Guest Post: Through The Looking Glass – RockClimberGirl

Most of us here at PEMBA came into the Outdoor Industry through fairly traditional methods: We worked in outdoor stores somewhere and – somehow – we stepped through the looking glass and became reps. The story can’t get much simpler.

(Well, not Janice: She sold WINE and LIQUOR before joining us – which we find really, er, handy – but that’s another story.)

We’re always fascinated about the routes that people take to wind up in #OIBIZ. In our travels to shops and vendors in our industry, we’ve met doctors, lawyers, college professors, people with PhD’s who – for whatever reason, gawdhelpthemwhatweretheythinking? – decided to chuck it all and join us. Most recently, we’ve become friends with Sara Lingafelter (@theclimbergirl on Twitter), and this is her story.


Four years ago, I was a newly minted attorney in private practice in a megafirm in Seattle.  I was also a newly minted rock climber, belay check card in hand.  When push came to shove, and the number of working weekends exceeded my number of climbing weekends, guess which won?

Yup, climbing.

I transitioned to a half time contract gig in public policy which kept me from having to suit up every day for court.  Not bad.  I had great coworkers, meaningful work, abundant time to train and climb, and to blog. But still, I felt there was more out there.

I had this strange feeling that I still wasn’t where I belonged. That there may be a workplace where I’d be able to talk about my weekend without people thinking I should be reported to some type of adult protective agency. That my interest in climbing and the outdoor industry, and my interest in social media and writing may intersect in some sort of dream gig, working with cool people, great gear, and playing outside.

Turns out, I was right.

I landed a dream job last fall with Waypoint Outdoor, a sales agency in the Pacific Northwest.  I work with smart, fun, competent people everyday at my office, at my brands, and in larger outdoor industry.  We’re all here in part because we see value in playing outside, and that’s pretty cool common ground.  Unlike in other industries I’ve been in, there’s a strong sense that we’re in this together – across brands, across agencies, across specialty segments, and across geography.

I’ve gone from suit and tie to jeans and flip flops in a matter of less than two years.  And, where some jobs are measured in terms of duration of tenure, sales support is measured in terms of miles.

I just clicked over my first 10,000 miles in the car on the road as a Field Service Representative.  That doesn’t count a handful of flights and train rides, but still – for a girl who grew up in a town approximately 2.5 miles across – that’s a whole lot of miles.  I’ve been all over my home state of Washington, driving roads that are brand new to me. When people ask me where I live, I answer: “The place I spend the most time is on I-5 between Seattle and Portland.”

My job is to drive retail sell-through by educating and building relationships with shop staff and end users, to build buzz about our brands and products, and to travel.

In other words, it’s a dream job.

I take alternative transportation whenever possible. Shared rides, carpools, and the train are all my first choice, since so much of my time driving a single occupant vehicle isn’t discretionary.  Now that I’m actually living in Seattle, I look forward to more public transportation, more bike time, more walks to the three key accounts that happen to lie within three miles of my office.

I’m also optimistic that living in Seattle, rather than commuting about 3 hours each way each day, will help me do what I always hoped working in the biz would allow me to: Play outside more.

Since starting my gig last November, I’ve been playing outside less. That’s to be expected with the adjustment to just about any new job, and it’s also a side effect of training very hard last year for some big outdoor projects.  Man, I needed some REST. But, despite the fact that every Friday (and/or every last day in the office before I hit the road) ends with my boss saying, “Have FUN!” I haven’t yet mastered the art of building play into my hectic work / travel / event schedule.

On the other hand, if the biggest problem I have is that I like my job too much to carve out time to play, then I really can’t complain.

One of the other tensions has been transitioning from industry outsider to working within the industry.  It actually took me awhile to find a point of entry into the industry, since I didn’t follow the traditional path of starting in retail.  It helped that I’m a rare combination of stubbornly scrappy, highly educated mid-career professional, and dirtbag – heavy on the stubborn, scrappy and dirtbag.  I was willing to take time to find the right gig, and to be persistent in my follow-up and relationship-building.  I also had a certain amount of credibility with potential employers because of my work history and background, but I had not become accustomed to a nice, comfortable lifestyle.  A lot of folks wouldn’t have been able to make the choice I did because of the financial risk, but being a climber gives me a certain tolerance for both risk and discomfort, so here I sit.

