Still Curious S2E13 - Erich Leidums

Erich Leidums00:00

I had a moment when I was 17 or 18, like go to school, work, retire, and die? Like, That's it?! I didn't want that. And I was set on this path of, oh, like it's probably going to be a lot more fulfilling to work or live a lifestyle that you want to be doing instead of just sacrificing yourself for a job or subjecting yourself to a boss that doesn't treat you well. I didn't want to be unhappy doing what I did. And so all of my jobs were wired with let's make sure

we're enjoying what we do.

Danu Poyner00:29

You're listening to these Still Curious Podcast with me, Danu Poyner. My guest today is Erich Leidums, who is the content creator behind That Mountain Life, where he documents his family's outdoor adventures and parenting journey in a small mountain town in the interior of British Columbia, Canada.

Today's conversation is all about risk, play and reward. It's about celebrating effort as well as outcome, learning through experience and adventure and building confidence and resilience over time to ride out the inevitable bumps along the way. It's about showing up in the world, building a fulfilling and integrated lifestyle that aligns with your values and freeing yourself from the need for external validation.

Erich Leidums01:14

I stopped caring about grades. Grades were dead to me. Just didn't matter because I didn't need or want that external validation from a teacher. And so if I wasn't into an assignment and it didn't feel aligned with me, I didn't want to do it. And that's probably why I'm unschooling my kids now. Right?

Danu Poyner01:29

Eric has been a go getter from the get go, enterprising and with a background in adventure tourism, outdoor education, river guiding and leading youth on wilderness trips, as well as working as a paramedic. Now he's busy making videos for a living. But for Eric, all the hustle is really about creating a lifestyle that's fun, interesting and fulfilling for him and his family.

Erich Leidums01:50

Mountain life is slower. It's got movement built in as a value we're surrounded by mountains. So not only do you have this awe and this awesomeness that's the nature around us.

You can also play and interact on the mountains and with the mountains. It snows 20 centimeters and the shops are closed because the shop owners and staff want to go ski the powder. It's this idea of working to live and not living to work. A lot of people are here for the lifestyle, not just to make a ton of money and maybe have a big career.

Danu Poyner02:21

Erich's work and lifestyle is all about combining parenting and adventure. The content he creates through that mountain life explores themes of conscious parenting, unschooling and pushing and stretching our comfort zones in supportive ways.

Erich Leidums02:35

one of the most rewarding things I feel like as a mentor and a coach is to be present at the birth of another human, being in their flow state or their edge, like at their edge. So the nudge is when a human is at their edge and maybe they have a story in their head, and they're saying I'm not sure I can do this or I'm scared. I find the nudge is to be that supportive voice.

Danu Poyner02:57

As usual, this is a conversation that goes on all sorts of tangents while being packed full of surprising substance throughout. We talk about being an unplanned dad. The business mechanics of being a full-time content creator. Why playing poker is a form of meditation. And the one book Erich read in high school that forever changed his life.

Enjoy it's Erich Leidums coming up after the music on today's episode of the Still Curious podcast.

Main Content

Hi, Erich, welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Erich Leidums03:52

I am great. Thanks for having me here.

Danu Poyner03:55

So you're the content creator behind That Mountain Life, where you document your family's outdoor adventures and parenting journey in a small mountain town in the interior of British Columbia, Canada, your videos on YouTube and Instagram cover outdoor adventure, family, conscious parenting, homeschooling, risky play, and small town, mountain lifestyle among other things.

And, after about three and a half years, you're now a full-time content creator and social media influencer navigating the world of digital marketing with over 850,000 followers across all platforms. What would you say is the most important thing for someone to understand about you and what you do?

Erich Leidums04:33

Where I am today and creating content full time is awesome. It's creative. That's something I'm really grateful for and it comes with a lot of work, a lot of struggles, a lot of uncertainty. I feel like it's easy to be scrolling on social media and say, I want to do that or be like that.

It's a great position at the end and, it you know, the there's pros and cons to it. I've never worked harder to pay the bills this way, even though I have a significant following, it doesn't just land on my lap.

Danu Poyner05:02

No, there's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, I think. Maybe let's talk about that mountain life, the channel. How would you describe what goes on there and who it's for?

Erich Leidums05:10

Yeah, I just started documenting our outdoor adventures. It started in the winter, following my kids with the camera, skiing down ski runs, and I wanted to learn how to make videos. And so I taught myself just with YouTube tutorials, how to start vlogging.

