Posted on Thursday, July 13, 2023
This story appears in the June 2023 edition of Westminster Magazine, Westminster College’s alumni magazine.
There is much to be said about the virtues of a nice long walk. It can help cure a multitude of physical ailments and, as Krista Edwards ’16 discovered last year, it will do wonders to clear your head.
Edwards, who took a literal hike from her job in 2022 to traverse the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), visited campus in November to speak with Westminster students about choosing career paths and finding a healthy work-life balance.
She discussed “From Career Obsessed to Career Break: What Quitting My Job to Hike 2,653 Miles Taught Me about Life and Work” and how she has applied lessons learned on the trail to her everyday world.
Edwards was excelling in her career post-Westminster—where she had majored in English, was an honors student and a member of the women’s soccer team—but found herself in an existential slump.
“I had done all the things and checked all the boxes—won the awards, got the job and started making money—and then realized there were no more boxes to check and I felt lost,” she said.
Two Westminster classmates and soccer teammates—her partner Raechel Pusateri ’16 and Rebecca Bradnam ’16—had been plotting to hike the PCT since college and were busy creating their own new boxes to check off. They asked Edwards to join them.
Focused on her career trajectory, she declined, worrying what kind of impact taking an extended leave from work would have.
“I had goals and dreams outside of work, but I only had a small amount of time or mental space to explore other avenues,” she said.
But as she watched Bradnam—the mastermind behind the PCT hike planning—and Pusateri plot out their trip, she had a change of heart. Spending five months on the famed trail that runs from the border of Mexico to the Canadian border might be exactly what she needed to find perspective in order to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
“I knew I was on track to become a workaholic if I didn’t re-evaluate my relationship with work. I discovered I needed to be more invested in my lifestyle, and not just invested in my work.”
Challenges Along The Way
To be clear, 2,653 miles is a long distance. To put it somewhat into perspective, it would be akin to packing up your car in New Wilmington, hopping on Interstate 80 and driving west to Sacramento, Calif. It’s a long drive. Imagine hiking a similar distance, but through varying terrain and elevations—which range from 110 feet above sea level to 13,153. It’s not for the faint of heart.
But, as the days wore on, she found her footing, a new level of confidence, and although she didn’t recognize it at the time, a sense of self discovery.
“One of the biggest transformations for me was just getting out of my head about work and career and just being so focused on achievement and success. I learned that being present is the biggest key to happiness, or contentment at least, and constantly being focused on achievement just distracts you from what you have,” Edwards said.
Being a student-athlete certainly prepared her for the physical challenges and mental toughness that was necessary to complete the hike, but Edwards said Westminster also taught her soft skills like adaptability and resilience that were equally important.
“Westminster gave me a lot of time and space to explore the intersection of different disciplines and activities, which helped me be more adaptable to situations and experiences,” she said. “I think this helped me a lot on the PCT because there were so many moments where we didn’t know what to expect—whether it was in town or on the trail— and we just had to adapt to our surroundings.”
Tips From The Trail
When Edwards and her team set out on the trail on March 30, 2022, she felt ready for the adventure that was ahead of her. They were undertaking the PCT at just the right time to avoid harsh weather and river conditions. She had meticulously budgeted her finances, she was physically prepared, and logistically speaking, their hike was well mapped out. But she knew five months on the trail was going to be a long time— and it wouldn’t come without a few challenges along the way.
When Edwards slipped on her first pair of trail runners—she went through five pairs on the trip— and departed from the PCT’s southern terminus in Campo, Calif., she was excited and nervous, and definitely felt the weight of her much-too-heavy 44-pound backpack. She pushed on, unloading what she could from her pack—and her mind. She still felt herself in work mode.
“It took me about a month into the trail to stop waking up every day with a ‘to-do’ list of tasks in my head from my previous job,” she said.
With her epic PCT adventure behind her—and with a broader perspective and new approach to her work and life balance—Edwards has relocated to Columbus, Ohio, and is a client success manager with Financial Finesse. A self-proclaimed Roth IRA fanatic, she also operates Ready to Roth, a personal finance podcast, blog and coaching service that gives 20-somethings the financial framework they need to live fully.
Looking back, she said her experience did bring her that sense of clarity and perspective she sought. While she still has a deep work ethic and strives for success in her career, she has also made time for her life beyond work.
“For people just starting out, it’s important to look beyond how a career sounds on paper, and really think about what your daily life will look like when doing that job,” she said. “And know what you want to do outside of your career and making sure your career supports that.”
“I think that doing something so radically different from everyday life opened my eyes to all of the possibilities of how you can live. It really helped me understand that life doesn’t have to follow this set of expectations that you’re supposed to achieve,” she said. “Now I know that I get to design a life based on my values and priorities, and it can look however I want it to.”
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