Most people who know me associate me with my passion for hiking, and some might even think I somehow make a living doing that full time. In reality, I have a full-time office job in Pärnu, and four days per month I travel to Tallinn, where I am studying graphic design — also full time, but via distance learning — at the Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences (EUAS). On top of a few side hustles. My name is Maiu Lünekund, and I am a working student.
On workdays I typically wake up at 7 in the morning. I always make sure to eat something, but on good mornings I also find time to do about 15 minutes of yoga exercises and meditate for another ten.
I live in the countryside outside of Pärnu, in a small village called Lindi, with my rescue dog Luna. She thankfully now has the freedom to run around the yard and do her own thing as she pleases, unlike when we still lived in a flat in Tallinn. It takes me about half an hour to drive to work from Lindi, but I listen to podcasts on the way. I arrive at the Pärnu office of Puurkaevumeistrid at around 9 in the morning.
The company I work for deals with the planning and drilling of borewells as well as water, sewage and heat pump systems, among other things. What I do there is not easy to sum up, even in terms of job titles — I am at once a project manager, data entry specialist, designer, and developer. I work with documents and processes alike.
My assignments at work vary by day. For example, I have had to deliver materials or other critical items to workers at a site 150km away after they forgot or unexpectedly ran out of something — since the company works on jobs all over the country, situations like this still comes up from time to time. Mostly, however, I do my work on a computer.
I draw up preliminary designs for water and sewage systems, and communicate with local governments in order to obtain the building permits and authorisations for use for these system. In other words, I spend a lot of time on the computer drawing up documents and entering data into the state register of construction works. I also work on development projects. For example, a new chart is currently being worked out for the processing of client data.
Work to live
I had helped the company out here and there for years already, as one of its owners is my brother. But their business has grown quickly, and the growth in customer and work volumes meant they needed more help. I want to save up as much money as possible to pay for my next bigger hiking adventure, so going to work for them full time was a win-win! I've been working there full time since September.
There have been a few cases where I have come across an incompetent local government employee and I have had to be the one to explain to them what to do with the documentation I've submitted to them, but thankfully this type of situation hasn't come up very often.
Overall I really enjoy my job with the company, because it's a small team and everyone trusts one another, and cooperation between us is smooth. Their trust in me also provides me with greater flexibility in terms of my work schedule, and this freedom is incredibly important to me, especially because I am also studying full time in a distance learning programme.
While I actually have a degree in social work, and prior work experience in another field, I decided fairly late this summer that I wanted to go back to school to study graphic design. In Estonia I had a choice between the Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA) and the Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences (EUAS), a private university, but I opted for the latter, in part because they were still accepting applications for this autumn. I am pretty pleased with the programme so far — there is a lot of discussion and theory followed immediately by actually diving in and trying out what we had just discussed.
I am studying in a distance learning programme, which means that four days per month I am on site in Tallinn to attend classes. On some of these days, classes go on through very late in the evening. But it seems like the school has a good understanding of the specific needs of distance learners, and they take those into account when planning the schedule.
Distance learning, of course, also means a lot of independent work. But when I'm in Tallinn, I spend my free time between classes at a café either doing work for my office job, editing videos for my hiking Youtube channel, or working on drawings for school assignments.
On regular days, my workday usually ends somewhere between 5 and 6 o'clock in the evening. I drive home, again listening to podcasts during the 30-minute drive, and once I arrive home, I can start working on my personal stuff.
My "personal stuff" ranges from my side hustles to stuff I do for fun, and a lot of these things are actually intertwined. I earn some money as a content creator making videos for my hiking-themed Youtube channel, in connection with which I also run a little online shop on Etsy where I sell my art, which includes sketches and watercolours from my hikes, as well as wool mittens and socks knitted by my grandmother. To a lesser extent I am also an outdoor instructor who organises hikes for others as well.
On a typical evening during the week, that means my night may consist of packing up online shop orders, editing a video, or drawing or painting, the latter of which I also enjoy as a hobby as well, on top of required school assignments. I started producing videos in the spring of 2016 already, but didn't start earning money with them until a year and a half ago, when my viewership increased and I launched my online shop.
What I love about content creation is the creative process — how an idea ends up being shaped into a video. I have always been a creative person, but for a long time I was trapped in this idea that you could only "create" with paper and pencil. Making videos is actually a very creative process, though, and I really enjoy expressing myself through this medium.
One aspect I admittedly don't like is the stress and pressure involved to constantly create something and keep myself "in the picture," because my viewers may otherwise end up forgetting me and moving on to watch other channels instead. Sometimes you just aren't in the mood, but you kind of have to force yourself to do something, anything, and keep yourself in the picture. That being said, I have still remained very flexible with my posting schedule and have never promised new weekly videos or anything like that, and thankfully my viewers have been very supportive of me thus far. Besides, I believe in quality over quantity.
Making my videos means hiking — either in various parts of Estonia or abroad — and my last major hike abroad was in Nepal, where I did the Annapurna Circuit. This trek was full of different interesting adventures and incidents, as cultural differences and not speaking the local language landed me in an interesting situation more than once. You could call this a hobby, which would be fair, but in reality, hiking, content creation and my online brand as a hiker are so closely intertwined that I consider them work in their own right. I'm very lucky, of course, that I can consider hiking work!