The videos are for anybody that enjoys the outdoors, anybody that's a parent, used to be a parent of young kids, or maybe might become a parent.

I feel like I have people watching me from teenagers to grandparents. So, the content is wholesome. Family centered. A lot of outdoor activities is the main theme, and there's adventure and challenges that we overcome, and then also just a lot of fun. It's a lot of action-packed joy. I feel like, at the end of the day, what I'm doing is sharing my joy and love that I have of the mountains with my kids. And then I just share that with the rest of the world as well.

Danu Poyner06:03

I've seen your videos. Wholesome is definitely the word for it. I've seen some of the ones where you miked up your daughter going down the slopes and so articulate and confident and fun. It's really interesting just to see that vibe. What's the response been like?

Erich Leidums06:18

The miked up videos of Adia, she's our youngest and she's now four. Those videos were when she was a big two. So she was like two and three quarters that winter, before she turned three and the internet loved her voice and just her articulation and really helped connect with viewers in terms of just, like there was this cute young girl who is very competent at skiing and, when she's comfortable and in her flow state, she babbles and talks and self monologues in a very adorable way. And that was the hook that grew my following, or that was the sort of the viral videos. And, february 1st of 2020 or 21, but I had 3000 Instagram followers and by the end of March, two months later, we had 120 K. So it just blew up over two months of these videos getting spread.

Danu Poyner07:10

Yeah. Wow! You've got a business diploma in adventure tourism, and you've done ski patrol, river guiding and leading youth on wilderness trips. I understand it's that latter that really lights you up. Can you share what gets you excited about witnessing young people gain an appreciation for wild places?

Erich Leidums07:29

Working as an outdoor educator is by far one of the most enjoyable occupations I had as a young adult. I think it's because I was able to play myself while I was still working. There's something about stripping down life to more of the basics. There's a lot less excess when you're out on a multi-day canoe trip or backpacking trip, trecking, whitewater rafting, flatwater canoeing. If you can pack up what you need for 10 days or 20 days into a 30 liter dry bag or a small backpack, and that's all you need.

And then you go out as a community, as a group, you are this mobile community. You're forced to face more of the basics of life. I feel like that provides perspective for young people and it instills confidence and builds resilience and people get to learn a lot about themselves when they're in those environments where you move away from some of those creature comforts that our society gives us all the time. So I feel like there's real value there, and it's not a suffer fest by any means, but I feel like it's a real opportunity for youth to just grow and learn a lot more about themselves.

Danu Poyner08:33

Great answer. I can feel the enthusiasm for this radiating off you and as someone who enjoys their creature comforts a little too much, perhaps, it's almost inspiring me to get out there. I'm not sure if it's going to quite tip me over the edge, cause I'm pretty set in my ways, but outdoor curious.

Let's put it that way.

You mentioned this phrase just then as an outdoor educator. One of the things I always do on the podcast is ask people to explain a term of art as if to a 10 year old. I'm wondering if you can explain what outdoor education is to a 10 year old.

Erich Leidums09:03

I think I would say, outdoor education is about going outside into nature to experience that nature and yourself in it. You can learn about the plants and the trees and have experiences with wild animals and that in itself is almost a holistic experience and very memorable at times.

And there's something very serene and peaceful about being in that environment. And then you can also learn again about yourself in that more interpersonal, soft skill way, solving problems. You know, the outdoor environment is nowhere near short of opportunities and things to cause a problem or you know, an obstacle in your way, whether it's inclement weather or just a tree you want to climb or a rapid you want to navigate down a river and you want to do it safely.

And I just realized I lost the ten-year-old. I started off with a ten-year-old definition, but, uh, kept going.

Danu Poyner10:00

Thank you for that. I'd be really interested if you've got any examples you can share from those trips about some of those problems and challenges that arise that are unplanned, I guess.

Erich Leidums10:10

Yeah, like a really good, simple example would be if somebody goes to bed in a tent, let's say you have a couple of 13 year olds on a canoe trip. And, as an instructor and as the leader, you explained to them the importance of taking care of their stuff. That's a value that's really important.

And maybe they go to bed one night in a tent and they leave their rain jacket on the rocks and the wind picks up at night and all of a sudden they're no longer with a rain jacket because it got picked up and blown down the river and so what do we do for the next six days where, maybe the weather is going to be friendly and they get away with it.

