How to Convince Your Boss to Let You Take a NOLS Course

By Erica Nelson

Mar 15, 2018

NOLS participant gestures with hands while talking with an instructor beside a river
Photo by Craig Muderlak

When I heard from NOLS’ staffing office that I’d been accepted on the River Instructor Course, I was beyond stoked. I ran to tell my boss the great news. Expecting her to be happy, instead she said, “We can’t afford to lose you this time of year.”

On one hand, I get it—spring is not a great time to cut off communication and raft remote rivers. I work in NOLS’ admission and marketing office, and this time of year the number of emails and phone calls skyrockets, and we happily spend hours chatting with students looking for help getting ready for their courses.

I have projects to manage and two teams to supervise.

On the other hand, taking an instructor course was a huge part of my personal and professional goals, something I’ve been working toward for a long time.

Fortunately, my boss quickly got over her initial surprise, and then we got to planning for how we’d handle my absence from the office.

It helped that I had a good pitch prepared, and reminded me that it’s not always easy to convince your boss and coworkers to let you take off for a few weeks and head to the wilderness.

If you’re ready to take a course but need some help making the pitch, here are some ideas for how you can convince your boss to let you take a NOLS course.

First, Recognize the Workload you’re Responsible for

I have always been a fan of the 6 Ps: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

I learned this in college while earning an outdoor leadership minor at SNC-Tahoe. Any time you had a trip coming up, you had to prep forafterthe trip, not just beforehand. Meaning, you turn in assignments early. You predate checks for your roommates to make sure your bills are paid. You complete assignments weeks ahead, working with your professors and not making excuses that you were out.

Presenting a plan for how you’ll get work done before the trip so that it’s not a nightmare when you return shows your supervisor that you’ve thought through your decision and are prepared to put in the work to make it happen. It also helps bring your team into the process and shows you're being considerate of their needs, too.

Frame the Benefits of the Course to Your Boss & Team

Group of people holding onto a person reaching to grab an object off the ground while team building in the mountains
Photo by Nathan Page

Write or express your career goals and how the course will benefit not only your personal development, but also your work. Explain that NOLS isn’t just about camping, it’s a leadership school.

Send your boss NOLS’ 7-4-1 model of leadership. Explore the blog forstoriesand reach out to NOLS alumni onFacebookto ask about how they’ve transferred skills learned from their courses into their daily lives.

The majority of students walk away from a course with a deeper respect for people and teamwork, in addition to the wilderness experience and outdoor skills.

Be Proactive

Strategize and be realistic in planning your time out of the office. What projects or tasks will you walk back into? Make a list and figure out how you’ll get it done ahead of time. Talk to your coworkers and classmates early to make them aware of your time away so they can plan, too. This lets your team know that you can be trusted to be out of the office and be responsible when you come back.

Acknowledge the Stress & Workload You May Be Putting on Your Coworkers

Going away for a few weeks at a time won’t just impact you—it’ll also likely put extra stress on your coworkers. I encourage you to meet one-on-one with your coworkers so you can acknowledge the challenges they’ll deal with and share your goals for taking the course, both personal and professional.

Ask about your coworkers’ goals and reassure them you will be ready to help when they need you. Send notes and other forms of appreciation to thank them for their support.

Bring the Learning Back to Your Team

The things you learn on your course don’t have to stay in the wilderness. Make your pitch as much about your coworkers as it is about you.

Explain to your boss that you’ll have a plan to share out the things you learned on your course, topics like judgement and decision making and conflict resolution.

A Few Additional Benefits to Share with Your Boss

  • You become a better communicator by living in a small group of people and learning to communicate your needs and observations.
  • You become a better leader by understanding your own leadership style and being able to own and express it.
  • You crave constructive feedback. The regular debriefs on a course help you understand and become comfortable admitting failure and learning from it.
  • You’ll appreciate your planet. You become committed to understanding your impact and want to reduce it. (Should I actually print off these notes or just email them?)
  • You come back with a written evaluation: NOLS instructors are practiced givers of feedback, and every course includes a final written evaluation. This is a valuable piece of feedback for your employer that’ll probably tell them more about you than any performance review.

In the end, be realistic and be persistent. A NOLS course comes at a cost, and it takes a lot of planning and some grit to step up and convince bosses and coworkers that it’s worth it. You already know it is, and now you have some tools to help convince the folks around you.

Smiling people pose for a group shot wearing river gear on a rafting expedition
Photo by David Morgan

See NOLS courses for adults.

Written By

Erica Nelson

Erica is the NOLS Senior Marketing Representative and is a Custom Education and Wilderness First Responder graduate. She enjoys whitewater rafting, fly fishing, disc golf, and snowboarding. You can also find her wandering about Wyoming looking for cool rocks while biting her tongue on a gneiss pun.

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