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“I’m leaving Climbing magazine,” Shannon said over the phone, “and I think you should take over as Editor.”
The call came three days before Christmas 2015; my boss, Shannon Davis, was quitting to take an editorial position with no deadlines and a Fortune 500 budget. I couldn’t blame him. After almost six years at my dream job as associate, gear, and now senior editor of Climbing magazine, I was bored. Writing my 149th story about how to prevent rappel accidents felt tedious, and I had designated this two-week holiday break as the time I would figure my life out. The general plan was to live in my van, which I was already doing, and go freelance with my writing and photography. Then the phone rang.
My knee-jerk response was hell no, I’m not doing that. I loved creating interesting stories, but all that extra responsibility, managing employees, budgeting, strategic planning, board meetings, brand direction—the very thought of it had my stomach doing backflips. Yet an intriguing concept flickered in the back of my brain. Part of my boredom with the job came from doing the same thing 10 times a year for six years, and here I was being handed on a silver platter the chance to shake things up. To shape the magazine—a publication I’ve been reading for 15 years and pouring myself into for six—and make it what I always wanted it to be. Brushing my teeth the next morning, I realized: I’d be an absolute fool not to take this opportunity. It’s not exactly living on the road and climbing all the time, but it’s the chance of a lifetime.
The extra work didn’t scare me; I’m no stranger to late nights on deadline, sacrificing much-needed exercise, sleep, and proper nutrition to get an issue out the door. After all, that commitment got me where I am today: 29 years old and running a national magazine. The productivity of it sustains me—holding that glossy magazine in my hands is a feeling like no other. But sitting in a meeting with men and women 10, 15, and 20 years my senior discussing EBITDA (which I had to Google) and merit raise percentages is far outside my comfort zone. I’m a van-dwelling climber who wears the same pair of jeans four times a week and showers far less than that, who thought it would be a good idea to put me in charge?
The moment I stepped into the Editor role, the magazine became my baby, and I cared what people thought about it. Online criticism of our content, which never bothered me before, now cut deep. Lying awake at night, I wondered if I had made the right decision. This isn’t where I thought my life would be, but here I am. My confidence reservoir, which had always been close to overflowing, started to run low.
Craig DeMartino, a writer who lost his leg in a climbing accident, is fond of saying, “Life is 10% event and 90% my reaction.” The criticism wasn’t going to stop, so I had to change my attitude. I’m in the driver seat for a reason, or maybe a hundred small reasons, but it’s me—no one else. Time to shit or get off the pot. Now two issues in as Editor of Climbing magazine, I still question myself, but I don’t let doubt paralyze me. I’m going to make mistakes (an admission that makes my palms sweat), but as long as I’m learning, I’ll never be bored.
Julie Ellison started climbing in Alabama more than a decade ago, and is now living out her dream of van life with her dog and boyfriend. As the Editor of Climbing magazine, Julie thrives on creating high-quality, inspirational stories and photos for climbers of all disciplines.