Maybe it gets cool and rainy, and now you have participants offering to share their rain jacket, to help out with this person. And I guarantee you that very experiential lesson with a real consequential outcome of choosing to do it their way or whatnot, it's just an experience where they get to learn.

I think that's a good concrete example of what experiential education is. You can maybe say it and state it as an educator or a teacher or instructor, but until you live it and experience the consequences and you want to obviously mitigate and not have consequences be too dire and drastic.

And I feel like that's one of the key roles as an outdoor educator is to, make sure you're objectively assessing the risks and that the group is still within a reasonable tolerance of staying safe. Right.

Danu Poyner11:32

A really good explanation. Thank you. I had another guest on here talk about experiential learning as having an undeniable experience, which I think is a nice way of capturing that kind of consequential thing you're talking about. On the education front, are you doing anything to reflect on what they take out of those experiences? Do you have a debrief or is there an activity about what they learned or how does that work?

Erich Leidums11:57

Yeah. Communication is an essential soft-skill interpersonal skill to develop when you're out as a team or a group navigating the wilderness or an outdoor setting. And so, we're constantly debriefing and even front-loading parts of a day or an activity. And then stepping back and not intervening when it's optimal and then stepping in when it's necessary and of course, reflecting and debriefing anything that needs to happen.

Danu Poyner12:24

I'm interested in the way that your videos can combine education and parenting and adventure. And I'd love to talk a bit about your philosophy of parenting and education, I guess I hear you say a fair bit. Don't bubble wrap your kids. What does that phrase mean to you?

Erich Leidums12:41

Well, yeah, that's an adage that I think I even heard that phrase as a kid a little bit here and there. I never really gave much thought to it. You know, the term helicopter parenting is a relatively new term. I think in the early two thousands, there's some academia and stuff, talking about studying social sciences of different parenting techniques and talking about risk and being risk adverse.

You know, the road to hell can be paved with the best of intentions is a quote. And it's very instinctual on one level to want to protect our kids from the world's ills and harms and not just physically, but also emotionally and psychologically. I quickly could see how, I don't know what it is. It's just a cultural kind of awareness I had, that if you avoid risk all the time and try to stay out of harm's way, then you're not embracing the full human experience of what it means to be alive, which has risks built into it and even harm and pain and loss and suffering. All that is part of

our human psyches.

I'm a dad, I'm wired to keep my kids safe and provide for them physically, emotionally, psychologically. I want to provide like nothing else. But in that I realized that I think the best way to provide is to not overbearingly protect them too much because they need to build resilience and skills to be able to become atonomous young adults who are going to be able to be confident, navigating the pain and suffering and sadness that comes with life when things don't go as planned.

Danu Poyner14:13

Is it significant that there was such a big response to your videos at the time around the start of the pandemic? Given what you're saying about risk being built into life? Or is that an overreach?

Erich Leidums14:26

Yeah, I think that's just coincidence in terms of that. I feel like this is deeply ingrained in a lot of Western culture. I mean, If you're in poverty and in war torn countries and in rural environments. And I think in much of the world, the west is almost an exception in the level of comfort and excess that they have.

And I feel like helicopter parenting is more prevalent in America and Canada and maybe some of the other commonwealth type nations, even in europe. In Germany though, there's subtle cultural, nuanced differences where that's not as prevalent. My wife read a book about a mom who moved from the U S to Germany, and she was just baffled at how many kids were walking to school and taking public transit blocks and blocks away from home at a very young age.

So there's this cultural, deeply ingrained thing that's happening on a generational level in the west. when people watch the videos, they're like, oh, there's this dad doing it this way. That's not overprotecting his kids. And that kind of resonates and lands.

Danu Poyner15:24

I heard you say, kids thrive when empowered to take risks, navigate challenges, and learn what they're capable of. You're about celebrating effort, not just the outcome and your approach is to give kids as much opportunity as possible to make their own choices, even when it's not exactly what you would choose to do. I'm curious how you came to that philosophy. Was it part of your experience growing up?

Erich Leidums15:46

I was a nineties kid in a small town in Canada. I'm in a mid-sized town. And I, I was able to roam around and play freely in my neighborhood, on a bike with my friends in the neighbourhood.

