Danie Ferreira gave it all up to scuba dive. Here's what he learnt about work-life balance.
Ever had that fantasy of giving it all up and making a living out of your hobby? Danie Ferreira did just that. Here’s what he learnt.
While working at one of my previous employers, I started scuba-diving as a hobby. The sport soon became my all-consuming passion, and in a very short time, I burnt my way through every course I could possibly do, and consumed all the literature on the subject I could lay my hands on. My entire world revolved around my diving activities. Weekends were spent in all sorts of wonderful places, exploring, and having fun.
This was a severe case of work-life IMBALANCE! I had to temper my diving enthusiasm, when we started an important project at work. Suddenly, my entire world shrunk into days, nights, weeks and weekends working and planning and monitoring the progress of this project. There was very little time for anything but work, and my relationship with my family and my health suffered as a consequence.
The common criticism was:
“First we don’t see you because you are always working, then we don’t see you because you are always diving. Now it’s back to work, work, work! At this rate you’ll burn yourself out!”
Those words were prophetic. After all the energy expended on my project, it was shelved in favour of an alternative project. I saw that as a sign and decided to venture into the great unknown of the travel and tourism industry. I opened a scuba club and for three years had the time of my life travelling all over southern Africa with my tadpoles (a term of endearment for my scuba students at the time).
I realised that there was very little room for personal growth in what I was doing (a politically correct way of saying I was getting bored) and, ever so thirsty to explore the unknown, I started cave and technical diving.
This involved very deep diving, and using gas mixtures that would facilitate breathing at these extreme depths, as well as all the associated decompression procedures that would ensure I came back alive from every deep cave dive. The learning curve was extremely steep, and I found the new material and skill set challenging and stimulating.
I was at my happiest with twin cylinders on my back, with an extra cylinder containing my decompression gas clipped onto my buoyancy apparatus, and gliding silently through a cave, or abandoned mine, with the torch in my hand the only light in a very dark place.
Reality is a funny thing. It sneaks up on you and bites where and when you least expect it. My wife started referring to me as her absentee husband. Finally, one sunny morning, she offered me an ultimatum: I could either continue along that track, and lose her and the family we were planning on having, or get a real job again, scuba dive as a hobby, and keep my family… The rest is history. I miss diving, but I know I made the right choice, returning things to balance.
I learnt some very important lessons from this experience:
- In my desperate search for that work-life balance, I lost sight of the fact that work is PART of LIFE! I made my passion my work, and suddenly everything was out of balance, with potential catastrophic consequences. I had to take a break from the endless holiday!
- I learnt that it is wonderful to follow one’s passion, but keep your family close, or better still, share that passion with them. In the end, they are the ones who will guide you back from the edge where the darkness lies in wait.
- We all venture in and out of balance. There are times when work has to be the focus of ALL our attention. Even so, we need to make time for ourselves. We need time to switch off and recharge batteries and regroup. We need time to reconnect with our loved ones.
- I have never heard of someone regretting spending too much time with their family and loved ones.
- Try, and don’t be afraid to fail. And if you fail, learn from it. I don’t believe there is any shame in failure, as long as one learns from it.
- Live in the moment. Live every moment as if it is your last. We can’t see the future, and the past is a distant memory. We control what we do in the present, and if we make the right decisions now, the future will take care of itself.
I also learnt that work-life balance is a matter of perspective. While working feverishly to meet a virtually impossible deadline, we need to be out of balance to function properly. The trick is to follow that period of extreme stress and concentration with proper rest. Sometimes, while taking a break, we subconsciously solve the problems we experienced at work. It is simply a matter of giving our brains chance to process things and finding that sweet spot where our brains and bodies are in sync!
These days I solve my problems on a mountain bike trail. It is the one place where I have to switch off or hurt myself! While negotiating a footpath that was never intended for anything other than pedestrian traffic, I can’t afford to have my mind lingering on things that happened at work. I have to be present in the moment, “lest the earth might ascend and smite me!”
Work while at work. Do your best. When at home, BE AT HOME! Work on your family relationships, and work on your relationship with the person in the mirror. Be your best.