Chris Bryan came to the mountains in Western Montana to follow his life’s work as a U.S. Forest Service ranger. On most summer days you can find this Pennsylvania native roaming the Mystic Lake wilderness southwest of Billings.
He picks up human poop and bags it. He scours campgrounds for wilderness slobs. And he writes tickets to hikers and backpackers who violate the rules. Five days a week Chris hauls a backpack into the rugged backcountry, enduring thunderstorms, shivery mountain nights and no doubt smelly clothes.
And guess what this tall, goateed ranger makes for all his trouble. Roughly $15,000 a summer, according to a ranger friend of mine who’s done the work.
So why do it? One word: Passion.
“I really, really care about the wilderness,” he told me as we stood gazing at Mystic Lake from our perch on a mountain pass. “Someone has to watch over these beautiful places. And I’m never happier than when I’m doing it.”
We can all learn from Chris’s example — though picking up other people feces may only be a metaphor for most people’s jobs.
Let’s start with this fundamental question. Do you love your job, its joys as well as its annoyances? Do you feel a larger purpose in what you do? A mission? Is that feeling so powerful that it trumps most everything else? Would you do it for a song — well, at least temporarily — as you begin your career?
When you love what you do, it shows. No matter what your profession. As the CEO of Ragan Communications I have hired and fired employees over the past 23 years. Inevitably, the people I’ve had to fire were miserable. They really wanted to be actors or musicians, standup comics, novelists, magazine writers — or even politicians. But because someone told them their goals were impossible to reach, they settled for a job with me.
I told Chris that afternoon that I had never seen Mystic Lake so clean. Every campground looked like it had never been used. I couldn’t find a single scarred patch of land where fires had been. He had covered the evidence with dirt.
I could tell my words meant the world to him. Someone had noticed.
There are lessons in this small story:
Never continue working at a job you hate. It will kill you in the end. Better to make less money than drag your depressed self to work every day. Start looking for an alternative. Defeat the inertia that accompanies job dissatisfaction and make a plan. Explore other possibilities, and when you discover them, quit and don’t look back.
If you’re a boss, be sure to let your employees know that you’ve noticed their great work. It may mean more to them than money. And when you notice them getting excited about a particular job, encourage them to do more of it.
Have confidence that by pursuing your passion, good things will follow.
How many of you have watched the 1988 PBS series, “The Power of Myth”?
Joseph Campbell, the revered interpreter of world mythology and author of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” is asked by Bill Moyers what the secret is to happiness.
In his response, Campbell used a phrase that is repeated so often that people have forgotten that he first uttered it. Check it out:
Now, back to Chris.
In the late 1980s, I was assigned a story by the managing editor of The San Diego Tribune to investigate the California park system. I and the very gifted journalist and writer Ann Levin roamed the California coastline interviewing every park employee we came across.
An interesting quote surfaced repeatedly during our interviews.
Whenever a ranger wanted to praise a colleague, he would say, “He’s terrific. He stays close to his resources” — park service code for resisting the siren call of money and power, of being loyal to what drew you to the service in the first place
One thing I learned about Chris Bryan that day is that he knows how to follow his bliss.
He stays close to his resources.