Why I Chose to Scoop Elephant Poop for a Week

elephant in sunrise

The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The summer after graduation, I was looking for an adventure. 

I was actually looking for an adventure with reckless abandon, as I had already spontaneously bought a one-way ticket to Europe for the following January (probably thinking I was adventurous and/or energetic enough to just hang out there indefinitely), and was in the process of applying for what would turn into an internship in Newport Beach, California, that fall.

You could say I was scrambling to find something to do with my life.

So as I was scouring the internet for something I could do after I had only flown one way to Europe, I came across the website of a man who had traveled the world by doing odd jobs. And one of the things he did was live on an elephant preserve in Northern Thailand.

I have always loved animals. When I was in kindergarten, I drew an elaborate picture of myself as a zookeeper feeding hippos because how could any other job on the planet compare to feeding hippos and running around a zoo?*

That dream soon evolved into being a marine biologist, as I loved the ocean and manatees (please don’t read too much into my clear obsession with large, slightly rotund mammals). Sadly, sometime around 9th grade I discovered science was in fact the worst and gave up on this dream. But I didn’t give up on my fascination with animals.

Now, I was a communications major in college (and theatre, but we don’t talk about that for fear of labels). I did not pursue biology or zoology. I was not necessarily skilled at manual labor, nor did I then or now possess any type of affinity for nightmare-inducing Thai spiders. In fact, there was really no practical reason at all for me to go to Thailand and live with elephants, other than it sounded like the best thing ever.

So I bought a ticket.

Six months later, I was flying alone from Northern Ireland to Chiang Mai, Thailand, carrying a backpack that weighed probably close to eighty pounds and desperately in need of a good teeth-brushing.

I ended up spending one week living at this elephant preserve in the middle of the Thailand jungle, spending my nights in a one-room hut, eating toast cooked over a fire for breakfast, and doing what would become one of my most significant memories: interacting with giant, beautiful elephants.

elephants by river

We fed them, bathed them in the river, prepared their meals and yes, cleaned up their enormous poop. We learned about their history and the ways in which the Thai logging and entertainment industries were abusing these creatures. And while I was tired, hot, and travel-weary, I was in love with the entire experience.

Living on an elephant preserve reflected nothing of my college education. It didn’t have anything to do with any internship and it didn’t add any practical application to the job I have now.

In fact, when I returned from Thailand, inspired by my travels and wanting more, I announced a few months later my desire to next visit an orangutan preserve, to which one friend said sarcastically, “That sounds lucrative.”

Career-wise, my trip to Thailand so far has not been lucrative. Soul-wise, I cannot imagine anything more life-giving and enriching than standing in a river staring into the eyes of a creature and experience you have only ever dreamt about, surrounded by the knowledge that you challenged yourself to leave your comfort zone and actually do something you have always wanted to do.

For me, I wanted to do something that didn’t necessarily boost me up the career ladder but instead fed a very deep, personal goal.

In my twenties, it has been harder than I thought to not make my entire life about what I’m doing for work and how I’m doing it and in what ways I’m moving forward towards a salary or promotion. A 40-hour work week can easily become all-consuming, and worse, my only identity.

And though living with elephants has little to do with my current job as a social media coordinator, I have never, ever once regretted spending the money and taking the time to go to Thailand. And if I had to be practical all the time, I probably would not have done a majority of the things I’ve had the chance to do and have found the most enriching for my life.

Find something lucrative for your soul and do that, because that’s where your best stories and richest memories lie, not in frantically worrying how this and that will relate to your career or education.

*I now realize hippos are in fact one of the most deadly animals on the planet and if I had pursued this job I would most likely not be writing this blog post, or at least be attempting to write it with my two mangled, stump arms.


Have you ever taken a trip or done something that on the outside wouldn’t be considered “lucrative?” 

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