Before she transformed her life into one big climbing road trip, Cassandra McCandless (who goes by Sanni) worked for a Seattle tech company doing marketing. She was a beginning climber but didn’t spend much time outdoors, much less plan everything around being outside.
That all changed in 2015 after she attended a slide show presentation by Alex Honnold. She fell for the sport of climbing — and also for the speaker. Honnold is now Sanni’s boyfriend of two years with whom she shares a van-based life as well as a non-mobile home in Las Vegas.
“My friend was like, we’re going to this talk,” she says. “I didn’t know who he was.”
Since forsaking her marketing job, McCandless and Honnold have spent the last two years road-tripping to climbing areas. They climb two days in a row, then rest one day somewhere with a wi-fi connection. On that schedule, she’s been able to earn a certification as a life coach (she finishes the program in September) and launch a life-coaching business.
Her specialty is guiding people like herself, Honnold, and the rest of the outdoors set. Her clients often fall into two categories: Those who have a solid “normal” life but want to achieve goals as climbers or athletes. (Like McCandless, who wasn’t particularly athletic before becoming a climber, and had to learn about discipline and training). And those who are accomplished athletes or van-dwellers who want to start businesses, earn degrees, maintain relationships or otherwise nourish their normal life. (Like Honnold, who balances elite climbing with earning a living through sponsorship obligations, appearing in car commercials, and giving book talks).
“I’m not going to convince you to quit your job and move into a van,” she says. But if that’s what you want, she’d be precisely the person to help you design your dream van life and make it a reality. Though she started her business officially just a month ago, McCandless, who was a psychology major at the University of North Carolina, has already worked with professional athletes. She’s taking calls from climbers, surfers, pro athletes and weekend warriors — or anyone who wishes to be any of the above. After all, she’s doing it herself.
“This summer is all about how I can climb full-time while doing my program and run my business,” she says. If you’re wondering how she got here: She worked hard for two years, paying off debt and saving money before hitting the road.
We reached McCandless in a meadow in Wyoming, where she and Honnold, fresh off of his historic free solo of El Capitan, have been climbing pocketed limestone — and of course getting some work done. With a dying cell phone charge, she explained what an outdoors-focused life coach does, and why you might want one.
(But first, this tidbit: As you can imagine, Honnold has taught McCandless, a fledgling climber until they met, a lot about climbing. But it’s a two-way street. In addition to teaching him about patience — a prerequisite for climbing with any neophyte — “I’ve taught him to take real food to the crag. Instead of just eating bars, now we make a sandwich. He’s always like, eating real food at the crag is the best!” she says.)
The couple, doing what they do (two-thirds of the time, anyway).
Different routes, both desperately pumped. I’m super proud of my girlfriend @sannimccandless for managing to launch a life coaching business while climbing on the road. It’s been great to see her pursue her dream of helping people lead a more balanced life in the outdoors while still living in a car and climbing full time. For anyone that needs help finding their best balanced life check out her website (link in bio). I know it’s a shameless plug, but I’m proud of her. And hoping to have a sugar mama one day… Photo by @tedhesser
What the heck is life coaching, and how is it different from therapy?
Therapy is valuable but also very backwards looking. Coaching is not about giving advice, it’s more about taking you from functional to optimal. Coaching is a process to walk people through their vision — why is that their vision, and is it the right vision? And how to make it happen. It’s an up and coming field because people are realizing they don’t have to relegate themselves to traditional 9-to-5s.
So many of us have a lot of time and goals and motivation, but somehow we often don’t take the time to be intentional about making those dreams reality. I can either help people precipitate a much-needed change, navigate change, or find a way to feel more fulfilled.
Should we all quit our jobs and hit the road?
A lot of people have seen photos of van life and say they want to quit their job and live in a van. It looks intriguing, but some people like working in the city and want to get outside more, and just don’t like their actual job. Some people quit their job and move into a car and don’t feel satisfied because they’re wondering, “Am I screwing myself over?”
It’s not about what your Instagram looks like on #vanlife, but what do you want and how do you want to get there? What’s stopping you?
Why might outdoorsy people want a life coach?
An outdoor-oriented life is one with many variables and a ton of passion. But it has a tendency to destroy balance. I want to help people create fulfilling lives, or find a way to live the life they’re living in a way that makes them happy and joyful.
That could be someone who’s committed to a job in the city and wants to keep motivation high, or a pro athlete who wants to balance rigorous training and an itinerant lifestyle with relationships. Or someone who wants to incorporate the outdoors into their lifestyle but there’s a financial barrier or social pressure they want to overcome. We want to be really intentional about how people create that life and stay true to their obligations at home or in their career.
And here’s a little piece we put together that paints a few #VanLife portraits. We hope you enjoy: