Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Making It Happen - Part 1

I made a promise when I started on this whole absurd undertaking, that when (notice I didn't say "if") I made it happen, I would tell you, my faithful reader, my supporter and in many cases my friend how I actually managed to pull off what, at pretty much every step of the journey, looked like an impossible task. I don't break promises, so here it is, part one of pretty much the whole story in chronological order (probably!) of how I managed it, it might be a long one this so bear with me!

The main reason I am so keen to do this is because, particularly in the shark world, nobody has ever done it before, the very, very first thing I did when I started to seriously consider making a gargantuan life decision was to research how to do it and put something like this together before quickly realising that that help just does not exist, at least not for mass consumption anyway but why? We'll come to that later...

Ok, first thing's first, let's start from the beginning, as in way, way back, because that will give you a good idea of the foundations upon which I was building when I decided the risk was worth it in really dedicating myself to this because that is hugely important. This also isn't solely limited at addressing those who want to work with sharks, most of this is applicable to pretty much everything. I'm not going to tell you what to do, I'm not even saying you should do things the same way I did, I'm just hoping there are a few bits of information relative to me which you can find useful and apply to your own goals.

Who am I but more importantly, who are you!?

We can't all be born and raised on the Great Barrier Reef, in the Bahamas, Florida or Hawaii, we can't all have ardent SCUBA Diving parents and/or a mountain of family wealth or connections to the industries in which we want to work, let's be honest, most of us don't so that's where we have something in common.

I grew up in the industrial north of England, I am the only diver in my entire (yet miniscule) family and I am from a very working class family, my dad rennovated and designed pubs and my mum at one time, worked three jobs just to put me through university. I am not and never have been "poor," I am from a far more stable background than many people less fortunate than me who really do have nothing but money was never easy to come by and holidays to shark filled locations were never going to be a reality so in that regard, I may well be exactly like you.

Why is this relevant you may be asking? Well, it's incredibly relevant because show me someone who is living the kind of exciting life you want and more often than not I'll show you someone who has had a very fortunate head start in life, handed to them on a plate. This is not something to criticise, if I could offer the same to my kids I would and it also doesn't mean what these more fortunate people are doing is of any less value, it just means you have to work harder than they did but if you want it enough, that shouldn't be a problem. Also, don't assume that everyone at the peak of your chosen vocation got there through handouts, a lot of them would have shed gallons of blood, sweat and tears for years along the way. Lesson one, find those people and learn from them.

I was probably a bit of an unusual child, (that's me by the way) I had a pretty low attention span, particularly at school, in my later years, it would be fair to say as far as school was concerned, I really couldn't be arsed with it, it was boring, there was no challenge and it didn't relate to anything I wanted to do with my life. However, if I was really interested and passionate about something, I became utterly obsessed and would spend every moment of every day concentrating on that and that meant that my entire life centred around two things, Manchester United and sharks and these would be joined at age fifteen, by music, notably Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, when I realised I had a bit of a natural gift with a guitar in my hands.

Are you still with me? This is going somewhere I promise. 

The thing is, it became apparent at an early age that this obsessive personality trait would shape how I would become in later life because even as a very young child I was focussed on my career and that career was working with sharks and becoming a film-maker and author. A lot of people I know, still don't know what they want to be, even in their thirties, I knew what I wanted to be when I was about six and nothing has changed, I still want the same things, so here is lesson two, if you know what you want you're better off than those who don't, you just have to ask yourself how much you want it.

Even at a young age, I would drive myself to achieve things I probably knew were almost impossible, the fact they were only almost impossible meant I would give it my all and as I got older and the years would advance, I got even worse. I can admit now, that when I was a musician in my own band I must have been, at times, a total nightmare to deal with. When I picked up a guitar for the first time, my goal was to be in the biggest Metal band of all time, to be considered one of the best songwriters of all time and to be looked upon as one of the most influential Rock musicians in the world, I hadn't even started learning to play the bloody thing yet!

My ten years in Nerve Engine taught me some incredibly valuable things however, things which got me to where I am today, the good stuff, that endless hours of hard work, passion, self belief and sacrifice would yield positive results, that if you want to be good enough and put the work in, you can be good enough. It also taught me the bad things, people will quickly look to exploit your passion, hard work and ability for their own gains, at your detriment, that sometimes means that no matter how good you are, sometimes, lady luck just isn't smiling down on you and perhaps most importantly, what you know comes a distant second to who you know. Lesson three, get to know the right people!

Know your subject and know it well!

