What Are the Traits of a Successful Field Staff?

Posted by Brennan Dougherty on November 17, 2021

EB67304F 3B9B 4F74 A38B 47A3D32DD0E5 1 201 aOften when I am talking to a prospective field staff during the interview process, they ask me what traits I look for in a candidate. From my time in the field, working as a field staff, talking to successful high-level employees, and examining the commonalities between past staff and others who did not thrive in their previous employment, I have boiled down what I believe to be the five essential traits that seem to be universal among successful people and field staff alike.

1. Resilience. Buzz word or not, resilience is the cousin to grit and some would argue, the predictor of success in life. The APA, a 2020 article titled Building Your Resilience  said, “Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves 'bouncing back' from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.” I would argue that a successful candidate possesses some level of resilience and that working in the wilderness therapy field will often increase one’s capacity for dealing with difficult situations. Working in the wilderness with humans will provide ample hardship and opportunities to bounce back afterward.

2. Healthy Detachment. (Or Healthy attachment, as Dr. Brad Reedy offers in his 8 Tools for Transforming Relationships). This one is big. If you can’t accept the things you cannot change, you’re in big trouble--not just because you can be left stuck ruminating on the immovable object, but because in doing so, you will limit your own capacity to be curious, try anything new, or simply laugh. Healthy detachment can allow us space from our own desire and baggage to provide a healthy, safe container for others to grow in. Practicing detachment can be challenging, but it can give us the freedom to listen more authentically, examine tough conversations more openly, and help to more readily foster the ever-elusive unconditional positive regard for those around us.

3. Intentional curiosity. This one can be difficult because it relies on you to ask questions even if you think you already know the answer (or even if you don’t want to know the answer). I call it “curiosity outside of your comfort zone!” Asking questions can be hard because it can require us to relinquish our own idea of truth in favor of considering the answers we receive through examination. Simple questions like, “How does that make you feel?” or “I wonder what would happen if …?” can sometimes provide surprising and meaningful answers.

4. Willingness to try new things. Life as a field staff will likely offer many new experiences. Everything from trying the new recipe your co-staff just prepared for dinner to engaging in an impromptu psychodrama during a student’s therapy session can be an intimidating and sometimes scary experience. Embrace it! The more we engage with new experiences outside of our comfort zone the more we will cultivate an internal elasticity of being and capacity for discomfort. I firmly believe that this is the first step to fostering resilience and grit. Each new experience is a lesson learned and an insight gained, even if it was uncomfortable! I often tell prospective staff that I cannot promise that they will like the work, but I can guarantee that they will learn and grow as a person if they work for one day or one year--and there are few experiences as valuable as that.

5. Humor. Sometimes we just need to laugh. Life can sometimes seem absurd and, in those moments, when you realize the absurdity of you own situation; laughing can be the antidote when crying may not seem like the best option. Humans can act out in seemingly strange and maladaptive ways, and as a field staff responding to a student doing something inappropriate in the middle of camp or a family member sitting around the dinner table during a holiday feast, listening to your uncle go on a tangent about how government officials have been replaced by alien-lizard-shape-shifters; laughing can be the momentary reset to allow curiosity and care.

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