Posted by: James Shannon | February 4, 2010

From Trash Sorter to Ski Bum: Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Goin’

paprecfac_poeBelieve it or not, I used to work in a place like this. Sometimes, you have to hit rock bottom before you force yourself to get clear on what you want out of life…! (image source)

Where are you headed in life? This question is a very popular ice-breaker in social situations.  People, once they get past the standard small-talk, want to get to know you better, to get a sense of your inner self.  I happen to think that they ask this question because they are looking for fresh ideas/inspiration for their own life.  But I digress.

So let’s direct this spotlight on myself for your entertainment … Where is James headed in life?

To answer this properly, it helps to know where I’ve been, so let’s roll the clock back a couple of years.  2008: I had just started my own ergonomics consulting company, and I was beaming.  I had just completed an exhaustive ergonomic assessment of the mangement team for the company I worked for at night (I was a general labourer to pay the bills at this time).  All this time I had tried to find a job in my field as an employee, with little success, and here I was , with my entrepreneur’s hat on, with a check in my hands for $1,500.  Sweet sweet justice.

But then the promised extension of the project to the rest of the office never materialized.  I bid on other projects, but came up short.  Within three months I had gone from threatening to rule the ergonomics market in Northern Alberta (or so my ego thought, haha!) to sitting in the doldrums with a dead sail.

I went through the motions, but there was no joy, no get-up-and-go to any of my actions.  There was no passionate fire under my ass to power me through this dip.  Seven months later in November 2008, after determining that ergonomics was something I fell into out of college, and not my life’s mission, I closed up shop.

Tail between legs, confused and scared as hell about the future.

Between the start and abrupt end of my company, I had switched day jobs, going from ho-hum boredom (but great pay+benefits), to pure unadulterated hell.  I had been hired on as a warehouseman at a paper recycling facility, but this is slightly misleading.  We also handled cardboard, and in some cardboard loads, we had bags of garbage.  Yup.  Food waste, rotting and all.  Even vomit.  That’s right.  Human projectile vomit!

Talk about a tipping point for life change!

I got to thinking what I’d rather be doing with my life inahurry!   I liked the outdoors alot, I was passionate about getting out for weekend hikes all the time, so maybe this was the answer.  Jasper, in the Canadian Rockies was only four hours to the west, so it made sense to look there for a job in the great outdoors.

I did my research, pounded the pavement, stayed in my first hostel in the process (sooo much fun!) … and 6 weeks later, I had a job driving boats and giving tours on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Maligne Lake.

HPIM3154Not a bad change of scenery, eh?

This brings us to today, where I work as a kitchen helper at the local ski resort (Marmot Basin) in exchange for a free season pass,  enabling the ski bum lifestyle I’ve been living for the past three months.  I also work a second job .. why you ask?

To help prepare me for where I’m headed over the next 1-2 years!

The more obvious reason: because I am saving up for my first extended global walkabout (ala Rolf Potts and Tim Ferriss).  It will take me through South Korea (2-3 weeks), Thailand (2 months), Australia (1 month), and New Zealand (6+ months). I will be vagabonding through the first three, only earning income potentially through poker (Casino or hostel games); in New Zealand however, I will be seeking a job in Queenstown for the Southern Hemisphere Winter, in order to itch my ski bum scratch on the other end of the globe!

Less obviously: I want to also save up a pool of money for micro-testing muse ideas. Once one of them takes off, it will take income generation largely out of my hands, enabling my end goal; a life built around travel, athletic endeavours, and contribution to the community at a level that would not be possible if I were working 9-5, 5 days a week.

Draw your map and then follow it … it may lead you to a life beyond your dreams!

Where is your journey leading you?  Feel free to comment below!



  1. This is a pretty inspiring story. With regards to ending your consulting gig, that took a lot of courage even though you didn’t love the work you were doing. It especially took a lot to end it so quickly, which ended up being smart on your part because it forced you to move on instead of toiling away like you were in your previous gig.
    Though globe-trotting isn’t really for me, I’m glad you have a clear vision of where you’re going and some action steps in place to get there!

  2. Sounds exciting! A life built around travel is a good life indeed.

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