11 April 2013 | Back in New York
Capt Don Q
I've almost never told this story, but it shaped my entire life. For the good and bad, like most things.
When I was in college, I somehow become in charge of the recreation department. Basically that meant I was supposed to think up cool methods of recreation, or get speakers that specialized in recreational activities. At the time I was interested in SCUBA Diving (even though I had never been) and one day as I was looking through the pamphlets of various possible activities/speakers for us to bring to the school, I noticed that Stan Waterman was available for a decent price as a speaker. He was one of the best and most famous underwater photographers of my generation and I thought he would be cool to listen to, so I booked him.
He arrived looking like somewhat of a bookworm, tall, sunburned hair, very thin and he had a perpetual smile like he knew some secret that the rest of us didn't. While waiting in our "green room" for his presentation, I got a chance to talk with him for a while one on one. He was actually a very intelligent and soft spoken guy.
However he had one of the most unique outlooks on life I have ever heard.
At the time I was studying to be an Engineer. It was a good paying stable job, with lots of openings at that time so the probability of finding work after graduation was good. Everyone applauded my decision and commented on how level-headed I was being about my future.
My 30 minute talk with Stan derailed the entire thing.
Stan was probably in his sixties by the time I met him and retiring was something that he never even considered. He was doing what he loved and why should he stop? He found it very humorous that people paid him good money to do something that he would have been willing to pay them to let him do.
He told me
"When I was young I was constantly trying to raise money for dive and camera equipment. Constantly trying to find ways to get to the locations with gorgeous coral reefs and beautiful photographic opportunities. Spent every dime on it and sometimes went without food just to pursue my photographic endeavors. Then I found out that I could sell my pictures to various magazines and was amazed when they actually paid me for them. I couldn't believe it. As I became more well known I was actually paid to go to exotic locations to shoot various events and coral reefs. At first I was actually in shock over it. Why would someone pay me to do the thing I loved so much? It was a life changing revelation for me and I've had a great life because of it. Do you want to know the secret of a happy life? Find something you really love doing and then find a way to get people to pay you to do it. Simple. It doesn't matter what it is. People get paid to snow ski, scuba dive, drive cars, motorcycles, boats, fly airplanes, write, work in research labs, even film exotic coral reefs...you name it. You can get paid to do anything you can think of in this world. That's the secret to happiness."
At first I didn't really believe him. It wasn't possible to get paid to do fun things. We all had to get a job and work hard and pay our bills until we retire, right?
I became an engineer right out of college. I was stuck behind a desk for 50-60 hours a week and basically had very little life.
I lasted one year.
I went back to school to pursue some other career but always in the back of my mind, I remembered that little talk with Stan. Finally after four or five different majors in college, I decided to take some time off and try to get a direction in my life. I was starting to get an inkling that there was more than one way to live your life successfully and happily.
One day I sat down and decided that I was going to sort out this whole career thing in my mind. Using Stan's formula, I thought about what it was I really liked to do. I came up with :
"Hang Gliding" of all things. I really loved to fly my hang glider. Not such a great career prospect to start out with, but I figured, 'If Stan can make a good life out of taking fish pictures, maybe, I can find a way to do the same with my Hang Glider.'
Then I got my big break. While flying (while on vacation from a dead end job) at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, the owner was watching me answer questions from some newer pilots. I didn't know it at the time, but he had just lost his head instructor and he needed another. He started quizzing me and the next thing I knew I was running his program and getting paid to fly my hang glider every day.
No kidding, that was my job. Fly hang gliders and teach people about the sport.
I was getting paid and I was on my way.
Long story short, I eventually moved to Los Angeles, opened a large flight school with up to 12 employees, and in one four day period working on a Hollywood movie I made $43,000.00. For flying my Hang Glider!
I bought a large glider that carried two people and gave rides at $150.00 each. I gave over 3200 rides in ten years and taught literally hundreds and hundreds of people how to fly. I was invited to Japan to fly as a manufacturer representative for 35 days all expenses paid. Flights, food, housing, hang gliders, even clothing was included. I flew all over at every exotic location possible and I had a blast. It was one of those times where you need to pinch yourself to be sure it is real.
Don't get me wrong, though. I did a lot of hard and sometimes dangerous scary work. I did things that, in cold blood I wouldn't care to try and repeat. I was sucked up into a severe thunderstorm once and thought I was a dead man. I crashed several times while flying untried or new equipment as a test pilot. But, I was never seriously injured and I was living. Really living. There was nowhere else I would have rather been. I was having fun and I was making good money.
Eventually I matured to the next level and realized that life for me needed to be a journey. I moved on from Hang Gliding and got into Sailing.
By now I had it figured out.
I know that people will pay me to write about my experiences. I know that they will pay me to teach them how to sail, and how to set up their boats for cruising. As a Coast Guard Captain I regularly get paid well to deliver a large Yacht safely to it's destination. I get paid for doing lots of things related to Sailing and I'm having a great time.
My new interest pays for itself. As it should.
I have many friends that hate their jobs and can't wait to retire so they can really start living. I truly cannot imagine what retirement is. I don't want to do anything else, and I never want to sit at home and do nothing no matter how old I am. How boring. I can't imagine it.
I don't know what I'm going to do next.
Maybe I'll sail the rest of my life.
I do know that I'll have fun though. And get paid for it somehow!