Editor's note: This blog post was written by Outdoor Book Club intern Victoria Walenga
Since millennials have entered the workforce they’ve been characterized as lazy, ungrateful, negative, and unmotivated. We’ve all heard it before — stories featuring millennials have been all over CNN, Fortune, and even The Guardian for the past few years. While these articles have been plastered all over social media millennials have rapidly taken over yet another valued space: the outdoors.
According to the results of the 2017 North American Camping Report, millennials are venturing into the outdoors more than ever before. Out of the total campers (around 75 million), millennials make up 38 percent, and 51 percent of millennials vow that they are going to increase their time outdoors just this year.
Comparing this research to my personal experience being an outdoorsy millennial reinforces the idea that we value freedom, adventure and being with others. For me, being outdoors is important because it allows you to have moments of clarity you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Millennials Are Taking Over the Great Outdoors
Based on my personal experience and research from the 2017 North American Camping Report, I have put together four highlights most people don’t know about outdoorsy millennials:
Are you a millennial? How do you feel about the outdoors? Comment below or tell us what you think on our Facebook page!
Recently while driving my son to school we were listening to the podcast version of NPR's TED Radio hour. If you haven't yet listened to this show, I highly recommend it. They take 2-4 TED talks and condense them into an hour with a theme, like "7 Deadly Sins" and "Animals & Us," and delve deeper with the presenters during interviews. It's one of the most fascinating, educational and entertaining hours of my week. You should check it out.
The talk we were listening to was called "The Fountain of Youth," and the first TED Talk was Dan Buettner's How to Live to be 100. I'd highly recommend listening to the talk, but here's the gist: there are seven areas of the world where, on average, people live longer. Buettner calls these areas "Blue Zones."
What I found most interesting about Buettner's talk was the list of things that all seven of these areas have in common — basic lifestyle choices that make life better and increase longevity for the people who live there. Their lifestyles almost always include:
What struck me the most was that all these lifestyle elements are embodied by book-loving outdoorswomen. We move our bodies in ways that feel both purposeful and natural. Reading allows us to have a purpose and reduce stress. Often on our outings we celebrate the end of a hike with wine (and our potlucks are a smorgasboard of healthy, vegetarian meals). And of course we are a community, a tribe of like-minded women who support and encourage each other.
Another reason I was so struck by this talk was because I just recently conducted a survey of women that asked them about how much fun they have in their lives (a subjective term, I realize, but I decided everyone can define fun and play in whatever ways they like).
The results were incredibly depressing.
So many of these women said that they don't have time to get outside, try new things or hang out with their girlfriends. Almost as many said that even when they do make time, they feel guilty for doing so. Why? Why do we feel the need to deprive ourselves for others' sake, especially when it's clear that others don't ask us to do it? What is it about playing the martyr that keeps us from living a longer, more meaningful life?
If you're a woman who can relate to feeling like you don't have the time to move your body, connect with other women and basically just live a more balanced life, I'd encourage you to create your own "blue zone." Find ways to move naturally. Create a purpose in your life — maybe that's being part of a larger community. Have a drink with friends over a vegetarian meal.
When I was in the Army, we used to make a joke whenever someone wanted to stop doing a job they hated: "Hey, Johnson, tell your first sergeant I said to take the day off." (Obviously first sergeants as a rule don't give a damn about who lesser-ranking soldiers think deserve a day off.)
Hey lady: tell that tired, guilt-ridden voice in your head I said to take the day off. Ignore your inner first sergeant and make a conscious decision to create your own personal blue zone: Stop doing things that will shorten your life and make it misreable, and start making time for the things that will enable you to enjoy a long, meaningful life filled with friends, movement and being outdoors.
“The world will be saved by the western woman." — Dali Lama
Consider this a manifesto. When I think about the women I know and love, women who are smart, confident and willing to take risks, I think of women who love books and the outdoors. From the depths of my soul I believe that bringing together these three things will save the world.
We build relationships.
When women get together over books and shared adventures, powerful bonds are forged — quickly. We connect deeply and share our passions, challenges and ups and downs. The only way any of us can be successful is with the support of others. Although it’s certainly possibly to build relationships in the woods with men, doing it with just women is different.
We prove that femininity is a strength.
We discover we are the heroines of our own stories while in the woods (or mountains, rivers, meadows, oceans), and we begin to understand how that heroine can show up in other parts of our lives. Whether it's hiking, skiing, climbing, biking or running, women just do things differently than men and it's wonderful to share that in a community of other women. We can celebrate and share our fantastic differences together, and find our own path to strength through the power of shared outdoor experiences.
We foster epic conversations.
There's nothing like solving the world’s biggest problems while hiking together up a big hill or sitting at a bonfire next to a woman you just met (but somehow inherently trust). Whether it’s talking over that idea for a new nonprofit you want to start, hearing new perspectives on a struggle you’re facing, or sharing painful or hilarious stories — no one “gets it” like the women who have fought that mountain/river/trail/rainstorm right next to you.
