Last month, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant.
After three years and 15 exams, I am now chartered in my chosen profession. You will note that my profession is not “adventurer”.
I don’t actively portray myself as a full-time adventurer. A cursory glance at my LinkedIn profile would reveal that I have “a normal job” and I am constantly writing about how to fit expeditions into annual leave (like here, here, here and here).
But since I only write about adventure stuff (because this is an adventure blog), you could be forgiven for thinking that adventure was my vocation.
It used to be, but adventure stopped being my vocation some time ago. Here’s why…
Working as a full-time adventurer
For several years, I tried to work full-time as “an adventurer”. That meant running this blog, writing articles, giving talks and organising other people’s expeditions.
However, I gave that up a few years ago for the following three reasons:
- Mental health
1. Making money as an adventurer
I never made much money from adventure stuff. No one paid me to go on expeditions, so I used to make a living through part-time jobs like working in a shop, designing websites and tutoring maths. I also earned a tiny amount through my website and books (details here) but nothing that I could have lived off.
It was not that I could not make money from adventure stuff, it was more that I didn’t like doing the things that made money:
- I like expeditions, but I don’t particularly like doing them for other people, either as a guide or as logistical support (I tried both).
- I like writing books, but I hate promoting and selling them.
- I don’t mind giving talks, but I loathe cold-calling people to tell them what a brilliant speaker I am.
I also considered making money to be dirty and could never mentally justify charging people for things that did not cost me anything, like advice or research. I realise that is a ridiculous position, but that is how I felt at the time.
All jobs involve elements that are less enjoyable, but since I was self-employed, and no one was telling me where to focus, I never put enough time or effort into chasing things that would pay.
The inevitable result was that I never made much money.
Even if I did not need to make money from it, I still would have stopped being a full-time adventurer for the next two reasons.
2. Mental health and self-employment
Not making much money was not good for my self-esteem.
I am not particularly driven by money and have never earned a large salary (becoming chartered is the first time I’ve earned above the national average) but earning only a few thousand pounds a year affected me in ways I did not expect.
Little things like having to avoid social occasions because I didn’t have the money to buy a drink, and only being able to do activities with my wife if she paid, made me feel pathetic.
Working from home was also bad for other parts of my mental health.
I am an introvert. I don’t like large groups and lots of social interaction. I am also disciplined and motivated. As such, working from home was great for me in many ways. I could keep myself to myself and work long hours on what I enjoyed (like writing my first book).
However, sitting at home all day, on my own, with no interactions was too much. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it ate away at my confidence and drove me to depression and anxiety (which I’ve written about elsewhere).
3. Fulfilment as an adventurer
The final reason I stopped doing adventure stuff full-time is that I did not find it fulfilling.
I know it is supposed to work the other way around: you get fed up with the nine-til-five and quit to go on an adventure. But, for me, just doing adventure stuff did not feel like enough.
I think that helping other people have adventures (which is the aim of my website) is a worthy cause. But I used to spend most of my time trying to promote myself on social media and convince people to publish my articles / sponsor my expeditions / book me as a speaker. None of those things felt worthwhile.
When I did go on adventures (which was not that often given my lack of funds), they felt like an indulgence.
It also felt like I was rarely using my brain.
All of which – the money, the depression and the lack of fulfilment – made me decide to stop doing adventure stuff full-time and, instead, get a normal job.
OK, but why an accountant?
I get a mix of reactions when I tell people that I switched from being “an adventurer” to being an accountant. The word is almost a synonym for “boring”, which would put it at the opposite end of some kind of spectrum from “adventurous”. As such, people tend to respond with a mix of bewilderment and horror.
(For the record, I am not an accountant in the traditional sense. I don’t do tax returns or look after anyone’s books. I work in insolvency and help struggling businesses. But that’s by the by).
It may seem like an odd jump, but there were clues even in my online adventure persona, like my excessive use of spreadsheets (e.g. here, here, here, here and here).
