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Meghan Kahnle shows us how to design a life around passion, purpose and people.
I am a world traveler, trained graphic designer, painter, rock climber, and passionate community-oriented person. The goal of my work is to magically combine all of those things. I also want to thank those communities and people who make my life so full and diverse by giving back to them. Those who breathe love, support, and the pay-it-forward mentality are the backbone of my purpose. – Meghan Kahnle
Meg's mission can be summed up as follows: To be able to find purpose, build relationships within the community and spend one’s time pursuing creative projects that blend seamlessly around the mountains. Best of all, Meg’s art is focused on giving back to the climbing community and the beautiful mountain landscapes which provide her with so much joy in life.
In this interview you'll learn how Meg experiments with art and follows her heart to design a Digital Dirtbag life that keeps her healthy, happy and on track to achieving her life goals.
Meg in her element at Smith Rock
Q: Tell us a little about yourself, where you’re from, how you got into climbing, and more specifically what has drawn you into this lifestyle?
Oh man I think I was born a travel bug with a paintbrush! After the age of 7 we moved about every two years, and no I wasn’t military. My parents worked in the forestry industry, so I’ve always had very close ties to the forest, and everything related to the wilderness.
With all the travelling from a young age I found my greatest escape and companion besides my brother was the outdoors. I documented all of my adventures typically in the medium of journalling and painting.
Because of my connection to the outdoors, getting into climbing was the next natural progression of outdoor adventure and enjoyment for me. I started by scrambling and playing on boulders with friends, and then found a great community when I started university to study art and design. I worked at the climbing gym, went on trips with my co-workers, did homework from my sleeping bag and loved every second of my time at Oregon State University.
After I graduated I was the only one from my degree that was refusing to look for a job and join the “big girl” world. I was going to travel abroad, work on farms, sleep wherever I got tired, and climb and dance everywhere I went. Which is exactly what happened.
I was gone for 400 days, lived out of 90 litres of space, travelled over 60,500 km through 18 countries, and climbed and danced Argentine tango in 11 of them.
It was an amazing adventure and I did my best to document in the moment, but it wasn’t until I got back stateside and settled that I was truly able to reminisce and pay tribute to my travels.
The 4-foot by 8 foot mixed-media painting I did about my travels around the world was the turning point for me in my quest to become a digital dirtbag. When I was working on the painting I would lose track of time, and just melt into the process and the act of creating. It felt so good, so freeing and so similar to how I feel climbing and being outside.
Currently I feel like I have one foot in the “big girl” world and one foot in dirtbag world. I have a job as the Associate Web-Designer at Bodybuilding.com which allows me flexible hours based on merit. So if I work my butt off, I get more time off. Which means sleeping in my car, and lots of travelling and climbing. I also like working for a company that practices what it preaches and places a priority on fitness and health.
It’s hard to juggle both lives sometimes though. I have to explain how I got such horrendous rope burns and bruises to the people in my office and I have to explain to climbers that body building is not all about taking steroids and stepping on stage with fake tans and speedos.
Okay that part isn’t hard it’s more funny, but the balancing act of switching gears between my separate lives is occasionally cumbersome albeit totally worth it!
Q: What digital/creative projects are you currently working on and what does your vision (the bigger picture) really look like?
The biggest project I’m working on right now is my #ConnectWithSmithRock project that is part of the Live Your Dream Grant I received from the American Alpine Club this year. My mission with all of my work is to create collaborative mixed-media art projects to inspire, inform and give back to the communities that help create them.
With the Smith Rock project I’m collecting images from the surrounding Smith Rock community through email, Instagram (using the hashtag #ConnectWithSmithRock) and Facebook to create another 4-foot by 8-foot triptych painting.
The painting will have a collage of all the images I collect, and then two more transparent layers of one big image of Smith Rock sculpted and painted over top. The piece will be finished by the end of the year and then hang at Red Point, the local gear store at Smith Rock, for 4 months before it is sold, having 100% of the profits go back to the park.
I like being able to tell a story with my work. I’ve done wedding commissions, commemorative pieces of pets, and with the Smith Rock piece I really want to tell the full story of the park, because both the people and the place are important in my opinion.
And my vision, well I suppose I’d really like to do more work like this. I would love to travel full-time and work with more communities and parks that want to connect with and engage the public in diverse ways. I want to collaborate on creative artistic fund raisers and outreach missions.
I want to be able to raise funds, promote awareness, and give a different sort of voice to those causes and those people that are making an effort to do positive things.
And to be completely honest and a bit vulnerable here… I am genuinely so stoked and overwhelmingly passionate about this idea and this work because I know this is what I am supposed to be doing. I feel in my bones and my heart that I might actually be able to make a difference with this set of tools and skills I have, and it makes me burst with excitement and talk in a super excited speedy voice sometimes. Haha not sure if that’s apparent in type 😀.
Q: In your case specifically what does/did it really take to learn, and hone your creative skills?
First and foremost it takes time! Just like any other skill, becoming a master of your craft is a lifelong endeavor. When I was a kid I asked for art supplies instead of toys, and went to art camp over the summer as well as soccer camp and track camp. I have put in a lot of time and intention into learning the basic principles and elements of design and art.
It also took some time to figure out what mediums and what methods really resonate with me. I have always been a huge fan of the process side of art, and climbing for that matter. It’s not just the end result that matters it’s how you get there. So I like that the viewer can see all of the layers in my work, engage with the final piece, and see the process. I think seeing the individual pieces, layers, and process makes my art more approachable and more accessible to people that might not normally be interested in or take the time for “fine art.”
Finally, I think fearless experimentation is always a key part of success.