Still, I underestimated the magnitude of the change, in terms of the way others would perceive and interact with me.  While I experience an intense level of respect among people I work with who actually KNOW me, there are times that my job means having fun and playing for a living.  The biggest surprise of my transition may be just how hard the WORK is, when it looks to the average bystander like a whole lot of play.

Unlike in my dry-clean-only days where people made certain assumptions about my smarts and savvy based on my suits, now people make certain assumptions about my smarts and savvy based on my “rookie” status, my big smile and my fun-o-meter generally being set to 11.  I usually don’t mind.  But, every once in awhile, something serves as a reminder that every single person deserves to be treated with respect and professionalism.

Above all, and despite any occasional hiccups, I’m just excited to have a seat at the table.  I really love what I do, and I love the industry I’ve landed in. Every day I appreciate the chance to learn this biz from the best, both here at Waypoint and in my extended #OIBIZ family.

I’ll never forget last July – before this job – when I was still a government contractor.  I packed up my Jetta for a road trip and plotted a course through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park and into Salt Lake City for my first Outdoor Retailer show.  My grocery budget filled my car’s gas tank for the trip down and back.  My newly minted media badge for got me in the door at the show, and – thanks to Twitter and good old
fashioned relationship building – I had many friends already inside.

On the show floor for the first time, I looked around with wonder and awe.  As my eyes focused, and adapted to the onslaught of lights and displays and the magnitude of the place, I looked around at the people on the floor of the show.  I noticed, right away, that all around me people were walking up to each other in the aisles and hugging in greeting, full of warmth and familiarity.

I’m a pretty rare and extreme exception to the “lawyers don’t hug” rule.  I thought, then and there: “Holy cow, I’ve found my place.”

Now that I’m actually in the outdoor industry, I’m even more sure.  And more grateful than you can ever imagine.


Getting to Know Sara…

Sara Lingafelter is a climber, writer, and Field Service Representative based in the Pacific Northwest with Waypoint Outdoor. In addition to blogging about the climbing life at, Sara is one of the unofficial #climb community den mothers on Twitter, where she met and grew fond of Pemba Serves and the people involved. In her free time, Sara climbs as often as possible at home crags between Squamish, BC and Smith Rock, OR, and is a prolific writer who generally lacks the patience necessary for the print cycle. Little Known Fact: In high school, Sara was Alice’s understudy in a production of Alice in Wonderland. So there ya go…

7 responses to “Guest Post: Through The Looking Glass – RockClimberGirl

  1. Sara may be a newcomer, but in our industry I’ve known two kids of people:

    1) Folks who have 20 years experience.
    2) Folks who have 1 year of experience 20 times in a row.

    Being a newcomper generally gets you grief from the people in category 2. New ideas scare the shit out of them, and happiness and positiveness can also remind them of what they either never had or what they lost along the way.

    And Sara’s hugs are awesome. Authentic, heart-felt love by the armfuls.


  2. Sara just wrote the perfect blog about how good young talent migrates to our business. It happens organically and powerfully. Many of us can tell stories that are variations to the theme, but the core theme is always love for a sport and the outdoors, and the belief that this is my tribe.


  3. Darren… so funny! Turns out, I have four years of experience, four times. I wonder what kind of folk that makes me. And, thank you. HUGS!

    Thanks for your comment also, Paul… very appreciated!

  4. I’m not the product of an “outdoorsy” family. My dad likes to backpack, and we went camping a few times as a family, but always where there were outlets and flush toilets.
    Somehow, I wasn’t converted to the outdoors until late in 2008. There’s something very satisfying about being a little scrappy and a lot stubborn, about borrowing tents until you can buy your own and learning a lot of things the hard way. But sleeping on the ground holds a similar place in all our hearts no matter our backgrounds, because there’s nothing like knowing where you belong. :)

    Great post, Sara.

  5. Very powerfull post, right to (and from) the heart! Makes me want to move right know into the #OIBIZ here in Europe…. Heck, why not? I’ll go for it!

  6. Without stubborn, scrappy, mid-career dirtbags, there would be no outdoor biz. Great post Sara. Seems like a perfect Part 2 to the “Two years” post you did on your site a while back (which I loved). Guest posts are a great idea Pemba, keep it going!

  7. Katie, Caspar and John… thank you!

    John, I didn’t think about those two as a “collection,” but you’re right… they do tell a lot of my story!

    Thanks for the love, all…