How to Quit Your Job, Run Out of Oxygen On A Shark Dive, And Become More Interesting Than the Dude In the Dos Equis Commercials

by Alexander Heyne · 8 comments

Want more from life?

There’s a lot of talk about bucket lists these days.

And by a lot of talk, I literally mean a lot of talk.  There are lots of people online talking about doing awesome shit, but few people actually doing it.  It’s unfortunately pretty easy to look cool on the internet, just like it’s easy to look tough in a chat room.

I get a lot of emails from people asking how exactly to live a more awesome life.  In fact, when I gave out a survey a year ago asking readers what they would like to learn more about, 80% literally voted that they were interested in learning how to live a badass, conversation worthy life.  Crazy, huh?

It’s actually not that surprising – because I know many people these days are tired of the comfortable cubicle existence and just want more from life.

As a guy who learned to speak 3 languages (including Chinese), traveled to over 50 countries, has lived in multiple countries, and in general has done a lot for someone who is 25, I want to share how I make this a reality and how I’ve met many, many others who are doing it.

People are in the habit of sabotaging themselves

Actually, more appropriately, mind-fucking themselves.

People have this fantastic way of sabotaging their own lives, by saying things like:

“God your life is so interesting! If only I could do that” (Assumption: You are special, I am not)

“Man, where do you get all the money for this?”  (Assumption: You have more money than me)

“You’re so lucky!” (Assumption: Luck is something I can’t control)

People fail to realize that habits are the true origin of all success and failure in life, and are the origin of all mediocrity or excellence.

Most people make it a habit to:

  • A. Look at their friend’s Facebook pictures, envy them, and then let loose a heavy sigh and go back to reality
  • B. Say they’d love to go on a trip, but do nothing about it (not even set aside a single dollar!)
  • C. Talk talk talk talk talk talk talk and not even for a second think about coming up with a plan for doing anything

Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time someone said “Godddddd I’d love to do what you do” … and then didn’t actually do anything to get closer, I’d be rich. Seriously, just write down a plan on a napkin how you could potentially afford a 3k trip. How much you’d need to set aside each month.

Many of us have these invisible scripts (as Ramit Sethi) calls them, which are unwritten assumptions about the way life works.  Most of the time they are just stupid prejudices we have in our heads, backed by ignorant (false) proofs.  All they do is limit us.

The secret is in the system

One of the easiest ways you’ll guarantee living a more interesting life is asking yourself one question, every time you are faced with many options or a tough decision: Which one will make the better story?

For example, when I was back in College, I had to take several internship credits. Instead of staying at home and working with a local organization for the summer, I figured “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if I traveled AND got these credits done?”

So I did some research on international internships, and ended up working in Fiji for two months, getting credits for swimming 8 hours a day in perfect crystal water.

I decided to live a better story a year ahead of time, and that gave me a way to figure out how to pay for it and make it a reality.

Which decision will make a better story?

Bucket Listing 101

Someone recently suggested that I start adding a bucket list to my site as inspiration.  As proof that I’m really living the interesting and bold life that I recommend 20 somethings to take.

So that’s why I’m introducing my bucket list — something I hope will inspire many of you, challenge you, and ideally inspire you to start taking more risks and start doing what you want.

I’ll be the first to admit that you can’t always do what you want – you often have to do what you need first.  But if you aren’t working towards what you want, what are you working towards?

Intro, a Story – How to Run out of Oxygen on a Shark Dive

Somewhere around 2007 I was working in Fiji doing marine biology research on the coral reefs and marine populations.

I was also supposed to be there to help educate the locals on environmental practices — apparently due to the increasing use of plastic, many locals were just tossing waste into the ocean and had no idea it didn’t break down.

I was sent to this relatively small island with only 2-3 resorts called Beqa. It looks like that but larger ==>

I actually took up this internship because I wanted a sweet story, but also because water scares the shit out of me.

