having to travel to meet my customers. “How can I get them to come to me,” I wondered.
My first course
“Aha! I’ll host a survival course! I won’t even charge. I’ll just sell my books,” I told my Mom and Dad while trying to convince them to allow me to invite total strangers on our farm so that I can teach them survival skills in the woods behind the house. I wish I was a fly on the wall in my parent’s house that evening. I’d do anything to hear that conversation. Thank God for good parents because they let me. They were also still confused about me not being a Pharmacy Major. That’s another story for another day.
So, I sent out a press release to local newspapers and started publicizing my survival course by an AUTHOR! Believe it or not about 15 people showed up and most of them bought a book – autographed of course! Below is a picture of me (pre-ponytail) teaching kids how to flip people off. Just kidding – I’m teaching them how to whistle loudly for signaling but that picture still cracks me up:)
WOW, I learned a lot
Teaching that first course taught me MANY lessons. First, I learned that I needed WAY MORE DIRT TIME in the field in order to REALLY teach survival skills. Second, I learned that I LOVED DOING THIS. For the first time in a long time I felt like I was on the right path to something that fulfilled me. I had peace with a direction. I was combining my love for self reliant survival skills with my joy of working with people. It was perfect. Now, how in the world do I make a living doing this? Here are a couple photos from my first ever survival course.
My first advertising efforts
“I’m a business major, I can figure this out.” I invested a few hundred dollars in an ad at the back of Boy’s Life magazine. Boy’s Life is a magazine for Boy Scouts. If you were in scouting then you know what it is. As a scout I would scour the little ads in the back and often begged my parents to order me the X-Ray Glasses and Magic Sea Monkeys. I figured this was the perfect place for me to offer my new survival book. Was I prepared for the flood of orders?????
My marketing strategy was to offer a FREE survival booklet which was a teaser to order the full book for $15. I even posed for the camera in my Boy Scout uniform (my Mom took the photo in our living room). I was ready to be a millionaire! The orders did not come pouring in like I imagined.
My first business lesson
There are no get rich quick schemes. As Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” I think here is a good time to tell you that I am not especially gifted at anything really. I’ve always said that my best gift from God is me being too stupid to know any better. I grew up watching my parents work extremely hard. They never complained, they just worked. They instilled in me that if you want something then you’re going have to work for it. Sometimes they failed but they never quit. I wasn’t going to quit either.
For me, failure wasn’t an option. I knew it was going to be work. I had to spend 100s, even 1000s of hours practicing and perfecting the skills I wanted to teach AND I had to figure out how to build a business around teaching survival skills. Talk about a tough business model. You can’t find a book on this one!
Keeping the ember alive
I think you know you’re on the right path when your passion for the subject doesn’t die even though you aren’t getting the positive feedback you want. Even though I wasn’t able to make a living with survival skills & writing at the time, I still enjoyed doing it. I still believed that these skills were important and I still enjoyed working with people.
Yes, I wanted to teach survival skills as my career. But, I had to make money and pay bills too. For many years, teaching courses and selling books was supplemental income. If I taught survival skills for the money I would have quit in year 1 for sure. I could not have survived financially for very long if I wasn’t working other full-time and part-time jobs. Here comes that whole SACRIFICE thing again.
It was Herbert Grey that said, “Successful people make a habit of doing the things that unsuccessful people don’t like to do.”
It wasn’t easy
Building my business was anything but easy. I’ve always said – “If it’s worth having then it’s worth the effort.” Just as Robert Frost wrote in The Road Not Taken, ” Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Oftentimes when following your dreams, the path will certainly be less traveled. It will be overgrown with wild rose and stinging nettle. Occasionally, though, those roses will bloom and you might as well make tea and cordage from those nettles. Perspective is everything and the journey builds character and perseverance. Even if you fail, you still have the journey. That’s more than many will ever see.
I’m still learning
I’ll never claim to know everything about anything. I learn new survival tips and tricks every day AND I learn life lessons every day. When your classroom is Mother Nature you learn really quick that you’ll never learn all there is to know. She is absolutely and unequivocally unpredictable.
What I’ve learned about Mental Survival Skills
It’s funny, I’ve studied survival skills now for over 15 years. For most of those years I only focused on physical skills such as fire making, shelter building, etc. However, there is a whole new world of skills to practice. These are the mental survival skills. Unlike the physical survival skills, we can use mental skills in our daily life. In fact, I’ve discovered that if you think using many of these mental survival skills every day then your life can change. Below are just 3 of many mental survival skills that can not only help you survive any scenario, but can also change your life!
- The Absolute Refusal to Give Up: Never give up no matter how bleak the circumstances.
- The MacGyver Factor: Use what you have to get what you need.
- Exorcise the Demon named Negativity: Do not tolerate negative thoughts or negative people in your life.
That’s my best answer
So for those of you who’ve asked ‘how I’m able to do what I love’ – this is my best answer. Hopefully it’s been insightful. I look forward to training with you in the field sometime soon.
Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,