It was Friday 21st October and my alarm was ringing like any other morning. Except it wasn’t any other morning, I was on the Isle of Skye and I was about to interview to be one of Columbia’s next Directors of Toughness. I looked outside and caught a glimpse of the Cuillin, hiding in the darkness which still lingered late on that cold autumn morning. When your first view in the morning is the rugged mountains of the Cuillin, you know it’s going to be a special day.
Columbia were looking for two outdoor enthusiasts “who can test gear in the most unforgiving conditions on Planet Earth and then tell the world about it.” All they asked of the applicants was that they would be “testers, world travellers, glacier climbers, brand ambassadors, social media gurus, nature photographers and spelunkers all in one.” Four thousand aspiring challengers applied for the role, with interviews in four locations across the world. With such a huge number of applicants, being handpicked as one of the final 13 to interview on the Isle of Skye was already an extreme honour for me.
Once I arrived in Staffin, at the north of the island, myself and the twelve other potential Directors of Toughness spent some time getting to know each other along with the Columbia team, who were still being as coy as ever about the day. I was last in line to interview so waited behind until I was called upon, gazing out towards the bewildering landscape of the Trotternish Ridge and the Quiraing, excited about this new experience I was about to undertake.
When the time came, I was driven up the winding roads towards the Quiraing as the sun started to spread its golden hues across the unique landscape. It was only a four mile journey but it felt like the longest of my life. The waiting already demanded a high level of mental toughness, so I was keen to start and show what I was made of.
Alone at the base of the Quiraing, staring up in awe at the most beautiful landslide on earth, so many thoughts raced through my mind; thoughts of interview questions, thoughts of physical trials, but mainly thoughts of excitement and yearning for the challenge I was about to tackle. When my time came, I was pointed in the direction of a small hilltop which I eagerly bounded over to come face to face with a film crew. Three interviewers questioned me about my outdoor experience, qualities I look for in hiking partners and how I met the requirements of the job.
Without time to think, a GoPro was then thrust into my hands and I was told to follow a route around the tall spires of The Prison while documenting it on video. While I wasn’t used to speaking on camera, I still felt confident, as very recently I walked through the Quiraing as part of my traverse of the Trotternish Ridge while completing the Skye Trail.
The next few hours were spent navigating through trails and clambering over rocks to take part in more interviews. Some were serious in nature, which I felt more comfortable with and others were more humorous, for entertainment value and to test my wits. The longer the day went on though, and the more I was being filmed, the easier and more natural everything felt.
As comfortable as I was becoming with filming in such a beautiful location, the final interview was still one I will never forget. Perched on the edge of a cliff, I sat at a desk face to face with my interviewer, who would constantly try to outwit me and question my responses. Trying not to be distracted by this surreal experience – the countless cameras and drone flying overhead, the crew listening to my every word and the tourists stopping to watch as I sat at a desk being interviewed in one of the greatest landscapes in Scotland – I felt I held my own and showed that I am calm and confident under pressure, exactly what a Director of Toughness needs to be.
While I made the trip to the Isle of Skye fully prepared for a gruelling day of physical exertion, it ended up being quite different. It was my mental toughness that was pushed to new boundaries. However, I’m proud to say that I not only survived but I came out with an even greater thirst to experience what could come next and a monstrous desire to be one of Columbia’s next Directors of Toughness.
All that was left, was for Columbia to decide if they thought I was tough enough.
Much to my amazement, I was contacted again for another interview via telephone and one last test of my storytelling capabilities, to write an article of the tough experience I endured on the Isle of Skye. After being whittled down to this final stage, where only 20 applicants across all four interview locations remained, I found out that this amazing journey of mine would come to an end. I was told that I hadn’t been successful. As much as I was filled with disappointment at missing out on this opportunity of a lifetime, it is an experience I will always remember with great fondness and hopefully be back for again next year, wherever that may be.
Until then, I’ll keep on testing my own toughness in the Highlands of Scotland.