I’ve never really had a bad experience with water or any close calls; I just felt more comfortable in the jungle with a tiger rather than in the ocean with pretty little fish. For real.

And obviously in Fiji, where the water is crystal clear, you see everything below you. It can get pretty damn freaky haha.

So in any case I had no intention of learning scuba diving. I was sent there to basically record a couple key things: Coral reef populations, how many giant clams I could find, and certain fish that I repeatedly noticed. The point was to take an overall reef health check.

For a couple days I was sitting around pretty bored as I was the only guest there, until an Australian couple who had been traveling the world for 7 months straight stopped by. And then I got conned into getting scuba certified.

The boyfriend was an avid diver — he’d gone diving in all the tops spots in the world. He was going to go diving no matter what. But he wanted his girlfriend to get certified too.  Somehow I got suckered into also getting certified.

After a 2 day, intensive, rushed certification program (Sketchy…..), we were ready to roll.

And then I got another stroke of “good luck.”

The boyfriend said “Hey man, there’s a shark dive tomorrow, wanna go? You’re gonna see some real big fish….”

Despite the fact that I was soiling my pants, of course I said yes. His girlfriend ended up staying home after getting the jitters.

The Dive

We left from the resort early in the morning, and arrived at the “dive site” a little while later. And by “dive site” I mean a random ass spot in the middle of the ocean.  It was conveniently raining and overcast, and the sea was anything but stable.

… And then we apparently “found the spot.”

I shit you not, there were already baby sharks swimming all around the boat. Little 1 foot curious buggers were coming around the boat to check us out. I later learned that this is because it’s an area where they feed the sharks in order to get them to show up for shark dives (dumb move).

So the sharks were ready to feast.  And we literally were hopping off the boat into the baby shark fest.

“This is fucking retarded,” I told the guy next to me.

“Ehhh it’ll be alright. If she can do it, you can” he said, pointing to an 85 year old woman strapping on her scuba gear.

Good point.

We all hopped into the water and started deflating our BCDs so we would sink sink sink to the bottom. It was an 80 foot dive, and the lead diver (wearing chainmail), was holding a garbage bin filled with dead fish.  Yippee….

Every few minutes we stopped to equalize the pressure and pop our ears, make sure everyone was there, etc.  They had a guy watch over me the entire time since It was my first real dive, and at least he had a gaff and speargun with him.

In any case, we got to about 75% of the target depth (about 60 feet) and I couldn’t pop one of my ears, so I hung back with the guy watching over me.  Everyone else went down to the reef on the bottom.

Conveniently, right as everyone left, I felt a poke on my back. And then another one. The dive instructor was telling me to “look over there,” which was right about the same time that a huge ass bull shark was swimming right as us, curiosity assessing these two meaty humans.

I kid you not, this shark came so close I could count the rows of teeth in his mouth.  He did a full 360, me watching him the entire time, and then casually took off. It was national geographic come to life.

Source:

The picture above is a bull shark picture taken from the same spot I was diving in (Beqa lagoon, Fiji), to get an idea for how huge these bastards are.

I was surprisingly calm. It’s kinda awe-inspiring, and not terror-inspiring, when you see a creature that huge, close enough that it obviously has your life in it’s hands.

The dive instructor looked at me and gave me the “You ok?” signal.

I think after soiling my pants at this point, I also managed to equalize my other ear. So we descended to the full depth.

By the time all of us sat down near this reef, the lead diver (aka the feeder) had opened his garbage can full of fish, and almost immediately he disappeared in an underwater tornado of massive, massive fish  (bigger than me).

We sat and watched in awe for a few minutes, until the big guys started coming.  At first it was a little disappointing – nurse sharks? What the hell man I want to see some tigers.

Nurse sharks are basically the pansy sharks of the ocean.  They don’t really have large prominent teeth and are not aggressive.