Whatever it is you want to do, if it is vocational, that vocation will have a primary subject matter and you better make it your business to know it as well as you possibly can!

My first introduction to sharks was the one which got me hooked. Long story short, I was three and was in Wales visiting my grandparents who happened to live by the coast. Along with my dad, a keen naturalist, I found a dead Tope on the beach. My dad told me all about what it was and I was fascinated by this seemingly huge (relative to my diminutive stature of course,) fish. That afternoon, an advert came on for JAWS which was being shown on television later that night, my dad joked that had the Tope not died, it would have grown up to become JAWS and that was me done, from that moment on, sharks became the coolest thing on the planet.

From then on, I obesessed over shark books and shark documentaries. Bear in mind, back then shark documentaries, particularly those shown in the UK were as rare as rocking horse poo, there was no "Shark Week" (maybe not such a bad thing?), nobody barring a select few were interested in sharks anywhere and most importantly there was no access to the internet. This was actually a huge plus in my development because I had to earn every bit of information I could get my hands on. Due to it's complete absence, I also wasn't influenced by the internet which, whilst being an amazing source of information, is also an amazing source of misinformation. In short, I had to think for myself and as I got older, I would question the things I was learning and was beginning to come up with my own theories and discussion points. At age nine, I had managed to get a letter to Valerie Taylor via an aquarium who's address and curator I found in the back of one of my books and we started corresponding for a few years. Remember, there was no email so it was quite a laborious process!


I would also correspond with the likes of Dr Eugenie Clark, Leonard Compagno, Peter Klimley of the Scripps Institute and Ian Fergusson, a man I have enormous respect for and with whom I would discuss the likelihood of Great White Sharks visiting the UK coastline, a subject about which I wrote an article aged only twelve and a subject about which in the UK at least, as far as I was aware, only Ian, Richard Peirce and myself were talking and this is twenty years ago. Back then, pretty much nobody would entertain the concept, now it's a fairly common belief that it is entirely plausible, even highly likely. To put it in simple terms, I didn't learn what I knew from Wikipedia, I learned it from the best of the best and I will always have a never ending appreciatation and gratitude to those people for taking the time to respond to letters from some kid in England.

This also stoked the already raging fire in me to learn to dive and actually see a shark up close but as I said, we didn't have any money, I was only a kid and diving is expensive. I even went so far as to make a homemade wetsuit for a trip to Scarborough (UK, not the other ones!) out of a kaghoul, some trackie bottoms, a wooly hat and some gloves. I forget how old I was but needless to say when I got there I readressed the wisdom of going into the freezing cold north sea in what amounted to nothing more than a load of old clothes when I knew I wasn't going to see any sharks anyway!

That brings me back to the original point of this section, knowing your subject, whatever it is. I have been self studying sharks through books and films and in later years actually getting up close and personal with them in their habitat and I don't mind saying that yes, I know my subject and I know it well but what is most important is that I appreciate the next lesson, there are people out there older than me, with more experience, who know more about sharks than I do so I make it my business to listen to them and learn what I can from them. When I was a teenager as you may be yourself, I also thought I knew everything there is to know about the world but what went in my favour was that I knew this wasn't the case with sharks and I embraced every opportunity to learn from people who did. Lesson four, you don't know everything there is to know about your subject, you might think you do but really, you don't. Learn from people with more knowledge and experience than you and don't take it as a personal insult if you are challenged, listen, learn and take it for what it is, someone who may be trying to help you become better at what you do!

Why have I spent the last hour writing a load of stuff about what i was like as a child and the effect it's had on me in my later years? Because if you are on the verge of making your own big decisions, it might just help to know that there are people out there just like you who have done it with the same limited resources. Also, if any of this sounds familiar then it also goes to show that ordinary people can make extraordinary things happen and if you see some of the same personality traits I have, in yourself, then it is proof they can be put to good use!

I told you this was gonna be a long one, you still with me? Go get yourself a cup of tea, take a break and let's crack on!

How mentally tough are you? Dare you take risks?

Okay so we've done the introductory part, now it's on to the heavy duty stuff and some of it you may not like or want to "hear."

I recently made a new friend (Hi Paul) who contacted me for advice, the kind of advice I'm giving here, because he also has a passion to do something with his life that doesn't veer too far away from what I am doing. What I liked about what Paul discussed with me is that although it's an enormous task he has set himself, he has started doing the boring stuff that always comes at the very beginning of setting one's self a goal, he's passionate and he listens to advice! I think, although what he wants to do is going to be insanely difficult, he might just pull it off, at least elements of it anyway and I really hope he does because he has a lot of the qualities it takes to do stuff like this.

