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< Stories That Inspire Us

10 Things I Learned in a Year Outside

BY DAN T.

In our series “Landmark Moments,” people share their formative experiences becoming outsiders.

For the dawn of a new year, L.L.Bean Employee Dan T. shares how setting one simple, year-long goal – have an adventure outside, every day, 365 days in a row – changed his relationship with the outdoors.

I grew up spending a lot of time outside. Exploring, riding bikes, playing sports. But I never thought much about it; it was just what I did. When I was in high school, I picked up fly fishing, and when I caught my first trout – and I looked down at that speckled jewel from the stream, finally mine after so many hours of trying – and it was like a spark went off in my head. I was hooked for life.

Fly fishing has taken me to many beautiful places and provided countless hours of meditative focus and contemplation. Unfortunately, there are only so many fishing days in a year, and I found myself longing for those meditative, restorative moments. That’s when I decided it was up to me to choose to go outside and find those moments on a regular basis.

I gave myself a goal: get outside for an adventure (big or small) every single day for an entire year. And while I was out there each day, I would capture a photo – to hold myself accountable and share my journey with others.

That’s what I did – one day at a time, 365 days straight. And it wasn’t just refreshing; it was life changing. Here are 10 things I learned along the way:

1. A little bit of intention goes a long way.

Because I had the intention of getting out every day, I had to use that drive to find a wide variety of things to do. Some days, that meant taking on a totally new challenge, like a winter ascent of Mt. Washington; other days, it meant joining up with other people – like when I taught some friends to fly fish for the first time. I was seeking out new, interesting ways to complete my daily routine – all because I set that goal and stuck to it.

2. Outdoor moments don’t all have to be big.

While I enjoyed some big adventures, the smaller ones counted just the same. Like watching the sunrise with a cup of coffee or taking an after-work walk with my dog to unwind. The beauty of it all is that getting outside costs nothing, and virtually anyone can do it.

3. You can Be an Outsider at work.

Unfortunately, life isn’t all play and no work – even when you work for an outdoor company. Working upwards of 230 days every year, I spent a lot of days finding my outside time during normal working hours. Lunchtime walks became a weekly occurrence. My boss and I started to have our check-ins while running the trails behind our building. Some of my best thinking and conversations came at these times. The outdoors cleared my head and led to increased productivity when I got back to my desk.

4. Outdoor moments matter; savor them.

Some of my favorite moments of the year came during serendipitous, unplanned activities, when I just found myself really noticing the world around me. I went for runs and bike rides, heading off in all different directions of my neighborhood. As the seasons changed, I embraced the different opportunities they provided. I realized that there are things that you only “see” when the scene around you is part of the adventure. When it’s someplace you pass by on your way to somewhere else, you might miss it; but when you’re really paying attention, you can take it all in.

5. The outdoors is a great place for alone time.

I have always found that time in the outdoors, in solitude, is rewarding and recharging. Fly-fishing has been my activity of choice for the past 30 years, and while I love to fish with friends, sometimes the solitude is exactly what I need. Alone time outside requires no planning; you can go at your own pace, choose your own destinations, and take in exactly what you need from the experience.

6. The outdoors is a great place for together time, too.

As the year went on, I looked for opportunities to get outside with others as well. Family adventures, reconnecting with old friends, making new ones – these were perfect ways to meet my goal. And on more dangerous, challenging adventures, safety in numbers helped me strive for those new destinations. One of the things I loved the most about sharing these adventures was showing people something new and seeing them light up with a moment of their own. My outdoors goal was catching on.

7. The benefits of time outside are real – and measurable.

At the end of my year outdoors, I felt more alive and less stressed than ever. My energy levels soared, and I didn’t take a single sick day. I’m sure that my journey was a big part of this; getting outside keeps you active, engaged, and present. Every day, I looked forward to finding a moment to catalog my goal. My year was filled with gratitude for the moments spent and treasures found.

8. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always worth it.

Sure, some days were a bit of a grind. On some cold winter nights, at 8 or 9 o’clock, I realized I hadn’t yet been out – so I’d put on my boots and get out for a brisk 2-mile walk, something I would not otherwise have done. I tried to see these as opportunities, not limitations, and I always felt better for embracing them.

9. Being outdoors helps us experience gratitude.

My daily “photo-journal” habit – taking a photo on every outing – changed the game for me, because it gave me the opportunity to appreciate the wonders that surround us every time we go outside. Taking a picture to capture the moment caused me to pause and note – in the moment before I chose to click the shutter – that I was grateful to have this moment to experience and remember.

10. Time outside doesn’t need a time limit.

After seeking out and enjoying so many different moments, I figured, “Why stop?” I continued my outdoor habit into the COVID-19 pandemic, when it helped to get me through the low points and keep my spirits high. In fact, 2020 was another amazing year to appreciate the outdoors, and I had some truly magical moments.

When I spent my year completing this challenge, I discovered these outdoor moments and lessons in my own way – but they’re there for you to grab onto, too. All you have to do is set your intention to get outside and choose your own adventure. Big or small, near or far, alone or together. The outdoors is waiting for you.

Head shot of Dan Tarkinson

Dan T. is the Director of IT Applications at L.L.Bean, founder of non-profit Fly Fishing in Maine, and an all-around outdoors enthusiast.

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