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Jeremy Collins, Rock Climber-Turned-Entrepreneur

The Climb of a Lifetime: Career Lessons from a Rock Climber-Turned-Entrepreneur

Jeremy Collins’ career story practically begs for comparisons between his passion for rock climbing and his professional path.

Climbing, after all, is all about striving toward a seemingly insurmountable goal, one hand-grip at a time. Building a company from the ground up is a similarly daunting—but ultimately rewarding—challenge.

Collins is one of the most recognizable names in the niche arena of adventure art. He’s contracted for nearly every adventure magazine out there, specializing in illustrations, short films, design work, and creative direction consulting. His short film, "Drawn," documents his four-year stint of traveling in the four cardinal directions away from his home in Kansas City; the story follows his journey to climb new routes and create art inspired by the great outdoors.

Recently, Collins pivoted from artist to retailer with the debut of his art-meets-apparel company, The Meridian Line. Below, he shares the moments that have defined his life and career—and what any aspiring artist, entrepreneur, or adventurer can learn from them.

Climbing His Own Ladder

Early in his career, Collins experienced the bite of the corporate world—a firm at which he’d been working on a series of political animations lost its funding, and he and his entire team were let go. The sting was enough to inspire him to search for more control over his professional life.

“I decided, as best I could from then on out, I would set my own path and make my own rules,” he says. “[Now], I've designed a series of shoes, written two books, made four films, and launched my own clothing company,” he says. (Somewhere in between all that, he also had kids and traveled the world.)

It hasn’t been easy, but fittingly, Collins is a fan of the term “fun-suffering”—that is, he subscribes to the belief that anything “worth it” is likely also challenging. As an example, he recalls a night he once spent in a remote jungle on a film shoot.

“We had run out of gas in the boat, and the river was shrouded in fog,” he recalls. “We climbed out of the boat to sleep on the tin roof. All night long, we could hear the buzz of jungle activity. The mist of the fog soaked into our clothes and attitudes.”

Though it wasn’t the most restful night, Collins says, it gave him a taste of “feeling very remote in the world; not just geographically, but in life.” Regardless, it was a necessary sacrifice; Collins felt the project, an expose by his friend Celine Cousteau on the plight of the Amazon’s native tribes, was an important story that needed to be told.

Though travel and adventure are his obvious sources of creative inspiration, Collins finds himself chasing more than just adventure around the world—his role as founder of Meridian Line necessitates travel from a strictly business perspective.

“Travel is critical for the company,” he says. “All of our [executives] live in different parts of the country, so we are always on the move. The soul of the company is built on authentic travel. It'd be easy … to sit on my laurels, but as a team we agree it is one of the key ingredients of keeping Meridian Line true to its roots.”

Accepting and Adapting to Risk

Collins, who started climbing at the age of 17, says that the hobby has taught him how to accept risk and adapt accordingly.

“Twenty-three years [after I started climbing], there are much fewer unknowns, and the risk, although there, is more in the potential of complacency than naivety,” he says. “More than anything, climbing has shaped me into someone who embraces that risk. Every relationship, friendship, and business choice has its own particular level.”

Collins views Meridian Line as one of those risks. To found the company, he had to leave behind an established clientele in pursuit of entrepreneurship.

“As an artist, I was just a lone wolf,” he says. “I was pretty much on my own, live or die. I've gone from being a hunter—constantly seeking out my prey, you know, my client work—to now, instead, being a farmer. I cultivate instead of hunt.”

Advice for Future Adventurers

When it comes to setting goals and planning for the future, Collins scoffs a little at the idea of a “bucket list.”

“My best adventures have been fairly spontaneous anyways, so a bucket list almost sounds too scripted and predictable,” he says. “As for goal-setting, I think it's just an equation—take something you want to accomplish, and subtract what you are willing to sacrifice for it, and go from there.”

At the end of the day, Collins says, it comes down to choice: Picking and choosing the goals that will simultaneously make you happy and elevate your work to the next level.

In that spirit, art still plays a huge role in Collins’ work and daily life, even though much of his time is spent in the trenches of entrepreneurship. Some of Collins’ art is for sale on the Meridian Line website, and he frequently seeks out ways to channel his creativity into social impact efforts.

“I think at its best, art asks questions,” he says. “I would hope that my work would promote questions worth answering.”