January 19, 2013
What’s It Like to Run a Survival School? - 1
by Tim MacWelch
A few days ago I received a short email from a teenager who has done some survival training with me. The message was quick and simple, but the answer is another matter.
He wrote: “What's it like to teach a survival school, or, better yet, own one? I want to someday either teach at one or own one and teach. Does it pay good? Or, rather, is it enough to live off of? Stressfull or not? easy or difficult?”
Having just started my 17th year of teaching survival classes to the public, these questions really gave me some food for thought. What is my job really like, versus all the other jobs out there?
I have owned my own survival school since I started teaching professionally in the 1990s. Anyone who owns their own business can tell you that you are always working. But when it benefits you directly to put in the extra hours, you don’t usually mind the weird or long hours. The majority of the time I spend on my survival school is spent working with my students, either one-on-one or in small groups. That’s the best part. It’s also the easiest part, unless I get a knucklehead in class, but that is rare, thankfully. Most of the time, the survival school model screens its own students. People have to love the outdoors. And people must have their egos in check to be able to say, “I don’t know it all, but I want to, so I’m going to take a class.” The fact that somebody would pay hard-earned money to take a survival class means that they are serious, and that they are willing to learn. That’s exactly who I want to spend my time with. Those are the people who I can really help. I was brought up in a bygone age that encouraged me to be helpful to others, without focusing on my gain from that exchange. By teaching survival classes, I get to help people feel at home in the outdoors. I also get the opportunity to teach skills that allow people to stay safe if they become lost or hurt in the wild, or suffer from some other type of emergency.
Does running a survival school pay well? Without going into too many details, most years pay enough to take care of my family. You also have to understand that the gain from my line of work has never been strictly monetary. I really like what I do, so that’s worth a lot to me. Because of these classes, I have made loyal friends who I never would have met otherwise. Since I own the business, I also get to teach interesting and rewarding topics of my own choosing, which is a great perk.
Is it stressful? Not usually. There are moments, like with any job, where you face unrealistic customers. I carry a survival knife, not a magic wand. No matter how much I wish I could turn somebody into Daniel Boone, sometimes it’s just not in the cards. But the job itself is usually only stressful when I am trying to do the bookwork, or pay the damned taxes, or when I am stuck in the woods for a week with someone who is causing problems with other students.
So in a nutshell, here’s what it’s like running a survival school: It’s a dream job for those who love the outdoors and enjoy teaching people the skills of the outdoors. I know that I am very lucky to have a job right now, let alone a job that I really enjoy. It’s always rewarding to see people smiling with genuine joy when they start their first friction fire, or learn to successfully set a snare, or perform any of the hundreds of other skills that we teach. And even if the money is a little tight in the off season, or I have to deal with the rare jerk, it’s still the best job I have ever had and the only job I ever want to have.
If you’d like to learn more about my survival school, Advanced Survival Training, you can visit www.advancedsurvivaltraining.com