I started my career as a Chartered Accountant in one of those big firms full of suits, ties and protocol. Like many of my peers, not long after I qualified, I resigned and took off overseas to see what the rest of the world had to offer. The well-travelled path led to working in accountancy in London, living with your mates from back home, and doing a bit of backpacking around Europe. Ho hum. I chose a different path. At some level, even though I didn’t consciously know it at the time, I wanted to see what I was capable of.

First up, my path led me to working as a camp counselor on a summer camp in Pennsylvania, then to running a ski rental shop at a resort in the Canadian Rockies. Next was riding pedicabs around the city of Victoria, on Vancouver Island, while also busking to earn a bit of extra cash. These were all great experiences where I got out of my comfort zone and learned a lot, but nothing compared to what was next.

By this time, I’d been away from the corporate world for 18 months or so. I felt as though I’d done some interesting stuff, but something inside me wanted to really test myself. I was feeling restless and bored in mainstream society, and I was looking for something out of the ordinary. One day, I found myself down at the fishing boat harbour in Victoria, where the salmon fishing boats were getting ready for the season. Something clicked – this was it. I must have approached 15 or 20 skippers, all who told me they wanted people with experience. I had none in this game. Eventually, after a few days of badgering, one skipper took a punt on me.

The next three months were some of the most testing times of my life. Starting with a crew of three, the other mate left after a week because of a major personality clash with the skipper, who was a grumpy, crusty old seadog. This left the two of us to be at sea for up to two weeks at a time on a 42 foot boat, the ‘Deltaga’, with me doing 18 hour days working the long lines, landing, killing and gutting salmon. The skipper spent his time in the wheelhouse steering the boat and drinking tea, occasionally sticking his head out to oversee my progress, chiding me if I made mistakes, or wasn’t working fast enough. It was exhausting, and demoralising.

The boat broke down one time, and he had me down in the cramped engine room trying to fix the compressor. Being a former ‘white collar guy’, I didn’t have a lot of experience in fixing compressors. After he criticised my poor efforts , we got into a screaming match, which ended up with me going and sitting on the bow for three hours, refusing to speak to him. I even surprised myself.

Over those few months, I don’t know how many times I rehearsed my resignation speech in my head. But I never said it, and I stuck with it. What I did do was spend a lot of time writing down what I was experiencing, trying to make sense of it. Over time, I got to grips with the work, the skipper, and how to deal with new and unexpected challenges on a daily basis. As the season came to a close, and I got paid my hard-earned cash, I found myself experiencing a mix of relief and wistfulness. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but I felt like this was the end of a profound period in my life.

Looking back now, my experience on the ‘Deltaga’ helped me to believe that I could approach any new situation with confidence, and has helped me forge paths that have led me to some amazing experiences in my life. It has helped me to understand that I (and people in general) are far more capable than they think they are, and that capability is there to be discovered, but only if they have the curiosity and courage to test the possibilities.

I also look back at what I did to help me go beyond merely ‘surviving’ the experience to make the time something I could learn from:

  1. Having a ‘growth mindset’ made a huge difference. I sought out an experience that was going to test me, and I got it. I can only speculate about the fellow who left after the first week, but I suspect that he didn’t see the challenge as an opportunity to learn. I stuck it out to see what I could learn.
  2. I had no support network, and that didn’t really matter. I didn’t have a coach, a mentor, or a great boss. My support network was me. What was important was that I challenged myself, I backed myself, and took responsibility for my choices.
  3. I made time to make sense of things. Those precious minutes between work and sleep, where I could write down my thoughts and attempt to extract some sense from the tough time I was having, helped me stay the course, and benefit from the experience.

Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:

  1. How do I approach new and potentially challenging situations? Do I have a ‘growth mindset’? How could having more of a growth mindset make a difference?
  2. How much responsibility do I take for the situation I find myself in?
  3. How do I make sense of things in tough times? How often do I step back and reflect on what is going on?

Got a scary yearning? Go and seek it out. You might be surprised what you’re capable of!


PHOTO: me on the ‘Deltaga’

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