Whether I’m climbing 15 feet past my last piece of gear or trying a new technique with a new paint it’s important to push the boundaries a little and not be afraid to fail. Otherwise how will I truly know where the limits lie?
Q: Do you have any habits/things that you do on a regular basis that you believe help to keep you to achieve your goals?
I’m pretty good at keeping myself in check, but occasionally there are moments I’m not the most reliable motivational source. So for those times I have an external brain/notebook that holds all of my important missions and goals. This way if I get lost or off target it’s easy to refer back to my notes. And then I’ve got a pretty great network of friends and family that also make great sounding boards and directional advisors when I get a bit scattered or overwhelmed.
So I suppose my habits are writing my goals and missions down and checking back on those notes regularly. As well as talking about my goals and making them known to the people I trust to keep me accountable.
@connectwithmeg ・・・ Be brave and just breathe! I remind myself of this often. Regardless of where I am, right-side-up or upside-down sometimes you just have to slow down and BREATHE! Thank you again @americanalpine for making this dream and these lessons possible and @photognosis for the incredible photo! #connectwithsmithrock
Q: Seeing as you worked for bodybuilding.com do you have any tips for keeping physically and mentally fit in order to perform optimally on the rock?
Oh man I could write leagues about this, but I’ll try to keep it short.
My first tip would probably be this:
Know what your goal is, and make it specific. If your goal is to climb harder, that’s not really specific or measurable. However if your goal is to sport lead a grade harder at Smith Rock in 6 months. That is a far more measureable specific goal.
Second tip would be:
Know what your strengths and weakness are both mentally and physically. Personally I struggle with numbers. I don’t like stepping on a scale or counting my calories because then I fixate on the numbers and get obsessive about them. It’s not healthy and I know that about myself. So I guestimate, make loose calculations, step on the scale a few times a year at best, and mostly base my success on how I feel and how I’m climbing.
This method obviously won’t work for everyone, but I’ve found it’s the healthiest way for me to train and get the best results. Also on the physical/climbing side specifically, I suck at slopers and just got a hangboard to work on building that sort of strength.
Final tip would be:
To listen to the healthy little voice in the back of your head. Not the voice that has pop music on replay or the voice that says ‘one more snooze.’ But the voice that says ‘you really should take your vitamins’, or ‘don’t forget to eat breakfast’, or ‘warm up your fingers before you try that crimpy route.’
We all have that voice that gives us direction or reminds us of things we know we should be doing, easy little things that would drastically benefit our lives. Yet still we come up with excuses, and convince ourselves we are too busy, we will do it later, or it doesn’t really matter. But the healthy little voice is usually right. Vitamins, breakfast and warming up are all pretty important.
Q: Do you have any tips for someone who wants to build a lifestyle around something they love, specifically by blending their passion for adventure with work?
That’s a good question! If I had to put my tips in two words I would say, time and honesty are at the top of my list. In my case it has taken a fair bit of time to discover what my true path to digital dirtbagerry is, and it’s going to take a good chunk of time to make it my only job.
As for honesty, I have found it’s unbelievably important to have an honest-self-reflective practice. What I mean by that is be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses on the business side of adventure. For example:
- Are you a good writer, businessperson, charismatic, tech savvy, artist, photographer, entrepreneur, etc?
- Where do you excel, where do you struggle?
- What ‘work’ things do you really like doing?
- What can’t you stand, and what could you maybe tolerate?
- What kind of living conditions are you after?
- What can you tolerate, and what’s your bottom line?
- What do you really want out of this lifestyle, and what’s your time line?
I have solo coffee dates to check in with myself, answer questions like these and see if what I’m doing with my time and energy is making me happy and inline with my larger life goals. Because I think it’s easy to get carried away with the romantic idea of being a digital dirtbag, and living on the road, but there are still challenges involved with that lifestyle.
It’s not a vacation. It’s a way of living that is against the normal accepted grains of society so it’s inherently going to be hard sometimes. Obviously I think it’s worth it, but it’s an important discussion to have with myself.
And in my experience when you get to that point where you find yourself smiling, overjoyed and ecstatic to talk about your work, and you can’t possibly imagine doing anything else with your life, you’re probably headed the right direction.
#tbt to Meg’s first attempt on Latin Lover, a classic 5.12a test-piece!
Q: And finally, what are your 3 favourite climbing destinations and one sentence why.
Toughest question ever! In the US I would say, Smith Rock for the climbing and community, Red Rocks for the epic-ness and variety, and Bishop CA for the bouldering. If I had to choose international favourites, I think I would be paralyzed!
Well there you have it folks! A big thank you to Meg for being such an awesome Digital Dirtbag! Her exuberant passion for nature, art, climbing, people and her take on life in general is truly inspiring. Be sure to Connect with Meg online and off!
Be sure to Connect with Meg online and off
Online, my website ConnectWithMeg is definitely the hub that holds all of the information on my work, current and past projects, and fun adventure happenings.
I also put a lot of time into my social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram and love interacting and connecting with folks.
Offline, I am currently living in Boise Idaho and play somewhere along the west coast almost every weekend. I also teach climbing with my boyfriend at Urban Ascent, one of our local gyms here in town.
As for help reaching my goals, I would be psyched to connect with more like-minded people and communities by having my mission and my work shared.
I would be ecstatic to find more organizations I can work with that need help with creative fund raising, outreach and awareness. And I would of course love any more photo contributions to my current Smith Rock project.
If you think you would be a great fit for the Digital Dirtbag series or know someone who might be interested in sharing their story then feel free to shoot through a message on Instagram @adventureinmyveins.
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