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Your Life Calling

Ex-Geologist's Rock-Solid Passion for New Career as Yellowstone Guide

Barbara O'Grady and her "bold and irreversible step"

Barbara O'Grady, a former geologist, found her life calling as an interpretive guide at Yellowstone National Park. She's now an entrepreneur, building up her business, Wild Bear Adventures, where she gives nature tours. We asked the 59-year-old 10 questions about her transition to her new life at Yellowstone.

Q: What exactly do you do as an interpretive guide?

A: An interpretive guide takes the different situations they come across on a tour and finds the depths and connections behind those situations. For example, if you were in the park and encountered a group of wolves we'd tell you the story of how they came to the area. We didn't have wolves here before 1995, so explaining how they got here and some of the hardships they encounter as a species in Yellowstone really interests people. I always try to kind of flesh out the experience and give them something they can go home with that is more than just a two-dimensional photograph.

Q: You previously worked for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, where you were involved in the cleanup of Superfund sites. Did you find satisfaction in your previous career?

A: There was a time when I thought of it as a dream job. I was helping the environment using the laws that were in place. As a regulator, I wanted to make people who polluted clean it up, and a lot of times these polluters were not particularly interested in doing that. The ability to sit down with an entity and negotiate what was adequate cleanup in order to protect the people in my state was very satisfying.

Q: How are you using the skills from your previous career now at Yellowstone National Park?

A: I looked at Yellowstone from the perspective of what geology niche could I possibly fill in Yellowstone? I think that's probably where it made more sense to go. As I started to study the park, I thought the wildlife was the most interesting. But I realized if I was going to get a job up here it would likely have to be as a geologist and so I had to set out and learn as much as I could about the geology of the park, which is extremely interesting and lots of fun.

Q: Describe the day you left Colorado for Yellowstone National Park in May 2007.

A: I would say it was probably the scariest day of my life. It was also exhilarating. I had a tremendous amount of hope, promise and excitement about what the future could hold. But still, I thought "What am I doing?" I had my little silver Honda CR-V absolutely packed — and what was in there was all I had for the next several months of my life. It almost felt like I was going off to college again. It was definitely a bold and irreversible step.

Q: You made several sacrifices to pursue your dream without a Plan B. That can be very difficult for some people. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow their dreams, but may be afraid of the risks?

A: Just jumping blindly into something is not a good idea and certainly not something I would recommend. Once you have a plan for what you want, even though it might be very difficult, it will likely be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. But, the caveat is, don't think there won't be problems, that there won't be obstacles. I don't think I ever looked back and said, "I wish I didn't do this," but it doesn't mean that it was a smooth road. The key is, if you know in your heart it's what you want to do, then go ahead and take that step.  

Next: "There's so much to learn." >>

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