We each have a story. The question is: Are you writing yours?
For much of my life, I was going through the motions. Without a clear sense of the life I wanted to lead, I went from college to law school and then from law school to a legal career with a big law firm. Despite what appeared to be much success, something was missing in my life. What I learned is that you can only get so far without following your passion—and that it is never too late to step away from a life you’re not meant to live and to reinvent yourself. This is my story.
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I was born and raised in a mid-sized town just outside of the Twin Cities in the great state of Minnesota. It was the town where both my parents were born and raised and where most of my relatives still lived, an ideal place to grow up and go to school. And I was fortunate to have been raised by two loving parents and two older sisters.
After graduating high school, I attended a small liberal arts college in central, rural Minnesota. There, I met my beautiful wife, a Washington native, who (lucky for me) had decided to try college outside her home state. We decided to start our life together in Minnesota and see what the future brought.
Unsure of what I wanted to be or do after college, I opted to give law school a try. I hoped that my calling—my purpose in life—would reveal itself down the road. I slaved away in law school for three years and landed a job as an associate attorney at a prestigious national trial law firm in Minneapolis. My professional career started, and I hit the ground running.
From an outsider’s perspective, it likely appeared I was making all the right moves. I enjoyed a big salary, luxurious perks, and a secure future. But I also worked long hours juggling projects, making deadlines, and managing my caseload. This whirlwind left me with little time and energy to reflect on what truly mattered. Deep down, something was missing.
In 2013, a great opportunity presented itself to move to Seattle. My wife and I decided to make the move in the summer of 2013 and start a new chapter in a new state. As my first move out of Minnesota, my future was unwritten and promising. Rather than walking away from the law, I joined a Seattle law firm as an associate attorney, picking up my career where it left off in Minnesota. I had hoped that joining a new law firm in a new legal community was the change I needed.
Settling in our new home, I started to breathe in Washington’s diverse natural beauty: the rugged mountain ranges, the pristine alpine lakes, the remote coastlines, and the old-growth forests. Little did I know the extent to which the state’s outdoor scene would transform my life. What started as a single short hike to an alpine lake in the mountains turned into routine weekend outings into the Cascades. When my status as a weekend warrior was not enough, I fit in mid-week sunrise and sunset hikes. Eventually, I joined a mountaineering course in hopes of reaching more remote terrain and greater heights. During this entire time, my passion for photography equally grew. I fell in love with capturing the area’s rugged and pristine beauty and sharing it with the world. On the top of a mountain, a new excitement filled my heart and it slowly started to change how I saw my place in the world.
As my love for the mountains and photography grew, the satisfaction I felt at work dwindled. There was no genuine passion behind my work, and I had no desire to accumulate wealth and secure a partner position at the expense of my happiness.
Then 2014 rolled around. It was a year of both triumph and tragedy. As my passion for mountain climbing and photography grew ever stronger, my dad—my life coach and biggest cheerleader—was diagnosed with a reoccurrence of cancer after being 10 years cancer free. Following an aggressive surgery in June 2014, which significantly impaired his ability to eat and speak, we thought we were in the clear. But shortly after my thirtieth birthday in October 2014, he received a terminal diagnosis. According to his team of doctors, Christmas 2014 would likely be his last. This news sent me into an absolute tailspin. I couldn’t imagine a world without my father’s presence and guidance.
In my father’s last months of life, when he was fighting his last battle with cancer, I cherished every moment and conversation I had with him, not knowing what day would be his last. When we were away from each other, he would often remind me to “take a good hike and breathe in all the natural beauty and share it.” “I live through that,” he explained. I also shared with him my struggles with my career. He told me to follow happiness and to grow to become the best version of myself.
In early 2015, my father’s health took a sudden turn for the worst. I caught a last-minute flight from Seattle to Minnesota on a Sunday to be with him. The following morning, he passed away in his bed. My mother, sister, and I were there with him at his bedside holding his hands as he took his last breathe.
My father’s passing has left a void in my life, and a large part of me is broken by the loss. At the same time, his words and memories are and will always be with me. He left me with the greatest gift: the lesson that life is too short to do anything less than what you love.
In the wake of this tragedy, I attempted to resume my daily routine. But a switch had been flipped inside me. It had become clear that the best version of myself was not sitting in an office in front of a computer screen working on a legal matter, but rather experiencing and capturing the natural beauty in the mountains and beyond. My choice was clear: I decided to walk away from a large salary with enviable benefits and a secure future to wholeheartedly pursue my passion, despite the odds. I walked out of my office for the last time and into a life of adventure.
I know that my father would have wanted me to follow my heart and to continue to grow and be the best person I can be. By breathing in and sharing the natural beauty that surrounds me, I can write my own story, one that I hope inspires others to not sacrifice their happiness for a secure future, and to adventure closer to the wild heart of life. That is what I intend to do, and the legacy I leave here on earth will be his.
At its core, my story is likely similar to yours. For so long, I was searching for something—something missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But I found what fills me with passion, fire, and growth. When I am in the mountains breathing in all the natural beauty and sharing it, I am truly alive and awake to all of life’s possibilities. Having found my passion, I summoned the courage to follow my heart. Now, my story is truly mine.
April 1, 2015