Business Consultant to Polar Expedition Leader

Chris Dolder shifted from a City job to leading Polar expeditions. Read more about his dramatic change and the lessons he learnt along the way.

What was your role in your old job?

Managing Consultant - essentially a senior member of a consulting practice with line-management, business development & project delivery responsibilities.

What is/are your new role(s)?

Assistant Expedition Leader, Polar Expeditions aboard the expedition vessel Explorer, managing ship-board operations for a compliment of 108 passengers, reporting to the Expedition Leader & Captain. The role is very varied from being a guide in the field (whether piloting small Zodiac craft or marshalling landings on continental Antarctica, Greenland, Spitzbergen etc) to delivering lectures on board, managing ship-board comms and satellite comms to Canadian HQ and generally overseeing the welfare of passengers (mix of scientists, journalists and tourists).

Why did you change?

Money can't buy job satisfaction. I wanted to get out of bed on a Monday morning and really want to get stuck into the day. The Polar Regions are inspirational places that few are lucky enough to visit. I get to visit them regularly and guide others to experience places that may ultimately change the way they live their lives.

Are you happy with the change?

This is my first season, but I expect I'll be very happy - though expect it to be very challenging - dealing with such a large group of people always is.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

Won't miss admin & two sets of politics (client & employer). Will miss the people from my old job - some very intelligent & fun people to work with, that's what kept me there so long.

How did you go about making the change?

A long an arduous road: I'm lucky to have had 10 years of Polar experience, completing two field seasons in the Arctic whilst I was at university first time around & visiting Antarctica when I went back to uni in New Zealand. I'm a relatively frequent visitor to the Falklands - it's a great place for wildlife photography so when I visited Antarctica as a tourist I was totally captivated. I applied for a post-grad course in NZ that had a fieldwork element in the Ross Sea Region. Part of my coursework majored on Antarctic Tourism which gave me a good opportunity to introduce myself to expedition operators. When I returned to the UK & back to my job I made a concerted effort to apply speculatively to expedition operators - a bit of a war of attrition really - you need dogged determination. I took my powerboating qualifications so I could operate the Zodiac craft used in the Polar regions too. Finally, I got my lucky break when two of my applications made it through to interview.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Making the leap into what you perceive as the unknown. It's easy to stay in a job you don't like and are not motivated by, because it seems too risky to change - to be left out on a limb, worrying about the financials. But really, so what if you don't earn the same amount of money? You can't spend money when you're dead and you can't buy the experience of job satisfaction.

What help did you get?

My better half was staunchly committed to supporting me - without her understanding I wouldn't have made the change. If there's two of you, radical change requires both of you to have agreed it & be 100% committed. Other than that, it's been a lot of hard graft. It's a specialist industry and there's nothing better than networking.

What have you learnt in the process?

If you want to achieve major change, break it down into manageable chunks and seek to achieve them one at a time. Making the huge leap in one go is extremely difficult. Don't be surprised if it takes months - maybe even years, but if you don't ever start, you'll never ever reach your goal. Cheesey but simple.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

Nothing - I've met some awesome people along the way for which I'm very grateful.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

I think my situation is likely to be fairly rare, however, if there's anyone out there interested in Polar expeditioning, or any kind of expedition work, there are several things you need: 1) Attitudinally, you have to be made of the right stuff (and getting into the industry is a test in itself). 2) Experience is key, but you don't need everything from the start & though this may take time to acquire - perhaps by visiting the regions yourself a few times. 3) Relevant or transferable skills - expeditioning isn't all about having visited a region before, you need to have sharp communications skills (multi-lingual clearly a bonus), practical field skills (e.g. first-aid, mountaineering safety, navigation, boat skills etc). 4) Knowledge of the region (e.g. wildlife, geography, history, politics, climate, culture, peoples etc), though it's not all about regurgitating facts from a book - you need to be able to bring this knowledge to life. There are many steps you can take to get yourself there - what's most important is that you have a plan and start working to achieve it - one step at a time - that's how mountains are climbed.