We embrace risk on our own terms.
Traditionally feminine characteristics like nurturing, care, consideration and patience show up in some really interesting ways on the trail. There’s less competition, less judgment and more willingness to set aside our egos and the outdated stereotypes we have both about ourselves and others. Outdoors and over books, women tend to be less worried about getting to the finish line and more concerned with learning new things and enjoying the journey (and each other’s company) along the way.
We believe that doing something “like a girl” is AWESOME.
Physically, emotionally, and intellectually, we’re climbing, hiking, skiing, camping, paddling and leading “like a girl” — and that’s a beautiful thing. When it’s just women out on the trail having an adventure together, we’re constantly reminded of how strong we are as women, and how doing things “like a girl” means doing it in our own way, on our own terms.
We cultivate leadership.
Outdoor adventures paired with the right book can teach women incredible leadership skills. What better way for women to help each other develop confidence, lateral thinking and world-conquering management skills than hiking a rugged trail together while teasing out the nuances of Cheryl Sandber's Lean In? One of the best ways to mentor a young woman is to invite her on a women-only outdoor adventure. Watch how she’s inspired by being around a group of confident, strong female role models. She’ll come away knowing that she is capable of anything.
We inspire each other.
When we see other women summiting mountains or carrying a 40-pound pack for 23 miles or doing anything we haven’t yet tried, it becomes easier to picture ourselves doing it. Excuses and fear evaporate. Many of us have spent our whole lives admiring men's abilities and accomplishments, but there’s something powerful and relatable about being inspired by the women around you.
We practice inclusiveness.
Young, old, married, divorced, gay, straight, professionals, stay-at-home moms, introverted, extroverted, experienced woodswomen and “girly girls:” On an outdoor adventure, we’re all in this together. Our trips often require a level of teamwork that we don’t get to experience in our regular lives. Working with all women doesn’t mean the bar is lower because it’s “just women” — instead it means that the only bar is how far we’re willing to challenge each other. Everyone has their role to play.
Power is not one size fits all.
Power should be considered a core feminine quality. All-women adventures allows us the unique experience to share in the joint understanding of what it means to be a powerful woman — and then bring those behaviors and mindsets back into our daily lives. What women truly need is to embrace our unique traits as a gender and not always feel the necessity to hide them. It often takes sharing a life-changing experience with a group of women for us to remember how powerful it can be to be female.
We’re laying the foundation for future generations.
We live in a world where outdoor activities are dominated by men — watch a typical ski movie or open a mountain bike magazine and you'll notice the lack of female role models. By pursuing enjoyable and challenging activities with other women, and encouraging each other to climb higher, we can be role models for our daughters, sisters and nieces. We want to foster a future in which our daughters don't feel like outsiders, and where we all (men included) inspire each other to succeed in our chosen pursuits.
When I first came up with the idea of Outdoor Book Club, I had a very specific target audience in mind: women like me: Mid-to-late 30s and 40s, women who, in their younger days, were pretty bad ass. Women who remembered what it was like to be adventurous, to take risks, to know the triumph of getting out of their comfort zones. Women who flirted with men they didn't know, drank drinks with scary sounding names, women who swam naked at night on the beach.
Where have these women gone?
We're sitting on the sidelines of suburban soccer games and our lives. We're waiting for meaning and fulfillment in the carpool lane at the local elementary school. We've grown up (and out) from our adventurous selves. We've started families, got respectable jobs and now spend our days trying to be amazing and thin and beautiful and smart and funny and kind and perfect, all the time.
All that pressure keeps us quiet. It keeps us pinned down to lives where meaning and satisfaction and a sense of purpose is always just out of reach. It makes us small and scared and unwilling to take risks. And scariest of all, that pressure dribbles down and does the same things to our kids.
When did we decide leaving our kids for a weekend would ruin them?
When did a soccer game or a neighbor kid's birthday party come to overrule time spent with other women, bonding, growing, learning from each other? Learning how to take risks, learning how to love the outdoors again, remember what it was like to fail at something hard over and over again, until finally, through hard work and persistence, you succeed?
It's when we quietly started using them as an excuse to play small. It's when we stopped letting them have their own lives, their own secrets, their own existences beyond their mothers.
Your kids do not need you as much as you think they do.
One day they will grow up and move on and not need you any more, and that is kind of AWESOME (sad too, but that's not the point I'm making here). Your kids are on LOAN to you; they have always belonged more to the world than to you. Your most important job is to love them enough to prepare them with the grace and grit they need to thrive in a world that won't give a crap about their insecurities. They will be better people if you're NOT there every second of their lives, cheering them on and making them feel entitled to your (and thus the world's) constant love and attention. How do you think our grandmothers grew up to be the strong, wise, awesome women they are today? Certainly not because their mothers came to every quilting bee, I can tell you that.