My hands were getting cold so I swam up a bit to re-adjust, accidentally kicking a nurse shark in the face with my flipper. “Oh shit………”

She must’ve thought the same thing, because she quickly took off in the opposite direction.

A Big Problem


We hung out for another 20 minutes or so, and then when all the bait was gone, we slowly started making our ascent. We reached our first check point and hung around waiting for everyone to come.

Around this time, I noticed that it was getting slightly harder to inhale. I mean, when you first scuba dive it takes time to get used to how restricted your breathing is. It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, and many new comers find themselves suffocating and busting from the surface gasping for air.

You have to relax and breath deep, you can’t freak out.

Anyway, I noticed it getting pretty tough to breathe. Like breathing through a straw, I was really sucking in the air from my tank.

“Wtf is going on?”

I decided to look at my air gauge. For some reason the pin was down on 0. The pin should never be on 0, for obvious reasons. If it is, you’ve usually done something very wrong.

Yet there I was, still 60 feet under the water, with my air gauge reading 0. And I was sucking the air in through a straw.

No. Fucking. Way. This has got to be a dream.” 

Conveniently, the adrenaline and the shallow breathing started kicking in, and I found it harder to breathe.

“Should I signal out of air? Swim up? Breathe in harder? Flail like a dumbass?

I chose to signal out of air.  The signal for out of air when diving is the motion you make when you want to quietly tell someone “Shut up  or I’ll kill you.”

Guess who was next to me when I signaled out of air? The 85 year old lady. She just stared at me like I had leprosy.

I guess her telepathic skills were weak, because in my head I was yelling “I’m. Out. Of. Fucking. Air. GRANDMA!”

Yeah, she didn’t get it.

“Fuck it, I’m swimming up.”

I looked around to see where my dive instructor was, to make sure he saw me, then I sucked on the air tank as hard as I could while swimming to the surface before everyone else.

For those of you that don’t know, this usually results in the bends, and/or lung overexpansion injuries (like your lung exploding) because the air that was compressed in your lungs is less dense as you ascend, so they inflate like balloons if you don’t exhale.

Woops

Usually you’d go for someone’s secondary respirator, but seeing as grandma’s telepathic skills were weak, I panicked.

I broke the surface of the water with the adrenaline thumping in my throat, and then immediately felt someone pull me back under water by my fin and I inhaled a gulp of water.

My dive instructor.

He gave me his back-up respirator and we went back down to 60 feet with the crew, and slowly ascended all over again.

Hmmm

After breaking the surface, all he said was “how you doing?” all the while thinking “what a fuckup” I’m sure.

Luckily the only damage that occur was an overexpanded lung which ached for a day but went back to normal (as far as I know…..).

Apparently it wasn’t a big deal, because he let me do the second shark dive that day no problem.

What happened?

As it turns out, when  I was training, they gave me different equipment from the equipment I used on my dive day. On the scuba gear there is a deflate button to reduce buoyancy and let you sink.  There’s also a purge button – incase you get some water in your mouth or vomit, you push purge and it uses your air to evacuate the respirator and clear it out.

This new equipment I was using had buttons I didn’t recognize – and as I was pushing deflate, I was also hitting a button on the other side (that wasn’t there on my other equipment), which was purging my air.

I literally was ditching my air while deflating to go down on the dive. Aaaaaa rookie mistake.

Am I still scared shitless by the ocean?

Yep. I don’t mind swimming in it, but I might put off scuba diving until my next incarnation ;)

Fiji in pictures

I figure after scaring the shit out of you, I should also show you just how beautiful Fiji actually is. Stunning. Every sunset is post-card worthy.

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Beqa Outer Reef (Image not mine) Image

What’s next on the bucketlist?

(Watch this quick video of a Beqa Shark dive someone else filmed)

Well, think I’m done with water stunts for awhile haha.

What’s next?

Maybe meditating with holy men somewhere, we’ll see!

