It’s time to get back out there and it’s OK to feel anxious. The realities of returning to work after Lockdown.

OK, so I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I have been finding the most recent lockdown tough. I’m generally a very resilient person and known for my enthusiasm and positivity. I coped well during 2020, however the last 2-3 months have been really quite hard. 

I’ve had my head in the sand of late and I’ve not been talking about my fears and anxieties of returning back to work, as we gradually head out of lockdown. I enjoy and thrive most when I am surrounded by like-minded people who understand the special buzz that comes with sharing our skill, knowledge, and passion for the outdoors with our customers, clients, and friends. I’ve missed my Mountain Leader work, I’ve missed my colleagues, I’ve missed being out in the Peak District. I can’t really describe what being trapped in a city feels like. Yes, I have some nice green parks around me, I can observe the changing seasons, I watch the trees start to bud and the birds sing just as beautifully here in the city. However, not being able to see the new life of Spring in the countryside, to hear the call of the curlew or lapwing, or to gaze upwards searching for the early spring skylark, singing its heart out, isn’t quite the same. 

So, this week has been quite an emotional and groundbreaking moment for me as I gradually returned to my outdoor work and faced up to some of my fears — those fears that are holding my excitement back. I need to re-familiarise myself with who I am. I’m constantly questioning my inevitable skill fade and the imposter syndrome that never goes away, but is now more heightened. I have a fear of failure or disappointing all the wonderful people that I work with or for. How do I kick start my business again, after so much hard work to get it up and going? 

I’m sure I’m not the only Mountain Leader or Outdoor Instructor out there feeling like this. I have been on many webinars and zoom meetings over the last few months where ‘returning to work’ has felt a bit like the elephant in the room. We are professionals, we are passionate and conscientious about what we do and how we safely look after the people we take out on adventures. We want all our clients to walk away feeling inspired and excited about their experience with us. If we didn’t have these worries, if we didn’t care then we wouldn’t all be as good as we are.

My first step back to some sort of normality (I even get anxious now hearing that word) was on Sunday when I joined all the other Associate Instructors at Pure Outdoor in the Adventure Hub for a morning of team training and familiarisation of the procedures and COVID precautions in place for this coming season. There are some exciting new developments at the building. It was great to see a new spacious training room, a new roof and it was clear that a lot of hard work has been taking place behind the closed doors during the lockdown. We were updated about the Pure Outdoor Foundation (coming soon). It was wonderful to see familiar friendly, supportive faces, who were as equally excited to be back and thinking about the coming season as I was. There is a new, very well organised rack room, a drying space for ropes and as part of the progressive forward-thinking policies for the company, lots of ethical and environmentally products and practices taking place or being planned for. This is going to be such a great place to continue working at.

Yesterday was the biggest moment for me and a huge step back into reality. I was delivering Day 2 of a Gold NNAS Award on a 121 basis. Today is a huge relief and my low mood and fears have somewhat lifted. I spent many moments and even a sleepless night leading up to the course, battling with anxiety, telling myself it would just be like riding a bike, and I was actually even questioning whether I could even go through with it. My fears were allayed however as soon as I go out of my car, put on my boots and welcomed my client to the foot of Kinder Scout. The day began well, I relaxed instantly. I got straight into my flow, it all came back surprisingly naturally and I instantly knew I was going to be OK, so yes it was, for me, just like riding that bike — phew. I do know and accept that I may be a bit rusty for a while. I won’t push myself too far or out of my own comfort zone, as I always want to ensure that I can deliver and produce the best quality experience that I can. 

The day was a success, the feedback was excellent and whether it’s appropriate or not to discuss skill fade with clients, it was a good decision to have this discussion, as my client even complimented my honesty around the topic, genuinely caring about how, as instructors, we all feel after months away from the job. For someone who was about to embark on their ML Training, I think she found the conversation useful and thought-provoking. I hope that once she has qualified and has started her own ML journey if anything like this ever happens again she will remember our conversation.

I can’t wait to get back out there again, doing what I love, it’s what fires my soul. I know I’m going to be OK.