I have been thinking about a conversation I had with a friend some years ago. Before becoming a marine biologist he had spent many years as the lead singer of a hair metal band. You know all the myths and legends of a musician’s lifestyle? Yeah… that. A bunch of dudes cramped all together in a van traveling thousands of miles. Sleeping in dive motels or couch surfing. Living on twinkies and whiskey. Hard living all in the name of rock-and-roll. But he got to do some awesome things, meet some awesome people, and build up a cache of awesome memories. He’d made a good friend of someone who went on to become an a-list rocker who happened to come to town for a show and asked my buddy to come see him. So my friend invites this other dude to join him. And at some point security comes over to him and says, “Would you come backstage with me? The star wants to see you.” So my buddy brings the dude and they go backstage and sit around bullshitting as old friends do. When they leave the dude turns to my buddy and says, “Wow! Usually you have to pay an arm and a leg for access like that!” And my buddy laughed. Because he had paid an arm and a leg. He paid with all those hours stuck in a van full of whiskey farts. And all those uncomfortable nights sleeping on someone’s floor. And all those gigs in bullshit venues where they had to argue just to get what they were owed. He paid by living the same life as the guy who was onstage and building up that shared experience. After he told me his story I told him about a day I had on an unfamiliar dive boat. It was crowded, but I was on my own. Most of the people had guides to assemble their gear, hold their hands, and wipe their bottoms. Those people were near the swim step in the back, whereas I was… not. It was taking them ages to get in the water and, consequently, it was going to take me ages. So I asked a mate, “You mind if I throw my gear over the gunwale and jump in after it?” And in that moment I saw a look I’m very familiar with. It’s the instant assessment one has to be capable of when you work on dayboats and meet two dozen new people every day, where you have to decide, “Is this person going to try to kill themselves or me?” After a beat the mate said, “Yeah, go ahead.” My story was not as cool as my buddy’s. But in my case the cost I’d paid was years of working as a diver, slowly building experience to where it was actually obvious enough to get to do whatever I wanted. There is always a cost. The question is what you’re willing to pay. I miss New York. Every single day I miss New York. I miss being able to decide, on a whim, “Let’s go out for Korean food,” and then have to decide WHICH restaurant we’ll go to. I miss that when we’re out of… I dunno… berbere spice we can walk to any number of bodegas within 5 blocks, get some, and be home again inside of 10 minutes. I miss the museums. You get the idea. I miss New York. But New York does not have caves. So there’s the cost to living here versus living there. And it’s sort of obvious which one I think it’s worthwhile to pay. Once upon a time I was in IT. The pay was great. Nelly was an energy industry expert. The pay was great. But now, here we are doing what we’re doing. And it is wonderful. Not gonna lie: the pay is not great. What’s more, we’re still so very early on in this venture there’s still not even any guarantee of success. That financial insecurity can be scary, but such is the life of a dive professional. That's something they don't tell you in the Divemaster manual: "living the dream" may actually get you into a situation where you're stuck on some far-flung island, never making enough money to even go home again. We are almost certainly never going to have the kind of money to dive off the Arenui or travel to Cocos. On the flip side… we dive. A LOT. It costs in the range of $15US to access any number of the truly world-class dives that are inside of 1/2 hour from our house. There are days we wake up with the idea of running errands and doing grown-up stuff, but change our mind by lunchtime and go diving instead. Because we dive this area so frequently we get to learn some of the extremely off-the-beaten path stuff; and not just check it off a list, really learn it. I've gotten to make friends the people I think are rockstars, some of the best divers in the world. I do get to travel some and see some amazing things, frequently enjoying our version of backstage access. There is always a cost. I am confident things are going to work out down here. And I am 100% happy with the decisions we’ve made and the cost that we’ve chosen to pay. I sincerely hope that you as happy with your own decisions, too.
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