Not Outdoorsy, But Love Being Outside? REI’s Ben Steele Helps Us Find Our Outdoor Zen - Jen Hatmaker

Not Outdoorsy, But Love Being Outside? REI’s Ben Steele Helps Us Find Our Outdoor Zen

Episode 02

We’re back with another episode in our For the Love of Favorite Pastimes series, and this week, we’re talking about the great outdoors. And in case you think this topic is just for those of you who find their greatest joy loading up piles of gear to go hiking for 20 miles every weekend, or for all the rabid runners, cyclists, swimmers, campers, and the rest of you that make the other half of us real, real tired––there’s something for all of us who may like being outside, even those who aren’t necessarily the outdoorsy type. Maybe your jam is barbecuing outside with friends, or sitting on your porch swing à la Jen Hatmaker. At the end of the day ,we can all agree (and science proves) that spending time in nature makes a person happier. And that’s the message this week’s guest is taking to the masses. Ben Steele is the Chief Customer Officer at REI – the nation’s largest consumer co-op for the outdoor community.  Ben didn’t grow up with an innate love for nature, even though it was a part of his family’s life in Idaho. It wasn’t until he found his own outdoor personality as an adult that he truly appreciated the benefits of spending time outside (and surprise– it doesn’t have to involve driving miles away from home or having oodles of gear).

Episode Transcript

Hey everybody, Jen Hatmaker here. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast. I am your delighted host. And right now we’re in a really fun series that I am loving. And it’s called For The Love Of Favorite Pastimes. We were excited to interview people who had a side thing, like a hobby, a passion, a craft, some artistic endeavor or innovation. And they loved it and they worked at it and they enjoyed it so very much that they found a way to make the side thing, the main thing. And we’re all over the place. We’re in all genres, but it’s been so interesting and so fascinating. And I’ve really loved the guests and felt inspired by them. And so today is a really, really fun interview. 

Because today we’re talking about the outdoors. Now to be fair, I love the outdoors. And I really always have for tons of reasons. I was a part of the last generation before electronics were a thing, right? We had one TV and had four stations, right? Even video games we’re not at all the immersive world that they are now. I didn’t get a VCR until I was in high school. So we actually just didn’t have a lot of reasons to stay inside. Do you know what I mean? Plus back then our parents only slightly cared. If we became milk carton children, they just turned us out. They’re like, you get out and you don’t come back until that sun starts to set, especially in the summertime. I mean, which I get.

But sometime after all that, I got married. I had a bunch of babies. We moved to Texas where you can, to be fair, pretty much be outdoors almost all year long. But about eight of those months, it’s like stepping outside on the surface of the sun. But also I’m a porch girl, you know this about me. I’m out there all the time. I just hear the birds. I love my backyard. I love a backyard party with all my people on a nice night, the string lights, the music, the laughter, the food, the big cozy porch furniture.

I mean, it’s just one of the greatest things ever. I grew up on the slopes of Colorado. We grew up skiing. I grew up on the softball fields. When the kids were little, we went camping every single year with our best friends. And so I just have a love for being outdoors. And my relationship with moving my body outdoors is mixed. Because I did just mention things I like to do outside included, sitting and barbecuing, but I also love outdoor activities. In fact, my friend, Kevin Nealon who you remember, of course from tons of things, but notably SNL. He shoved the camera in my face once on a hike. You can go watch that over on YouTube. And so I’m maybe redefining right now what my relationship is with moving my body outside just in this stage of life that I’m in.

I’m figuring out what she likes and what she doesn’t and how to push her to new heights while also respecting her boundaries and not putting wild expectations on her, but rather reconsidering outdoor stuff as not a task, not just a thing to check off, not just some exercise grind that I don’t enjoy, but rather nurturing, nourishing, and enjoyable, right? I think that’s my work right now. I don’t know if you feel that way too. And I know that our relationships with the outdoors can be weird or wonderful depending on your background, depending on your experiences in the past. But I’ll say this, if anything good has happened over the past couple of years, it’s remembering how good it can feel and does feel to be outside and to move your body outside. A lot of us during COVID, we were just turned out into the yard and into the trails because so many of our indoor spaces were compromised for so long.

And so by hook or by crook, a lot of us rediscovered the joy of the outdoors, that wasn’t just our only option. It’s a good option. In fact, it’s scientifically proven that if you just spend 20 minutes outside in any capacity, your stress hormones drop dramatically because nature has a beautiful healing power. And I respect that. So this guest is fun today. He doesn’t have 100 degree summers where he lives near Seattle, lucky him. I only resent him a little bit, but I so enjoyed talking to him. I’m over the moon today to have Ben Steele on the show. So let me tell you about Ben. Not only is he super cool, but he has one of the coolest jobs on the planet. Ben is the chief customer officer at REI. You know it, literally the biggest outdoor co-op in America.

So he basically gets to think about nature and the outdoors and why it’s awesome to experience and how to help other people have the same experience. So I want you to know this before we get into it. This is a low-key conversation about being outside. This is not just for my listeners who have all the puffy vests and trekking poles and want to hike Mount Kilimanjaro, okay? This is not that conversation. This is just two people talking about the power of nature to inspire us and to heal us and to host our communities and make us feel a little more hopeful about the world and our place in it. So really this conversation is for everyone. I found it so inviting and so invigorating.

And he’s really funny. So you’re going to enjoy him so much, because listen, you can like nature and not want to spend your entire life in it, right? But moving your body in any way outdoors can be one of the most wonderful, calming, but weirdly exhilarating experiences you can have all for $0. So with that, you guys please enjoy my conversation with the absolutely delightful REI’s own, Ben Steele. 




Books and Resources Mentioned in this Episode:


REI Co-Op 

REI Gear Trade-In

Washington Trail Association’s  Trailblazer App

Picture This Plant Identifier App

The Slate Podcasts

The Flophouse Podcast

Dead Eyes Podcast with Connor Ratliff

Hiking with Kevin — Jen Hatmaker




Stay Connected with Jen Hatmaker: 


Thanks for listening to the For the Love Podcast!

XO – Team Jen


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