You are a grown-ass woman
Which is why I'm not going to patronize you and assume you don't know the difference between taking care of yourself and neglecting your kids. There is a balance, and I trust you to find it. You'll make mistakes, and we all know it's part of the process.
There is so much beauty, so much adventure in you. There is so much about you that I want to know more about — that's great that you love your kids, but what I really want to know about is why you ran away from home that one time in high school, or how you fell in love with a drummer, or what it's like to live with a chronically ill husband. Everyone loves their kids. What I want to know about is your pain, about how I can help, how you want to be better today than you were yesterday. I want to know about who you are at your core. I can't get that while sitting next to you on a folding chair at a band concert; it needs to happen on a ridgeline or next to a surging river or around a campfire under starry skies.
In junior high I was a huge fan of the hair band Motley Crue. They had this song called "Girl Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)" and I think about this song every time a woman tells me she feels guilty for asking her husband or the grandparents to watch her kids while she goes away for the weekend. I want to sing this song to my girlfriends trapped in their minivans, clutching thier ziplock bags filled with sliced oranges:
We could sail away
Or catch a freight train
Or a rocketship into outer space
Nothin' left to do...
Girl, don't go away mad;
Girl, just go away.
I'm telling you point blank: Girl, don't go away mad — at yourself, your husband, your bank account, your boss or whatever it is that's keeping you away from adventure. Girl, just go away — to a rocketship, a hiking trip with your college girlfriends or a writer's retreat across the state line.
When you get back, tell your kids stories. Talk about the struggles you overcame and the people you bonded with. That will be worth a hell of a lot more than the two hours you spent standing in the cold while they ran up and down the field. And how much more relaxed will you be because you've stepped away from your everyday life, you can put all that day-to-day bullshit and anxiety into some perspective?
There will be time for concerts and games and cleaning the house (I'm also looking at you, Ms. No Kids But Chained To My Job). I get emails from older women all the time who want so badly to go on adventures, but their doctors say it's just not a good idea. You think you have time, but you don't. The outdoors is calling you. Find that girl you used to be and bring her to life once again; there's a campfire and a starry sky that have your name written all over them.
Adventurous women are some of my favorite people, but not all of us came by it naturally. Maybe we were adventurous as kids, but over time that bold and bright spark was wrung out of us through the process of growing up (raise your hand if you were ever told as a child, "that's not very ladylike!"). But many of us end up rediscovering our inner heroine as we face the challenges and rewards of adulthood, learning that maybe ladylike is an ideal to which we no longer aspire.
But regardless of if you were born adventurous or came to it through a series of challenges, we're glad you made it. Here are a few misconceptions people have about adventurous women:
You probably don't care much about how you look.
When I'm out on the trail? Nope, I don't care if my hair is messy or you can see my wrinkles. But then again, neither do the trees or my dog or the people I camp with (or if they do, they've certainly never mentioned it). But when I'm at home and going to meetings with clients or out on the town, you can bet that I don't want to come across as incompetent or weird — so I actually like putting on makeup and nice clothes.
Do you enjoy being dirty?
Okay, this one might be somewhat true. Yeah, being dirty at the end of the day is a sure sign that the day was a roaring success. It means I probably pushed myself out of my comfort zone and learned something new, even if the thing I learned was how to fall of my bike in a new way. But I'm not always dirty. I count hot showers as one of my top 3 favorite activities.
You must be really tough.
Sometimes. Sometimes not. But since when is being tough all the time a virtue?
Your husband must be lonely
If anything, he thinks it's kinda awesome. And one of the best things about being an adventurous woman is that I get to spend plenty of time being adventurous WITH him. It's pretty much my favorite thing ever.
"Being dirty at the end of the day is usually a sign that I had a ton of fun."
Oh — you're crazy & must have a death wish
Mmm, not quite. I might spend my weekends outside participating in activities that the majority of women don't — mountain biking, backpacking, rock climbing come to mind — but that doesn't mean I'm crazy or want to die. It means I'm passionate. There's a (subtle) difference.
You probably get hurt a lot
It's true, I have more bruises than most women I know. But I love those bruises like mini-children. I earned every one of them, and it turns out that bruises aren't the end of the world! Getting hurt is life, and the more you understand and accept that to risk yourself is to risk being hurt, the happier you'll be.
You must be in amazing shape
Ha! I run, I occasionally lift weights and I do get out and bike and walk fairly regularly. But I'm in no way an endurance athlete. I just find that moving my body doing exciting activities feels good (and keeps my otherwise-expanding butt in check), so I want to do it more. So I'm not in amazing shape, but certainly good enough shape.
You must hate girly stuff
There is room in this world to be both girly and adventurous. I enjoy a nice pair of heels, a beautiful wrap dress and expertly applied eyeliner as much as the next girl. Pink really isn't my color, but I do enjoy giggling and wine about as much as anyone.
So what other myths and misconceptions are out there about adventurous women? Leave your biggest whopper in the comments below.
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Jill Hinton Wolfe