Those that know me in real life will also know that I was a massive maths nerd at school, used to be a maths teacher, love sitting at a computer and am still a massive nerd.
As such, accountancy is a natural fit. But if I’m working in an office full-time, where does that leave The Next Challenge?
What next for The Next Challenge?
It is six years since I worked on adventure stuff full-time. I stopped in 2012. Ever since then, my website and other activities have just been side projects.
Given that I only started the website in 2009, that means I have been running it as a hobby for twice as long as it was my vocation. In that time, I have:
- been on expeditions to Siberia, Morocco, Iceland, Ibiza and Iran, amongst other places;
- launched my expedition grant and supported over 50 different adventurers;
- and published a new article on my website almost every single week (except for a brief holiday this summer after publishing my second book).
In other words, the fact that I am now a Chartered Accountant is of no relevance to the activities of this website. It will be business as usual.
Indeed, not having to earn money through adventure has been a huge relief. I can now focus on the things I enjoy – like funding aspiring adventurers and making spreadsheets – without having to worry that they don’t make me any money. For better or worse, it also means that any trips that I go on feel earned rather than indulgent.
And, ironically, since I stopped relying on adventure stuff to make a living, I have made more money from my website than I ever did when I worked on it full-time. A blog post on this topic will follow (expect statistics and graphs).
Who cares whether you’re an adventurer or an accountant?
The summary of the above is that while I may have given a different impression, I actually quit trying to be an adventurer many years ago. Adventure has only been a hobby for me since 2012.
The reason I thought I would share this is the same reason that I (reluctantly) share anything about my personal life: to help get rid of the perception that expeditions are only available to an elite cadre with corporate sponsors and no worldly commitments. I am lucky enough to go on some really cool expeditions, but I am also an accountant and spend most of time staring at Excel.
Having an “ordinary job” does not mean you can’t also go on extraordinary adventures.
P.S. The other reason I am sharing this is because every time I go to the Explore Conference and try to impress someone with my wisdom or tales of heroics, Leon McCarron pops up and shouts: “Did you know that Tim’s actually an accountant?”. Hopefully, this will now stop.
Thank you for sharing this – you are not alone. Literally had a conversation about this last night.
About qualifying as a Chartered Accountant? Nice! ;)
Fabulous, as always. Well done!
PS – if you want any insults to shout at Leon, I have LOTS….
Tim…Join the club. I’m also an accountant. When I give talks to under-graduates or school/college groups I always ask what they think accountancy is about. The answer they give is always numbers/money when IMHO it’s actually people. If it was numbers I would be rubbish at it as a serial O Level Maths failure (actually I still don’t have it but I have been an accountant for 30 years). But the people are what makes it for me and as an IP I imagine it would be very true too.
Good luck and keep up with all of it. It’s the balance that makes the difference…and I still love your grant. Thanks, Jon.
Thanks Jon. Glad to hear there are other adventuring accountants out there (not that I doubted it). And thanks for your continued support of my grant.
This is absolutely superbly written and thought-out, Tim. Thank you for such a usefull post.
I had been struggling with the same issues for quite some time, almost exactly what you wrote about above – right down to the little details.
However, last month, I finished hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and made a huge decision.
I started to focus 100% on my online content business and think of my adventure website as a hobby. It’s only small but the agency has great potential and I absolutely love how marketing, branding etc gets my brain to work.
Many thanks again, I have mentioned you and one or two others over the years in my blogs but really should have given you more credit for the influence you have had on my life decisions.
All the best, Tim and good luck with the numbers!
Thanks for the comment and congratulations on completing the Pacific Crest Trail!
Sounds like you’ve reached a good decision. If it goes well, then I am happy to take credit for your life decisions. Should you experience any issues, please see my disclaimer.
