This year I accepted a permanent position with a land management agency. It's what I've wanted since I was a little kid, but it became more apparent in the past five years, working on a hotshot crew, how much I truly yearned for it.
In truth, up until this moment working full-time as a hotshot didn't seem obtainable. There are a lot of reasons that made me doubt it: my ability to build a life with my wife, to have and maintain a family, to withstand the physical toll the work takes on my body, and to just simply mow the lawn at the house we just bought together on a regular basis. I just couldn't see how sacrificing all of that for a career that pays the same as a McDonald's manager made sense. If it weren't for my wife, I would've convinced myself that these were reasons enough to keep me out of a career that I loved.
I remember telling my wife that I reached out to the crew superintendent to tell him that I was interested and applying for the hotshot crew. I told her my intention was to do another year or so on a crew, as smokejumping was no longer in the cards due to an injury I sustained during a previous season. I felt like I was walking on eggshells bringing it up to her, and I had no idea how she was going to respond. I had just left hotshotting for a more low impact position on a helicopter and now not even a season had passed and I was looking to transition back.
What I received was what I should have expected, an outpouring of love and support. She told me that she saw it coming. She told me that she wanted me to do what makes me happy - that yes, it's not ideal, but that we'll make it work. I reiterated to her that me being happy in my work meant me being gone six months out of the year for the foreseeable future and she looked me dead in the eyes and said, "And you're going to be happy?" I said yes.
She nodded - "good, that's the most important thing."
So here I am, staring down the barrel of a 30-year career with a federal land management agency and all I can think about is that my wife willingly gives me up six months out of the year to these people and they pay me $16.73 an hour. That's 15 out of the next 30 shared years of our lives that my wife is willing to give up to the Department of Agriculture.
Unlike my healthy relationship with my wife, my relationship with this federal land management agency is a codependent one. They need people like me who are physically and mentally able to do this work, and I need them to fulfill my need for purpose-driven life. What I'm realizing now is that this need is the need of most people out there. It's a universal need to live a life of purpose. The only difference here is that most people's purpose isn't capitalized upon by federal agencies.