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Not many people get to turn their dream career into a reality, but I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity. In 2008, I started Blue Ridge Hiking Company and have spent the last 15 years introducing people to the wonders of the natural world through writing, speaking, and guiding.

These days most of my “company time” is in an administrative role (and I’ve moved the speaking and writing into its own small business). So I don’t get to guide much. But I still feel like I can have a direct impact and outsized influence by getting to speak.

I’ve given talks in all 50 states (Alaska and Hawaii, too!), delivered a commencement address at a school in Germany, made hundreds of presentations in business settings and conferences, and earned my CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) from the National Speakers Association.

The speaking industry has given me a lot. It has forced me to grow myself and stretch the ways that I connect with people. During COVID, for example, I pivoted and learned how to be proficient at Zoom, creating an “interview” format so I didn’t feel like another talking head droning on to an audience of “zoombies.”

The speaking industry has been good to me financially, as well. When I started out, I gave talks for peanuts- free to anyone who would listen at Rotary and Kiwanis lunches, at assisted living centers, I gave a school talk in exchange for an overnight homestay on the San Juan Islands in Washington. In contrast, these days I’m fortunate to “make a living” and provide for my family by getting to do what I love.

In some ways, I feel like the inverse has happened in our world. There’s more hostility and aggression in US politics than at any other time in my life. Ukraine and its transformative leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy are fighting to save their democracy and their way of life. Covid has rocked our world, literally and figuratively. And it’s had a lasting impact on our children- their education, mental health, friendships, on and on. I’ve seen it firsthand with my own child, who has experienced increased anxiety in the wake of it all.

I find my mind wandering back to a phrase I heard as a kid, one that many of us know. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” The speaking industry has given me a lot, and in a time when the world feels a little more closed-fisted, I feel like the right thing to do is to move in the opposite direction.

So for the remainder of 2022, for every “paying customer” that I give a talk to (corporation, conference, school, etc.), I’ll match that talk by giving a free one to a non-profit of their choice.*

Do I think this news is going to change the world? Is COVID going to stop impacting people in Hong Kong or is Vladamir Putin going to call an immediate ceasefire? Unfortunately, no. But I believe that choosing to make a positive difference when and where we can is a micro-decision that may have a ripple effect in the future.

In my short film Positive Forward Motion, I talk about the healing power of movement, that when you don’t know what else to do, sometimes the best thing is to take one positive step forward. In a time when I sometimes feel like the world (and my head) is spinning off its axis, giving free talks is what I can do to create positive forward motion. And, in these difficult times, I hope you can find a way to keep going, too.

*In the same geographic area and ideally on the same day.