How Amble Found Me

 

When people first hear about Amble’s sabbatical program, they’re instantly curious about how—and why—this program came to be. Most people ask the question, ”Where did the idea for the program came from?”

The truth is: the idea found me.

 
 
 
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going on sabbatical

After working for nearly a decade in web and design studios, I found myself continually burnt out and looking for ways “outside of my work” to satiate my creative urges and drive to do impactful work for the things I care deeply about. In 2015, I was working at a design studio and hit burn out rock bottom.

On a hike with a close friend and mentor, I literally thought a butterfly flying in front of me was a sign that I needed to go to Mariposa, CA (‘Mariposa’ is spanish for ‘butterfly’) and figure myself out for a month. So, I took a friend up on an invitation to stay on a 360-acre property in Mariposa where she was managing an Airbnb, booked my ticket, packed my bags and left for California in search of…. something. I was in the throes of a quarter life crisis. I didn’t know it then, but that sabbatical was the pilot for what Amble would become. I traded my skills as a facilitator and strategist to host a community workshop in the town of Mariposa, along with some visual design work, for a blow-up mattress in a room with two other women running a hip rural Airbnb outside of Yosemite.

 
 
 
 
 
 

impact of a sabbatical

When I returned from that sabbatical, I felt grateful to my employers for the opportunity to step away, and came back recharged with a new perspective on the work I was already doing. The experience broadened my view of the potential of my skills and how I could impact the world beyond what I was doing week after week. It gave me the confidence to pursue projects for the design studio that felt meaningful, and expand what kinds of services we could offer. Not long after, with the reality of what it takes to move the needle at a 20-person company and the perspective of doing the work out in the world (not solving just digital problems), that unsatiated creative itch came back with a vengeance.

 
 

My husband and I thought a change of scenery—moving to the other coast—might throw a fun wrench in the hamster wheel of security we designed for ourselves post-college. When we realized we’d be taking a significant step back professionally, moving away from the community and network we’ve built and love, my husband said, “What if we lived ... nowhere? And everywhere?” Meaning, what if we just lived on the road. And he didn’t mean to trade it all in for nomadic lifestyle, but to pursue an idea I had rolling around in my head for some time which ultimately became our book, Campfire Stories.

The work for this book took us on a five-month journey in 2016 traveling to six National Parks across the country—while pregnant in my first trimester (a surprise we discovered three weeks in!)—interviewing people who live and work in and around the parks, and collecting stories that capture the essence of each place.

 
 
 
Selection of individuals interviewed for  Campfire Stories  in 2016

Selection of individuals interviewed for Campfire Stories in 2016

Design and nature conservancies

It was on this research trip talking with nature conservancies and the various nonprofits—who were the beating heart and change-makers of many of these small rural communities—that I felt like I found a purpose. In hearing them talk about the work they do, the magical places their work benefits, and the stories of the people and the land, I learned so much about the challenges they face. Where they saw struggle, I saw an opportunity, and wanted to tackle each challenge as a designer and strategist, just the way I would in my professional day-to-day work.

I so clearly saw how the design process could positively impact their organization, and from that moment on I continuously wondered how I could dedicate my work to support the mission of nature conservancies and elevate the impact they’re already making in their communities and natural spaces. I also recognized the financial and geographical barriers to working with people like me, and their limited access to design organizations that could transform their work. Furthermore, I recognized that many of these organizations had never heard of the type of work that I did (“User experience design—what’s that!?”) and therefore unaware of the value or need for this kind of work. But, in order to focus on the book project at hand, this realization was logged into my “for a rainy day” folder of my brain.

 
 
 

BIG MAGIC

Cut to 2018, night at a bar with a friend washing our work woes away with beer and talking for the zillionth time about needing to get away, travel, open a juice bar on a tropical island. As our tone grew more desperate, we started wondering….

What does it take for somebody to just pick up and leave everything to do that?”

Beyond having the courage to take the leap of faith, I thought about the immense amount of privilege a decision like that requires. You’ve got to be all in. And you have to have the resources to do so. I also thought about how some creatives really like their jobs and don’t want to leave... they just need some time away to recharge and find new inspiration—like me. I thought about and envied the opportunities available to my artist friends who already attend residencies and retreats in nature, where it’s a perfectly acceptable and encouraged part of an art practice. In the design world, stepping away can be a ding on your resume or career.

 
 
 

I thought about friends at agencies who lost their colleagues and collaborators all because there wasn’t an option for them to take time away, so they quit instead and hopped a plane to travel around Asia for 3-months. I thought about the fear, anxiety and doubt that comes with making decisions to take this time away—the permission you need to give yourself and the permission required from your employer. What if you take the leap but it doesn’t go the way you planned, or, worse: it sends you farther away from what you’re after?

I took this train of thought with me to a show we were attending after drinks—two Swedish folk singin’ sisters—who, in their song “Stay Gold” lament…

What if our hard work ends in despair?
What if the road won’t take me there?
Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold.

And that’s where it hit me. The mythical lightning bolt moment where the idea actually found me, when I wasn’t even looking for it— the “big magic” that Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, which I hadn’t heard about until after my own big magic moment.

After the show, I raced home as fast as I could to map out and piece together all of these experiences over the last few years, sketching out what was to become what is now known as Amble.


Taking the leap

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Just a couple months later, I was forced into a position to either more fully commit to the design studio where I was working or make my exit. There was no question in my mind—this was the moment to take the leap. I decided to make my exit after six years at the company, and a couple months later I was on a plane and driving past the golden hills of California, yodeling Hank Williams songs on my way to pitch the program to Yosemite Conservancy and Mariposa Arts Council. They both quickly and enthusiastically—and quite honestly unexpectedly—said “Yes!” before I even left the room, becoming our first Community Hosts, and helping us pilot our new Amble program in the Fall of 2018.

 
 

Onward

So here we are, just over one year later, gearing up for our fourth program in Glacier National Park, and sponsored by the fabulous folks at Parks Project. Never did I imagine the response Amble would generate from the community. I’m blown away and so grateful for all of you and your enthusiasm for our program, and look forward to growing our programming, running many more revitalizing experiences, and serving you as you explore what matters most to you.

Thank you for your interest, passion, and support. We look forward to sharing more about our program and where we’re headed soon!

See you on the trails,
Ilyssa Kyu

 
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Ilyssa Kyu