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Search With That Mountain Mentality

I've been thinking about the mountains a lot lately. In particular, about what I've dubbed the "mountain mentality." No, I'm not talking about the resort life, champagne powder, and apres-ski drinks. I'm thinking about the people who make those things possible for so many visitors to Colorado. The people who actually live in the small towns and communities that support resorts, because they're different.

What I mean to say is that they have a different mentality when it comes to work. Having grown up in a small town in the mountains of Colorado, I've always known this, but my recent move to another small town in a different set of mountains has brought it back to light. Couple that with the pandemic, and that light is decidedly fluorescent, exposing the harsh details of many peoples' employment situations around me. That reality is that for most people in these areas, perpetual job hunting is the norm.

The nature of mountain living for many requires the continual patchworking of part-time, full-time, and odd jobs to make ends meet. It is the tradeoff many locals talk about for the ability to live where they like to play. They know how to stay positive, understanding that there will always be another opportunity to pick up something. They rely on the close connections within their communities for job leads, introductions, referrals, and references. They know how to ask for help and they know how to get creative to always "make it work." This is the mountain mentality I'm talking about and it is something we can all learn from as professionals. I know, because I have learned a great deal from it myself.

Not so many years ago, I was a career-driven young lady working hard to make a name for myself in recruiting while working for my mom's company. Business had been booming and I was feeling like I really had my shit together for a gal in her late twenties. Obviously, I wasn't ready for the trap door I fell through when 2015 brought a major "shit-hitteth-the-fan" moment in the energy industry. Clients couldn't pay their bills and we couldn't pay our employees. My sister laid me off from the family business in order to keep two of our younger recruiters. She told me that I was resilient and "best equipped to make it work elsewhere." At the time, I could have slapped her silly, but she was right. I took it as a sign to move to the mountains where I figured I would be able to find a marketing position in a heartbeat. I was wrong. Like, really wrong.

Initially, I had my eyes set on Steamboat but quickly realized that it wasn't affordable. Instead, I settled into a small place some 20 miles away in the little town of Oak Creek thinking that I would be able to easily commute to my future marketing position. It never came. I applied to well over 100 jobs in the first two months before walking into a temp agency with my tail between my legs, desperate for anything. They set me up with a string of temporary administrative jobs that, truth be told, felt somehow like a step backwards. At night, I continued to apply for "real" jobs while grinding away during the day. Another two months went by and I got a call to interview for a position I had seen in the local classifieds. The ad was brief, Operation Manager for a new business in Oak Creek.

Let me cut to the chase. The job was with a new recreational dispensary. I had no concept of retail, knew very little about weed or the cannabis industry, and was generally (in my opinion at the time) completely unqualified for the position, but they gave it to me anyway. I loved it, but the hours were long and the pay was low. As I started to do more marketing work for the shop during the slow parts of the day, I had customers start to comment on our social media posts and how much they liked the design and specials. One of my favorite customers asked why I didn't start asking around to see if anyone needed web design or marketing work on the side. I remember telling her "because that feels slimy" to which she replied, "that's neighboring." Neighboring, a term commonly used in ranching areas, is helping those in your community out. Basically, it's networking without the LinkedIn profile and it worked. Soon enough, I had a few local business clients and was piecing together the means to stay in the mountains. I'd adopted the mountain mentality.

Fast forward a handful of years and as many life changes in the future and here I am again. After months of paring back, changing directions, expanding concepts, and nailbiting due to the pandemic, I find myself, once again, humbled professionally and in the neighboring neighborhood. Caley and I have come to realize that the mountain mentality is intrinsic in us now. We are hustling, we are grinding, we are making it work, knowing that building our business isn't so much walking a path as trying to do a puzzle after your second bottle of wine.

Here's the thing, I want to help people tap into that mindset as well. There is no shame in picking up odd jobs that will help pay the bills even if they are lightyears away from where you want to be, your vision of yourself as a professional, or the experience you already have. I've heard multiple job consulting clients express fears that doing so will keep them from getting a job when things "go back to normal" or that it somehow discredits them as a professional. With all due respect, that's BS. Here's why: everyone is affected this time around, so seeing unrelated employment on a resume will NOT be a deterrent. Taking it a step further, consider the positive side of a side hustle: it shows employers that you have grit, that you are willing and capable of making things work during a tough situation. It shows moxie and character and an applicant that is driven. It shows that rather than having your head in the stars waiting, you have your feet on the ground moving forward as best you can.

Yesterday, after a 15-minute drive to the nearest gas station, I stood chatting with the clerk Rhonda. We were talking about jobs in the area and the struggle to keep people during the winter. Before I knew it, she was pushing a receipt with the phone numbers of multiple local business owners across the counter to me. "They need help, they all need help here and there," she said. I tucked it in my pocket. Who knows what the next few months will hold? Those are calls I might need to make. We'll see. For now, I challenge you:

Try the mountain mentality. Try neighboring. Keep looking. Ask for help. Get creative. Make do. Make better.

Food for thought: Harvard Business Review - Make Your Side Hustle Work