I was raised in Audru, not far from where I currently live. Audru used to be part of Audru Municipality, but the old municipality is now administratively part of the City of Pärnu. My family lived in a flat, but the area was actually more rural — a tiny hamlet of sorts. I always thought this was ideal — I could call myself a rural kid, but the area was still densely populated enough that all my friends lived close by and we could get together, think up interesting games to play, explore new patches of nearby forests and get into a little trouble.
I attended school in Audru through the end of grade 9, after which I went to Pärnu Sütevaka High School of Humanities. One pivotal moment in my life took place early on in grade school, however, that had a lasting impact.
During recess once, a classmate of mine told me I was fat. Well, I was a bit, well, chubby. But it still hurt. His words were mean, and he said them with the intention of hurting me. But then my friend, who was otherwise pretty quiet, bravely and loudly stood up to him. She stood up for me when I didn't have the courage to do so myself. And I was incredibly moved by this. And I believe that this moment inspired me to stand up for myself and others around me more — because of how it feels for the person who is insulted, hurt, who has been trampled on. For you it may just be saying something back, but for that person it's like a great sun in their heart, emanating warmth and strength. This may be waxing poetic already, but I will never forget that moment. And I always try to stand up for others when I see that they are being hurt, either physically or especially mentally.
On that note, I believe I've become more self-confident over the years. I increasingly believe that no matter what I decide to do, I'll be able to handle it. I used to still worry about that — about what would become of me. Quitting my previous regular day job to get involved in hiking and those related side ventures was a leap of faith. And actually I never had a specific job that I knew I wanted to grow up to do, and still don't. But with age, I also have more faith in my own ideas — that they are worthy of executing, even if others don't understand or believe in them. Your gut instinct isn't wrong. Learn to listen to it, and everything will start flowing and falling into place.
As a recent example of this, I recently won a spot — and in fact the top spot — on next year's Fjällräven Polar, a 300km dogsledding trek through the Scandianvian Arctic. Not long before the 30-day application period opened in mid-November, I decided to give it a shot and apply. Nothing to lose, right? But the response was overwhelming. I had friends contacting their friends who worked in the media, asking them to cover my story. I had people writing to me with tips on how to write press releases. Press releases?! I had no idea I would need them!
While winning was definitely an exciting moment for me, what was actually the most heartwarming was precisely how supportive everyone around me was — how involved they got and helpful they were without me even asking. It's a fantastic feeling, knowing that if you need help, your friends, acquaintances and even total strangers will not hesitate to rally around you.
Little things bring me a lot of joy too, though. For example, I'm always very happy when I see that my rescue dog Luna has made progress with something, like not barking so much at strangers when they come to visit, or not being as scared of big dogs that we encounter on our walks. No one knows for certain what her past involved, and working through her fears has been a constant, ongoing but slow process, and even the littlest achievements always make me so happy.
Less smart-, more human
In today's smart-online-social media-dominated world, I think contact like that is more important than ever. I actually miss the pre-smartphone world. Smartphones and similar technology no doubt no doubt make our lives simpler and more convenient, but the current degree of simplicity and convenience is actually kind of scary already. It's easier to stay at home and watch online videos than actually go out — whether tenting in nature or just to get together with friends. And even if you do go out, then instead of actually experiencing anything, people "experience" things either by taking pictures or by constantly browsing social media.
I know I'm guilty of that as well — I don't want to imply that I'm some sort of saint in this regard. And I can see in my own life how this device has become dangerous in terms of competing with really experiencing real life and enjoying real human relationships. The latter is actually one reason I'd like to move back to some town or city again. It's nice living out in the countryside, but you do less socialising living there; it's just so much easier to do when you live in a town or city. But I'll get around to that at some point. Prior to moving to Lindi, I lived in Tallinn for three and a half years, the last year of which was together with Luna.
Right now I'm still out in the country because it's cheaper, and saving up money for my planned upcoming hikes is a bigger priority at the moment. Fjällräven Polar is coming up in April, and that will be about a week long. Sometime next spring or summer I want to go on another longer hike as well, but I don't know where yet. As you can see, all of my longer-term plans are hiking-related, because that is something very dear to me; everything else in my life I plan accordingly.
Hiking even becomes my way to relax and recharge, at least on weekends. Spending my evenings after work dealing with my side hustles means that on worknights, at least, I kind of tend to forget to really unwind. Thankfully, even just a two-day hike at the weekend means two full days of quality relaxation for me. On a daily basis in between, I try to leave my drawing and painting for the end of the day, so that even if it is work-related, it is also a very calming and relaxing activity.
If younger me and older me were to meet today, I would tell my younger self to dare to be different, because that is what makes you you, and that is why people love you. Younger me, on the other hand, would probably tell me to take more risks, do more stupid things, and not get too serious. I hope quitting my old job, picking up hiking, and applying for school with a completely different major are enough for her.
Day in the Life is a new weekly series by ERR News telling the stories of everyday Estonians, their livelihoods, and their lives. If you know someone whose story you feel should be told, email us at [email protected].
Editor: Dario Cavegn