Impromptu hockey games, exploring the forest, you know, went to summer camps and there was lots of free time and play. And played hard and really enjoyed a lot of unstructured play. At the same time, I was also highly scheduled, went to school and I got a lot of praise and attention and love from my parents or adults when I did well in school or sports or extracurricular.

That achievement external validation. And so as an adult, I've done some work to be aware of those patterns and trends of putting too much emphasis on the outcome and the achievement. And then I also really related to my upbringing of having space to roam around and be free.

I'm very reflective. And I like to think about things and ask questions as you do. And I'm curious. And so one way I describe how I parent is I'm reflective. I like to reflect on our parenting strategies and techniques. And so when our young kids, every six months they grow and change and then we're just always reflecting on how can we meet their needs the best, and maybe what we did last year isn't the best for them this year, because they're older and we need to adapt. And I'm just constantly reflecting on what we could do to meet our kids' needs.

Danu Poyner17:08

Was there ever a time that you played really hard and had to meet some of the consequences of your actions that you learned from, like on a trip?

Erich Leidums17:17

I had lots of big crashes on the bike. I remember one time, I was probably 12, racing around the block and we slipped out on some gravel on the pavement and I was just covered in road rash and abbrasions and cuts from head to toe. There we were 11, 12 years old in the neighborhood and I'm a block away from home. And I remember my mom sticking me in a bath full of hydrogen peroxide and it's just stinged and burned. And I mean, I have, I think, lots of minor to moderate injuries as a kid, right. When you're kind of going hard as a boy playing, but fortunately nothing significant.

Danu Poyner17:49

I like this idea you have of nudging, pushing and stretching someone's comfort zone in a supportive way. What can you tell me about that idea of nudging?

Erich Leidums17:59

I'm really starting to love this concept. I think as a parent, I often see myself as a coach or a mentor, uh, especially when there's an activity involved or a task, and maybe they are learning at their own pace.

It's one of the most rewarding things I feel like as a mentor and a coach is to be present at the birth of another human, being in their flow state or their edge, like at their edge. So the nudge is when a human is at their edge and maybe they have a story in

their head, and they're saying I'm not sure

I can do this or I'm scared. I find the nudge is to be that supportive voice. Our son, August the oldest, he's actually quite reserved. And on the timid side, when it comes to outdoor adventure sports, he doesn't have a high competitive drive.

He doesn't have that killer instinct to want to be the best and send himself off lifts or jumps. I'm totally okay with that because it's just one less thing I have to worry about. I know he's going to make a conservative decision. And when I was teaching him how to ski, I was attuned to the days where he wasn't open to being pushed and we would just cruise and have fun.

So if we go skiing 10 days in two weeks, which wasn't uncommon or in maybe a 20 day period, we go skiing 10 times eight of them we do what he is comfortable and what he knows, and we're singing and dancing and playing and having fun. And we're just enjoying it and there's no push or nudge, but then on day nine, maybe the conditions are good.

And he's just got a lot of practice over those previous eight days. And so day nine is the day where he's ready to get nudged to the next thing. And he's not even so sure that he might be able to do it, but it's coming from him, he's showing interest. And then I can nudge and say, yeah, but I think you can do this.

That's what the nudge is all about to me.

Danu Poyner19:43

Yeah, that's really powerful. A lot of the stories that people tell me on this podcast about moments that have really opened them up and sent them down new pathways have been about those nudge moments, where they had someone in a supportive and nurturing relationship who really saw them and then just gave them a push at the right moment.

That stuff really changes lives.

Erich Leidums20:05

In the parenting realm, there's the old school, or maybe the more abrasive, less empathetic way of like, you know, your eight year old child doesn't know how to swim or your 10 year old and you throw them off the dock and you say, figure it out. And then the over-protective way might be you have a 15 year old,

and there's nothing wrong with never having learned how to swim in a vacuum, but, if you're going to always just stay comfortable, as a parent, you're just going to comfort them in that and that's all you do, then they're never going to dip their toe in the water because you've never nudged them to. And so the nudge is the balance between those two strategies. I don't want to throw my kids off the dock and force them to be uncomfortable and scared.

Danu Poyner20:45

I liked the way you framed that as holding it in balance between two extremes, but there's a lot that goes into reading that balance. I think. How do you tell when someone's ready for it?


Yeah, I think

Erich Leidums20:55

it's attunement


to their energy and being