“The only move that matters is your next one.”
You might say that a career in parks and recreation starts when you find your passion. Looking back, I feel lucky that I found this passion during freshman year of college. Before that, I only knew that I had an interest in being outdoors, working with a team, and helping the community.
Overtime, these interests started to finally make sense when I found my calling to work in parks and recreation. This post is a reflection of my last 5 years in the field of parks and recreation.
My first Parks and Recreation Full Time Job
Four years ago, at the end of May, I had just started my first full-time job in parks and recreation. My job title was vague but general enough that I still felt cool. Recreation Assistant. I was pleased that I landed this gig and excited to get started. 40 hours a week working in a park sounded like a dream come true compared to school. No more exams, finally! Just working to improve the world a little bit at a time through parks and recreation.
This was basically me…
As Sean VanRoenn from Meeker, Colorado, related, I was ready to save the world. I was determined to use all of my abilities and knowledge to better this parks and recreation department.
The places I could go…
As I started this career path, I relished in the possibilities for my life! This was just the beginning. My experiences, in combination with an internal optimism, has led me to be I believe you can do anything you want in life. Therefore, simply getting this job was not enough. I needed to make a plan for the rest of my life.
I had many options for my career:
- I could work in facilities and event management for a local or regional parks and rec department
- I could offer my marketing and social media efforts for a parks and rec department
- I could work for the National Park Service and become a backcountry trail guide or interpreter
- I could become a coordinator specializing in one of these areas: aquatics, health and fitness, outdoor recreation, facilities, events, partnerships, communications, volunteers, etc.
- I could become a consultant and provide advice to departments
- I could be a director for a small (why not, large) parks and rec department or nonprofit
- I could start my own business related to the field
These ideas gave me great hope but also great struggle.
Too many decisions lead to analysis by paralysis. Part of me wanted to take the path of my fellow undergraduate friends – go see the world, rock climb Yosemite, lead kayaking tours in the Everglades. But when my professors and friends asked what I wanted to do after graduation, I immediately replied “Get a full time job!” And that’s what I did. But there was still hesitation and a desire to explore the world. My hope was that I would end up in Colorado one day.
A year of experience under my belt…
After one year of customer service, facility rentals, park management, seasonal supervision, and marketing projects, I was feeling pretty great. I was making real improvements to my community’s beloved park, and that gave me a sense of true satisfaction. I had the flexibility to be creative within my role, which I loved.
However, at a certain point, I realized limitations within my job. My impact could only be so big within my college town’s urban park. I had big dreams, unlimited possibilities. I wanted to see changes on a larger level. And I couldn’t do that by staying safe within my familiar territory. It was time to break out, try new things, and explore my potential.
One night, as I laid in bed before work, I had a sudden realization that I needed a change. It wasn’t long (about 2 weeks) before my husband and I decided to pack up our little car and move across the country to Colorado.
To Greener Grasses…
When we moved out to Colorado, we knew that our limitations were only set by ourselves. No one else could hold us back from our potential. It took me 6 months of jobs searching, babysitting, and working random crappy jobs before I landed a front desk job at a recreation center. I was thrilled to be able to start over at a new place. I was wide-eyed optimistic for my new career in my field.
After 9 months of honing my customer service skills and getting to know the beautiful place I lived, I was able to get a promotion into a supervisory role. As I reflect back on my last five years, I’ve realized that this kind of change — doing something that I’m not quite ready for — is what propels me to step up to the challenge.
I went through my initial phase of fear – I’ve never been a supervisor before! What if I fail! What if I’m not good enough?! What if everyone hates me?!
What great internal thoughts to conquer! Through time, persistence, power poses, and determination, I battled those self-limiting beliefs and now have over a year and a half of supervising staff. I love being able to provide the support and coaching that they need to feel successful in their role. For me, it’s all about helping other people. Simply being good at my job is not enough. I have to create an impact to my community in order to feel satisfied.
Final Reflection Thoughts
When I look back, I realize that I took chances to get where I am today. They were scary, unexpected, and unknown challenges that I decided to take on. It’s so easy in life to take the path that’s already neatly paved. But I grew up reading Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I won’t ever forget his wisdom:
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.