Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Eight Years And Still Going Strong

It is the beginning of October 2005.  I do not yet know it, but my life is about to change forever.  There is an idea in my head, there is an opportunity to do something completely different in my life.  Perhaps it is a fools opportunity, but it remains an opportunity nonetheless.  In one hand, I have everything that I wanted: great job and career, business travel, nice apartment, sports car, platinum cards, no debts.  I did not come by this easily, I had to work extremely hard to achieve it, to have a little luck on my side, and to strive forward purposefully.  And now, I sit in that same apartment, staring out across the city, crushed under a leaden sky, to the cathedral spire that rises so majestically to the heavens, and I contemplate leaving it all behind, throwing it all away on some whimsical chance of adventure, to go backpacking to South East Asia.  Was I out of my mind?  Eight years later, I know the answer.

Why would anyone in their right mind even contemplate doing such a thing?  The answer to that question is that I believe they would not.  You see, decisions such as this are not made in the head by someone who is thinking rationally and logically.  A decision like this is made in the heart, and as such, it defies logic, since it was made with love.  I turned my back and walked away from a life that offered me financial security and stability, that offered me a pension plan, the chance of early retirement, healthcare, paid vacations, and other benefits.  I held in my hand the kind of life to which we are taught to aspire towards by our parents, our teachers, and our governments, that we are sold on a daily basis by advertisers and the media, the life that society as a whole, has decided is the right kind of life, the successful kind of life.  My problem, if that's what it is was, was that my heart held a very different view of what it deemed to be a success in life. 

I think this is a very important point.  Not everyone shares the same dream and that is a good thing.  Some people are born to be doctors, nurses, teachers, farmers, priests and many other occupations besides.  You know these people because they are the ones who exude passion for what it is they do.  I was not born to sit behind a computer, to stare at spreadsheets, no matter how important the decisions my interpretations of the data might be.  I had no passion for what it was that I did.  I just happened to be good at it and to thrive on the sense of importance and belonging that it gave to me.  These were nothing more than false idols and in my heart, I knew it.  I always had.  I didn't want to sit and discuss business at the restaurant, on the plane, in the airport lounge, on a Sunday evening teleconference.  I wanted to be away, to be free, to shake off the costume and the facade I wore and to be my true self again.  The further my career progressed, the more invested I was, the harder that became.  I saw my colleagues and I regarded them almost in an out of body way, as if I was not really there, I was looking on remotely.  These were, on the outside at least, different creatures to me.  Perhaps I was the wolf in sheep's clothing and they were the genuine article.  Perhaps, now that I think about it, they were exactly the same as I was, they too wore their masks, recited well rehearsed lines, and acted out their own part of the play.  Maybe they saw me in the exact same way that I saw them? I never thought about it in that way before.  But I saw them as company men and company women and I was not one of them.  I was different, I knew that I would break away from it, I felt it within me, had known it for so long, for too long, and I simply waited for the right moment, the right opportunity.  Whilst I waited, I positioned my life in such a way that when the opportunity came, I would have no reason to say no.

In the late summer of 2005, that opportunity arrived.  As the words were voiced to me one evening down at the pub, over a pint of the black stuff, I knew the answer without a moment of hesitation or doubt.  Here was the chance to make a change, to have an adventure, the likes of which I had only dreamed.  A few weeks later, under pressure to make a business trip to Chicago, to attend an important client meeting, I found myself talking with my boss on the telephone and I heard myself resign from my job.  What had I done?  I knew that even though I had resigned and was working out my notice period, I could get back in again.  I knew I was well respected and liked, that all I had to say was that I had made a mistake, and everything would go back to how it was before.  But I never did.  Even after I left, during the period I was selling all of my material possessions in readiness for my adventure, I still felt sure they would take me back, it was still not too late.  I could cancel the ticket, call up my old boss, say sorry, negotiate my way back in.  The thought did occur to me, it was just not as strong a pull as the pull of adventure.  I was finally out, standing on the verge of something new, something terrifying and I was about to find out whether my dream was just a fool's wandering mind and nothing more.

I gave up everything I had known, I took away all the securities of family, home, comfort, income, and known routine and forced myself into a life unknown.  I had a round the world plane ticket that would take me from London to Bangkok, to Sydney, to Auckland and then back to London.  I had a place to stay in Bangkok for my first few nights, with a friend of my sister.  Other than that, I had no plan, no idea where I was going to go, no idea what I was really doing.  In many ways, this is exactly what I wanted.  I didn't want to know.  Not because I was afraid of it but rather because I wanted to live on the edge, to go from place to place and have my first priorities those of food, water and shelter.  I wanted to get back to the basic needs of humanity, to throw off everything else, and to see what exactly there was inside of me when I exposed myself completely to life.  And so I did.

My adventure would unfold in a random, rather haphazard fashion, until at some point in time a few months later, my heart found the very thing for which it had always sought: a paradise island of white sand and palms, a turquoise ocean that lapped at its shores, wooden huts on stilts close to the waters edge.  A picture postcard version of my heaven.  I discovered like minded people, I found myself with fellow wanders and adventurers.  And in this heaven, I discovered the thing that would change my life again, I discovered scuba diving.  But more than this, I found a place where I could be completely and utterly free, where I was able to be my true self, to indulge myself in my fantasies, to get up close to nature and to witness her miracles, a place where I discovered the meaning of life.  That place was under the ocean.

In scuba diving, I found my passion.  I discovered something that no one had ever talked to me of doing before.  Had someone recognised my love of the ocean, of being in the ocean, of playing around down at the beach, then perhaps they might have suggested it to me, but being from England, and despite living at the seaside, scuba was not something I knew, other than on some old Jacques Cousteau documentary.  I had to take a chance on life in order to make this discovery.  If I had not, perhaps I would still be looking for my thing, perhaps I would now be sitting in an office, spreadsheet in front of me, jiggling numbers, and not writing a blog post from my bed in Costa Rica, with the sound of early morning calls from the birds as company.

Now here I am, eight years later and I am still going strong.  Eight years of dreams and adventures.  I returned back to England after Asia and four months later, I was sitting in a lecture theatre on campus at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, for my first ever lecture.  I graduated three years later with a bachelors degree in Information Systems and an A grade average across all eighteen papers that I sat.  On another whim, I travelled to South Africa, where I rekindled my love of scuba diving and there, made the decision to become an instructor.  A decision that brought me across the Atlantic, to the Caribbean and to Central America.  In the process of all that has happened, I made perhaps the biggest discovery of them all: I found my true self, and I came to an understanding of my life, of who I am.  I still do not know what the future holds in store for me, no one can ever truly know that answer, and I do not wish to know, since that is the mystery and adventure of life. 

So, eight years later, was I out of my mind?  The answer to that question is an unequivocal yes.  Completely and utterly.  You see, I had to be out of my mind so that I could accomplish all that was required.  I used to be described as being headstrong and stubborn, but that was never the truth.  The truth of my life is that I am heartstrong and for me, that is what has made all of the difference, that is what has allowed me to go on this voyage of discovery.  Of course I was out of my mind, there can be no doubt of that, because I was in another place entirely.  I was in my heart. And there I shall remain.

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