You are never done learning. Continuing your studies and education throughout your career is essential to keep up with the changing times and information. I am now 20 years removed from my original studies in college and much has changed, been restudied, expanded upon, or updated with increased data and knowledge since then. If I weren’t continually reading and absorbing this new information, I wouldn’t be as successful a guide.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jared Paul, the Wildlife Expert at Amangani.
Being a wildlife expert in Wyoming, known as one of the most remote and “wildest places” in the country, makes for a thrilling career choice and one that Jared Paul has taken head-on for almost two decades.
Jared’s love for nature was sparked as a child growing up in rural Pennsylvania where he had the freedom to explore the abundant forests in his backyard daily. He recalls one of his first childhood memories being when he was sloshing through a marshy lake shore and happened upon a newly born deer fawn. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
After finishing his studies of wildlife fisheries sciences at Penn State University, Jared arrived in Jackson in 2000 where he began working at Amangani as a bellman. He spent every minute of his free time exploring and absorbing his new surroundings and putting the puzzle pieces together. He became a full-time guide in 2004.
Throughout the year, Jared takes those seeking one-of-a-kind adventures on a guided tour where they can experience the spectacular wildlife roaming throughout Jackson and the Rocky Mountain West. As the ideal way to learn about the fantastic array of flora and fauna in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Jared leads guests to see big game like moose, elk, bison, wolves and bears, in addition to over 300 species of birds habituating the area.
Jared has studied every inch of the region and has worked diligently to hone his craft of delivering a world-class guided adventure where travelers from around the globe can experience a deep connection with nature and the surrounding Wyoming environment. As a result, he has received international acclaim from some of the country’s most-read media outlets including AFAR, Vogue, Forbes and Vanity Fair, to name a few.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in rural, central Pennsylvania in the 1980’s. We were free to roam the local forests from sunrise to sunset, and through exploring my natural surroundings, I began to better understand the intricate workings of the environment and I yearned to learn more.
My family owned a small cottage deep in the forest and we spent many weekends there where I truly began to encounter and appreciate nature’s miracles. On one occasion, I went for a morning walk from our cottage along the lake shore and nearly stepped on a deer fawn born perhaps minutes before. The mother deer had left the fawn safely tucked into the reeds and I unknowingly walked right upon it. Even at my young age, I knew that disturbing the baby might end tragically, so I quietly observed until the mother returned shortly thereafter. I watched her cautiously approach as she determined no immediate danger and let out a soft call, after which the baby emerged from its hiding spot and began to nurse. It was my first and closest encounter with the miracle of birth and I was in awe!
On another occasion, I was treated to the sight of multiple black bears feasting on a trash pile (of all things). The Game and Fish Commission officers arrived and explained to us the dangers of bears being fed and habituated to humans. They wanted to trap and tag one of the bears, and I was asked to help with the process. I got an up-close and personal encounter with one of mother nature’s most impressive creatures as we carried the sedated bear back into the forest. After these two amazing and intimate experiences, I knew immediately that I wanted to spend my life studying animals.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I think what catalyzed my transformation from hobby or interest to career came from my friendship with a true Wyoming cowboy, George King.
I moved to Jackson Hole right out of college with a solid foundation and understanding of the natural world, but my studies applied more to flora and fauna pertaining to the eastern United States. I wasn’t comfortable leading guided tours yet in Wyoming, so I worked as a bellman initially at Amangani. George was the resort’s in-house naturalist and guests loved his tours and expertise. I gradually introduced myself to him and expressed a genuine interest in learning some of his knowledge, and he eventually took me under his wing and began to teach me how things worked out west. He also impressed in me the joy of teaching others and the possibility of pursuing this as a career. When George eventually moved away from Jackson, the opportunity to fill the position presented itself and I was ready.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
While Amangani previously outsourced to a private contractor for their wildlife tours, I saw an opportunity to create a business within a business. I realized that we as a company weren’t capitalizing on a big revenue opportunity, so I devised a comprehensive business plan to pitch to the management team. It was immediately well received and has demonstrated true success as we have grown from a very minor department to a tremendous revenue stream for the resort.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
I would encourage those interested in turning a passion into a career to understand that oftentimes, passion jobs aren’t the most lucrative. Money isn’t the driving force, but the heart is. It’s hard to quantify the price of passion, but being happy and excited to show up to work and share what you love with others is worth more than gold.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Personally, my job isn’t monotonous, boring or even consistent. Being a wildlife guide and educator, every day is different and one never knows what lurks around the next corner.
I am kept on my toes each day with migrating animals in different locations and the changing of seasons and weather conditions. Also, I interact with guests from across the world, and it’s always a fun challenge for me to figure out the best way to communicate with everyone. Sometimes it’s language barriers, sometimes it’s children that require a simpler explanation, but it’s these differences with each and every tour that keep things interesting!