The Best Advice I Can Give: Go out and start living the life you’ve always wanted to read about.

… That pretty much sums it up.

Go out and start living the life you’ve always wanted to read about.

Of course the devil is in the details. Of course it’s not easy. Of course it’s easier to remain comfortably boring. It’s all a choice. And no it’s surprisingly not that expensive. If you put away $150 a month you can easily take a trip a year.  That’s exactly what I do (I actually put $300 a month away, which is programmed in my bank account so I don’t even notice it).

I just want to live a life where I actually feel alive. That, too, was a choice.  Everything in life is a choice. Every day is made up of hundreds of choices. Choices that make you richer or poorer, healthy or unhealthy, wise, or dumb, fulfilled or miserable.

So let me suggest this one more time: Go out and start living the life you’ve always wanted to read about.

Ciao

–Alex

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Shayna March 1, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Nice, Alex. The one thing I’d add is that living a conversation-worthy life doesn’t necessarily involve big trips. Something as simple as choosing to do something different in your free time can be equally amazing.

Instead of doing what EVERYONE else does after work (Facebook / popular TV shows / drinking until you get stupid), why not take up a new language, or a martial art, or take classes in something you’ve always wanted to try, or… the possibilities are endless, just do something different from the “herd.” My 60-year-old father has been an ice dancer and amateur sushi chef for the past 10+ years, people are always like, “…what?!” when they hear that!

These small steps can then lead to bigger opportunities, and/or the desire and drive to make the bigger things happen. Or you might not travel, but just be an unusual and interesting person who’s involved in much, much more than watching {whatever the “hot” TV show is at the moment in the States; I don’t even know}.

Reply

Alexander Heyne March 2, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Aaaaa that’s a really good point. Eventually I wanna write a baller (actual) how-to guide, but yeah one thing I want to specify is that (like you said) it doesn’t have to be huge.

100% agree with avoiding the shit most people do after work, agree agree agree. Hahah that’s awesome about your dad – but those are the things (and people) that make great conversations! Those are the people that other people want to meet. I think we’re naturally attracted to people using their time wisely if only because they make life a little more fun and interesting.

I think my biggest beef with humanity and modern people is what you said – those 5-9 hours where most people just piss them away instead of doing something cool they’ve always wanted.

Reply

Mike March 2, 2013 at 6:41 am

Nice story! I liked Shayna’s comment above about being able to live this locally too. I’ve recently been doing my own calculation: when faced with two choices, always choose the one that involves action. It keeps me from staying on the couch or in front of the computer for too long!

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Alexander Heyne March 2, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Hey Mike –

Yeah absolutely. At one point I’m going to write a diesel how-to guide, and I definitely want to specify that it doesn’t have to be a huge change. Obviously with a family and kids people can’t go off for months at a time.

I talked a little bit about Alastair Humphrey’s idea of Micro adventures here: http://milkthepigeon.com/2011/09/05/dont-know-what-to-do-with-your-life-25-suggestions/

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Worldly Canuck March 5, 2013 at 12:49 am

I believe in exploring the world as much as you, it seems. But, I learned a long time ago that you can’t be half-assed about it – especially when your live and limb could be put in peril. My days as a Navy diver and my time learning to be a private pilot taught me that you need to take the time to learn the skill properly. Companies that operate in vacation hot spots and promise to teach you to dive in a day or ski by lunch will eventually send someone home in a box.

That’s certainly not to dissuade someone from taking up challenging and potentially dangerous undertakings, but, if you’re smart, you’ll use your intuition and stay clear of the dodgey characters. In my blog, I’ve mentioned my embracing of Constructive Paranoia. You can challenge your body and your mind to the nth degree, but do it smartly and safely.

Reply

Courtney March 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

Ah, I love Dan Pink but I have not read this book! Time to head to the library…

C

Reply

Alexander Heyne March 18, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Get itttt it’s quite good! And a quick coffee shop read.

Reply

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