All the best,
Hahah love it, Tim! Thanks again and have a fantastic week !
well done Tim. Its not easy studying all the while living life and starting that new little one. That’s a whole new adventire in itself. Best wishes for your future
Congrats TIm on your career decision and best of luck. TS Elliot said it better than most when he wrote quite beautifully “We shall never cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring, will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.”
Thanks Paul. It’s a good line!
I’m also an accountant (also spent two years working in Insovlency) and last year did a 14 day packraft tour of Fiordland, New Zealand. That’s the good thing about accoutancy qualifications, there is always work and I agree it’s about people and communicating numbers with meaning (and of course spreadsheets). Will be looking at your grant next year as were about to have a baby and I want to do some baby inclusive adventures to show that accountants and new parents can keep on adventuring!!!!
Thanks Will. Packrafting in Fiordland sounds great. Best of luck with the new arrival.
I love this refreshing reality check showing how you can have best of both worlds! I buy as many holidays as possible for as many micro adventures and travel as I can fit in. Half day holidays for weekends away rule! Now a subscriber. Thank you :)
Thanks for that Emma. I also buy the maximum additional annual leave!
Another great article!
I have always admired the idea of your website, to help others go on adventures. Including myself. You are inspiring. Well done.
I read your book with laughter, delight, and amazement. Wow, what an adventure.
Thanks Alan. Really glad you enjoyed my book.
Paul Ramsden worked for HM Revenue and Customs, 9 to 5, with a month of holidays per year. He got FOUR Piolet d’Or, one of the highest recognition in mountaineering.
I personally found out that I can get more time and money to do adventures working in a well paid job and taking lots of time off than trying to work in something cool and the same time that I try to do something cool with my free time.
Thanks Fernando. I think Paul got at least one of his Piolet d’Or awards for a climb with Mick Fowler, another HMRC employee who has three Piolet d’Or awards of his own. Must be something about us numbers guys, eh? ;)
What a great article, fresh and honest. In the end most adventure is just pointless and selfish, nothing wrong with that if you don’t pretend otherwise! When I was wondering how to earn a more worthwhile living, my Dad told me – why not get a regular well paid job, and then you’ll have lots of time to have fun hobbies and the money to do them, maybe he was right.
Thanks Robert. I think recognising that most adventure is pointless and selfish is quite important and almost liberating. +1 to your dad too.
Tim from Gather Outdoors
Tim this is an inspiration! I’m trying to transition the opposite way, by creating a business which enables me to be more adventurous. But that has taken most of my spare time that could otherwise have been used for adventures, especially as other responsibilities closed in this year.
Still, I’m sticking with it, but great to have the alternate perspective. I hope you won’t mind if I share this article with our community in my end of year reflection?
Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you’ve found it useful, even as you travel in the opposite direction.
You might find this articles useful too: How I Make a Living as an Adventurer (Hint: I Don’t)
Please do go ahead and share the article. Let me know if I can help with your transition.
All the best,
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It’s so refreshing to read a realistic article. Of course most people need a job to fund their lifestyle. Most people can’t make money from doing their hobby.
I’ve just qualified as a chartered accountant myself. I chose accountancy as I knew I could always get a job earning enough money to support myself and my family. Once chartered is always be able to take breaks in my career but have my qualification to fall back on, in a field where I’d likely always find work- and a qualification that is recognised internationally.
Like you I fit my travels around annual leave (and also around school holidays as we have a 10 year old)
But if you want to do something you can always find a way. In 2019 we managed 8 adventures. On a pretty small budget. Mostly walking holidays ( a couple of weeks in the lakes, the Rota Vincentina (where our then9 year old carried her own kit the whole way) and my favourite, exploring the mountains of Slovenia) children learn by example and I’m set to have an adventurous daughter on my hands. We are already planning a gap year together when she turns 18.
I’ve really enjoyed exploring your website. I shall be buying your book for future inspiration.
Thanks for the comment and congratulations on qualifying. It certainly sounds like you’ve managed to keep adventuring with a full-time job and family, which is great to hear as our own family expands!
All the best,