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I enjoy the freedom associated with my job. Yes, I am employed by Amangani, but I am given ample space to arrange the tours as I see fit. Each day is different and guests requests and expectations can vary tremendously. I love being able to customize my tours on the fly after engaging briefly with the guests and getting a sense of their hopes and interests.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Honestly, it’s the friendships I’ve forged over the years with my clients. I never expected to connect with people in such a way. When you are truly passionate about what you do, it shows. People respond to it and engage with you as an expert. I have been humbled by the compliments received from many guests over the years about my enthusiasm and expertise, which is something I didn’t realize would resonate with people so well.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
I have questioned my decision in the past, but I realized that being able to do what I love is worth so much more than I could have imagined. I am truly happy after a day’s work and when I weigh the pros and cons, the pros always win!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was young and ambitious when I first began guiding tours, but I certainly didn’t know it all. I was once asked a question about bear reproduction but realized I didn’t have knowledge of the precise information the guest was requesting. I thought if I just answered to the best of my ability with conviction, they would accept it. Unfortunately, this was about the time cell phones were becoming wildly popular and Wi-Fi service was being introduced to the area, and within seconds they had googled the question and corrected me.
It was at that moment I vowed to be completely honest in the future when I didn’t have all the facts. Now when something stumps me, I just make sure to research it so I have the answer for the next tour.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My parents have been huge inspirations. They’re great leaders themselves and have been consistently supportive throughout my life by encouraging me to pursue my dreams and passions. They are incredibly proud of what I have accomplished and the business that I helped build, and I hope to continue to make them proud.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
This is a question that I often ask myself. I think the best way I’ve used my platform is by inspiring people to appreciate and understand the natural world around them.
I have worked with some families numerous times over the years and had a chance to interact with their young children as they’ve grown into amazing young adults. One child became so inspired on our first tour together that he begged his family to plan annual trips to Jackson to learn everything he could. After 15 years of doing trips with him, he decided to choose a college major and career pertaining to wildlife conservation. Kids like that are our next ecologists and conservationists that will help preserve our planet!
Also, because of the very high-end clientele Amangani attracts, many guests that I entertain have incredible resources to change the world. With the proper inspiration from our tours, they have donated countless dollars to help preserve ecosystems and the wildlife within.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- 1. You are never done learning. Continuing your studies and education throughout your career is essential to keep up with the changing times and information. I am now 20 years removed from my original studies in college and much has changed, been restudied, expanded upon, or updated with increased data and knowledge since then. If I weren’t continually reading and absorbing this new information, I wouldn’t be as successful a guide.
- 2. Wildlife guiding requires a very flexible and sometimes challenging schedule. I knew going into my career that guiding requires many early and late work days, because the animals are most active during these times and getting up early is imperative to viewing success. As you continue to age, the demanding schedule can become more difficult to maintain.
- 3. I figured the hardest part of starting and growing a business would be conceptualizing and designing a viable business plan, and then it would be smooth sailing ahead. I have come to realize that simply having a successful operation is only the beginning. With more success comes more pressure to grow and accomplish greater revenue and achievements. These expectations require a constant rethinking and improvement of your logistics and efficiency.
- 4. You will learn more in your first year on the job than all of your schooling combined. I realize now that nothing in my life prepared me for entering the workforce and understanding the demands of running a business. It was trial by fire and I learned as I tried, failed and succeeded.
- 5. Accept that your income may be inconsistent at first. Guides are typically only compensated for tours they lead and last-minute cancellations or varying potential gratuities can be tough to anticipate. Most people have a solid expectation of how much they will earn each month but this career often doesn’t provide that luxury.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire a movement, I’d like to encourage everyone to get out and experience the wonders of nature. Appreciating the simplicity and beauty of animals and their environments can be life-changing. Animals have no impure motives and that can be very comforting. Also, time outdoors is healthy for us, from the fresh air to the physicality and exercise required to traverse the mountains.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One that’s kind of funny but has resonated with me repeatedly over the years is from Mike Tyson. He once said, “Everyone has a game plan… Until they get punched in the face”. It’s easy to have a vision and expectations, but things don’t usually go exactly as planned. We have to adapt, and as humans, we can.
This has been relevant to me many times in my life. At work, there are times when tours are delayed but guests still expect to see the wildlife, so we have to adjust accordingly to still create an enjoyable experience. An example from my personal life would be when my wife and I recently decided we were going to save enough to buy a house. Our plan was to have her work as a traveling nurse for a few years while I worked here in Jackson. Unexpectedly, we learned she was pregnant last spring, which threw our plan right out the window. We got “punched in the face” and have adjusted our vision as such, and realized that sometimes getting punched in the face can have the most incredible outcome.
Another real-world example might be our current global climate situation. Our country’s plan was to continue to use fossil fuels to power itself indefinitely. The use of these fuels has seemingly had a very negative impact on the rate at which temperatures are rising, which is now requiring us to consider other potential cleaner power sources. That “punch in the face” might also result in new, profitable industries and a healthier planet.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Elon Musk. I think Mr. Musk has shown unmatched vision and forward-thinking in his pursuit of making the world a better place. From creating PayPal, a new and more convenient way for people to exchange funds, to Tesla, which is leading the way in clean vehicle technology, to SpaceX, which may help us better understand and possibly even colonize other planets. These are massive undertakings that others are either afraid to engage in or don’t have the vision to see through. Mr. Musk has shown he is willing to take risks and trusts his instincts and I appreciate this kind of thinking.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.