Staff Spotlight: Marian Pierce

Assistant Director
Marian brings a deep love for the natural world, community living, and old fashion fun to her work with the HDC. She’s continually amazed that her work life feels so meaningful, full of adventure/travel, and results in so many deep and lasting relationships.

What is your favorite travel memory?

During our first semester, participants design and execute self-designed challenges in small groups. One group chose to do an all-women’s writing retreat in nature using a series of prompts called The Heroine’s Journey.

The snow came early to Colorado that fall right as we headed off for this adventure.
The off-grid cabin where we stayed was only accessible by foot. We climbed a mountain with heavy packs through the snow to get there, and for the next week we were both writers and homesteaders. We chopped wood, melted snow for water, cleaned the snow off the solar panels, and took turns building fires. During the day we wrote and shared our stories which resulted in a lot of laughter and some tender tears. We went for walks through the deep snow. The experience slowed us down; connected us with our bodies, our stories, and the landscape; and brought us closer together in this intimate, nourishing way.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

At the High Desert Center, we live what we teach. I am constantly asking myself,
Am I feeling inspired by my life?
Do others thrive in my presence?
Are my actions in line with my values, creating a world I want to be part of?
I haven’t always liked my answers. As leaders, our job is to model the compassion, perseverance, and patience it takes to grow. I’ve practiced doing this for myself a lot over the last eight years. I am happier as a result. My relationships are deeper. I laugh more often. I’m not afraid to put in the work when someone shows me a blindspot, which used to be scary and send me into a pit of despair. I feel more confident and powerful in my life.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

One student travelled around SE Asia during his independent study part of our program (Winternship). For six years prior he wanted to travel overseas but didn’t believe in his ability to do so. He was especially worried about finances and his safety. With coaching and support he took the plunge.
When we talked on the phone while he was abroad, his voice was alive with the excitement of going after a long term dream. He tried scuba diving and in the process discovered some ways to cope with his anxiety. He felt empowered and full of possibility afterwards.
I love that he went after the life he dreamed for himself, and in the process came up against things he might have previously shied away from. With the momentum and confidence he built on our program, he overcame challenges. Participants and staff supported him to keep going when he experienced doubt and cheered him on when he had a success. I love getting to witness people step into their lives with more strength and power than they previously knew they had.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

I love our Gap Year Programs. We are in community for NINE months. We become a family. We share our highest highs and lowest lows with one another. That creates a bond that transcends our individual preferences and allows us to experience how interconnected we are.

It also pushes us to be real with one another. Eventually you can’t push through discomfort by politely ignoring or avoiding things. That’s so boring. An uncomfortable conversation can be just as scary and rewarding as climbing a steep, unstable mountain side. On the other side of that conversation, it can feel like suddenly there is so much more possibility. You might know yourself or the other person better, and that can feel like you’re on top of the world.

We also have FUN. I love spending time climbing mountains with groups, traveling in Latin America learning Spanish and the effects of American foreign policy, cooking in the kitchen, meeting new and inspiring people, learning the names of plants and birds, and having all night conversations around the campfire. We laugh a lot together. We hug. It feels so good and exciting.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

I’m usually proud of our team on a regular basis. We are family--we laugh together and we grow together by rising up to meet all the challenges that inevitably arise. We are deeply involved in one another’s lives and care about each other’s well being.

I am especially proud of our team when we get in there and listen to a participant to the point where they feel seen, understood and accepted in a way that perhaps they’ve never experienced before. That’s when big shifts start happening. It’s exciting for all of us to watch our participants step up and take responsibility for their lives, their community, and contribute to the well-being of the world.

I think if you are looking for a program where you have the opportunity to experience profound personal growth, then that’s us. We’re also open to having crazy adventures that come out of conversations with participants so that there’s a sense of co-creating the program.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

We are committed to creating a world that is cooperative, sustainable, and fun--every day, whether we’re getting participants purposely lost so they can master orienteering skills, harvesting produce for our evening meal, speaking with people who live on the US/Mexican border to learn about American water policy, or working on our communication skills, we believe that it’s possible to do meaningful work and learn in a way that’s exciting and inspiring. Running programs in this way means that we work together, staff and participants, to carry this vision forward as a team.