Do you though? I mean, do you really?

I see a lot of people using facebook statuses as a way to impart wisdom to others, you know the type of stuff, the fluffy, flowery crap you get in women's magazines which are almost always followed within only a few days by the same person saying how much they hate their life, job or family, usually with a caveat of "f**k my life," or "Why is it always me?!"

I'll impart some wisdom of my own, ignore these people, do not respond to these people at all. Ever. If you are about to embark on possibly the single biggest life changing event in your life so far, you don't need any overblown negativity or self pity in your life and you don't have the time or luxury to encourage it to come in your direction from others who can only affect you negatively.

How selfish are you? Are you prepared to focus absolutely everything on doing the things you want to do, to very possibly let down family and friends, to become socially unreliable and to become a one dimensional embodiment of what it is you want to achieve? If the answer is "not very," then you have two choices, change, or assess the concept of whether you are ready for all of this.

Do you believe in yourself that you can do this, as in you think you have everything it takes to overcome every obstacle that is put in your way? Write down the reasons why you think you can do this and the reasons you think you may not be able to do this and be brutally honest with yourself. If the list of negatives is more than two or three long and they are the kind of things you don't feel you can change, put the list in a drawer for future reference and reconsider if you are ready for this because chances are, you probably aren't.

The following bullet points relate to a goal similar in size to mine and one which will require the same amount of commitment, the type of goal which to everybody else, maybe even you, seems almost impossible.

  • Do you have dependents, i.e. a wife/husband and most importantly, kids? If you have kids, bear in mind what effect doing this will have on them, more often than not, the negative effect. I don't have kids (praise the lord!) so this wasn't an issue for me fortunately.
Let's assume you're childless like me, the following points relate directly to you and don't have that added issue to consider.
  • Do you have a job? Quit. If you're gonna do something this big then you can't do it part-time because chances are you'll fail if you do. Even better, take voluntary redundancy if you have the chance, get a bit of cash behind you. Remember, it's only a job, if you see it as more than that then maybe reassess what you would rather do, work there the rest of your life or really go for what you want.
  • How do you feel about not having a social life? Not a problem I hope as you can forget having one when you get started!
  • Imagine your life without the things you have now, money, possessions, car, new clothes, holidays, a home even, how would that make you feel? Chances are you're gonna have to get used to doing without or losing some, if not all of these if you go for it.
  • Your girlfriend or boyfriend says "it's me or this stupid dream," what do you say?
  • Consider this question for a couple of minutes, **what are you going to do if you fail?**
  • How are you going to survive without a monthly income?
  • Why do you want to do this in the first place?
  • What do you have about you that makes you better, or more qualified than everyone else to do this?
  • If you pull it off, what are you going to do afterwards?
  • Who do you know now who can help you at the very early stages of putting this together and how well do you really know them?
These are just a few things for you to bear in mind, if you haven't already, you need to start questioning yourself, your motivations, your strengths and your weaknesses.

Tomorrow, part 2 is going to go through what I went through, what I did, how I did it, the mistakes I made and the highs and lows of actually taking that first step and going for what I have wanted my whole life.

Your questions are always welcome and I would love to hear about your own experiences. I want to help you in whichever way I can and hopefully some of you may get some good stuff out of this process which does just that. It's about time people started to help people like us, success and excitement in life shouldn't be confined to a small group of people, it should be a realistic goal for everyone who is willing to make the sacrifices to get there and it would be nice to think that at least a few of those will remember the people in a similar position to the one in which they found themselves previously and offer advice and support to those who want to follow in their footsteps.

**Incidentally, how did you answer the question "what are you going to do if you fail? hopefully you answered that failure is not an option and you will not fail! If you did, you're on the right tracks already.**


The Saipan Blogger said...

I enjoyed reading this, David.

OfficetoOcean said...

I'm glad you enjoyed reading it Angelo :D

David Blatt said...

David. You've been through it and come out the other side. Have you ever considered publishing your font of all knowledge? I know it may detract from the time you need for officetoocean, but you've so much good advice that is easy to read yet passionate. If you haven't got the time to trawl through the publishers like I did with my first book, self publishing is the way to go. If I don't get a publisher for "The Red Eye" that's the route I'm going down.

The world should be told.

David Blatt

OfficetoOcean said...

Cheers David

I will most definitely be doing a book at some point as it's something I have always wanted to do. I think I would probably look to do it on a break between films when I'm working on productions where I actually have help from people to do all the stuff I spent a year doing myself :D