Pulau Mabul, Borneo
February 18, 2017
T-Minus 2 weeks…again. The endgame will happen quickly. It always does. Looking back, the past 8 years have been an unbelievable journey that no one could have foreseen. When we were counting down the last 2 weeks before our October 2008 departure from the USA, we had no idea what to expect – but we had committed to a lifestyle change that we knew was going to lead us on an epic adventure. Selling everything and simply walking away from it all required a leap of faith that was both daunting and terrifying while simultaneously being exhilarating, electrifying and inspiring. But five years, starting in 2003, of ambitious dreaming, endless research, steadfast preparation, and tenacious pursuit of the freedoms and opportunities that lay just ahead brought us to that new horizon. Over the course of the months that followed, we came to regret nothing about that initial decision and reveled in awe at every experience and adventure that decision had led us to.
Choosing to return to Borneo in June of 2009 after months of traveling, our vagabond lifestyle was temporarily postponed in favor of planting temporary roots at Scuba Junkie, the same young dive center we had visited and fallen in love with six months earlier. Our passion for diving was already established and had been a focal point of much of our holiday travels for almost a decade. But, as dive instructors, we were complete novices. This would be our first taste both of working abroad as well as working in the dive industry. And, with the exception of a six month hiatus between September 2010 and February 2011 when we reclaimed our scuba vagabond status long enough to travel through South America and even set foot on the icy shores of Antarctica, for nearly eight years Scuba Junkie became our home, our extended family and our employer.
We savored everything about our new environment – long days diving every day as instructors and guides, staying up until the wee hours of the morning partying with people half our age. It was the embodiment of the dream so many people envision… guests who had worked long, hard hours at often mundane or even excruciating jobs just to save enough money for a two week dive holiday halfway around the globe were now sitting before us during a surface interval on a dive boat or at the bar at night gushing about how incredible it would be to be paid to dive every day at such a world class diving location. We were doing exactly what they dreamed about! It was not about living an extravagant lifestyle (we lived for six months above the dive shop in an 8×10 foot plywood box without windows and only a plywood door and a double mattress on the floor). But it was all we needed, and we loved it!
We gained incredible experience as well as incalculable insight about ourselves and each other – not only learned knowledge and skills but also perspectives. Our spartan existence, by most peoples standards, taught us how to get along with less and exactly how little we actually needed to be happy. Over the following years we transformed from the green new “kids” on the block to the head instructors and assistant managers, taking on more roles and responsibilities. Eventually this led to our ascension as full time managers at Scuba Junkie’s Mabul Beach Resort, a resort that was still under construction when we first visited in December 2008. At that time, who would have thought that in five years we would be running one of the most successful dive resorts in Southeast Asia?
However, nothing is perfect. Running every aspect of a dive resort with 50-100 guests a day and 100 employees comes at a price, and potentially the greatest cost exacted was the fact that we couldn’t dive and run things at the same time. Consequently, we found ourselves no longer doing the very thing which brought us here. The irony was not lost on us that we now were speaking with guests who were diving more than us! We quickly became bogged down in the limits and frustrations of work which had helped prompt us to leave the USA before, and within one year we realized we had become trapped once again.
With two years left on our contract, our focus began to shift towards the next step. Sailing had been on our radar when we initiated our five year exit plan in 2003 but, somehow, it had never materialized. And it had always stayed in the back of our minds. Slowly, a new mad-hatter vision emerged from the dreamy fantasy … finish up our contract, get outa Dodge, buy a sail boat, and then learn how to not sink it (ya, ya, ya … the order of the last two items would be the “mad-hatter” part of the vision). So, utilizing the same ambitious dreaming, endless research, steadfast preparation, and tenacious pursuit of the freedoms and opportunities that lay just ahead which had worked out so well for us before, we once again found ourselves on a course that was deemed “over-ambitious”, “pure fantasy”, “downright stupid”, “dangerous” or “absolutely brilliant” – depending on who we were speaking with (often the same people had the same perspective last time around).
Potentially one of the most profound things we have learned is that, oftentimes, the biggest distinction between a fantasy and a reality is whether or not you try it… and the only difference between a dream and an experience is simply whether or not you actually do it.