This is part of my new interview series, designed to demonstrate the wildly varied ways we can live, work, and chase our dreams. Please keep in mind that, since these are interviews, the opinions, methods, and websites contained within do not necessarily reflect my own views or experiences. (Which is, in my opinion, part of what makes them wonderful.)
First, tell us about you.
Im Kassie, a 26-year-old from Brisbane, Australia. I grew up in Melbourne and moved to the sunshine state with my family at the age of 10. I grew up in a middle-class, hard-working family and, after finishing school, I went on to full-time work in the insurance industry.
I have always been a water baby, loving the sun and water. In mid-2011, I hit a real low in my life. One day I decided to give up everything to find my happiness again. I spent a couple of weeks in Bali, followed by nine months in Italy, and, during that pivotal time in my life, I rebuilt myself and explored what my dreams and passions were.
I love exploration and discovery, both above land and below the sea…probably why I ended up living now in the Maldives, which is a dream come true. The Maldives, to me, have always felt like an Atlantis: a mysterious and distant place that I could have only dreamed of before now.
When did you first start traveling and what made you fall in love with it?
I started traveling when I finished school at the age of 18 (when I took a cruise with some friends) and have traveled every year since. I have worked hard and always put my money towards traveling.
I love to visit places strong in culture and history and prefer the hot climate. I also love to experience new things (especially food) and meet new people. I also love the challenge of having to depend on and trust myself and my instincts. I am forced out of my comfort zone–which can be a struggle at first, but always ends with a strong sense of freedom. Traveling is a journey both on the outside and on the inside.
When did you first go diving and what made you want to be an instructor?
The first time I went diving was in Vantuatu in 2008. I was very hesitant at first and did not want to dive. But I was kindly encouraged into it and I will be forever thankful!
My first breaths underwater released all of my fears and I felt so free. It was the closest thing I could think of to flying, drifting weightlessly through the water.
After that experience, it was a couple of years until I did it again. The next time was in Malaysia, where I had the most wonderful dive amidst some 30+ green turtles. I remember thinking to myself that the dive instructor had the best job in the world–living on a beautiful resort in the middle of the ocean, in the sun and sea every day sharing it with such incredible creatures.
In mid-2011, I went to Bali and did my PADI open water course and, again, I felt that being an instructor would be a dream job.
What inspired you to quit your job and uproot your life?
After returning to Australia in mid-2012, after nine months in Italy, I told myself that I did not want to get back into the insurance industry, that I would find a job that was more about lifestyle and leisure. At the time, I had some substantial financial commitments that I needed to resolve before I could start afresh. It was easy for me to find work in insurance and I told myself it was just going to be a short-term means to an end.
After 15 months, I was in a great job with a promotion looming. I had been working so hard and pushing for this position. One day, I was thinking to myself about how hard I was working to prove myself worthy; I was doing everything I could, but the promotion was this carrot that never seemed to fall within reach. I was daydreaming about what I would be able to do once promoted: upgrade my car, plan my next holiday, buy a new phone, etc. But to have those things, I would be committing to the next few years, if not decades, in front of my computer.
Suddenly, I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I had been sucked back into working for the man and had forgotten about my dreams.
That night, I went home and thought about what I really wanted to do with my life. If I had a dream job, what would it be?
My conclusion? It would be around people, traveling, in the sun and water.
Before long, I decided that, despite only having nine dives under my belt in six years, perhaps I could try and make a career out of diving. If it didn’t work out, at least I would have tried.
I pulled out an old journal to start taking notes and when I turned to the back, I found a note: “scuba diving – Thailand.” It seemed like a pretty solid sign. Within a few days, I had decided on a diving instructor training company that tailored a package for me from where I was, to where I needed to be, and all that I needed to do.
The following day at work, I was awarded with “outstanding team member of the quarter” and was told the promotion was perhaps a couple of short weeks away. I was being pulled in two different directions and started to questions myself. I asked for signs. Should I be a scuba-diving mermaid or should I stay in a stable and well-paid job? Over the next week, everything pointed to diving. It was time to follow my dreams.
Where did you end up going, for how long, and why?
I began in early February in Phuket, Thailand, where I stayed for five weeks. I completed PADI Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, EFR, and Divemaster courses. It was a short amount of time to pack in so much, but it was do-able. After completing my Divemaster on Friday, the following Tuesday I was on a flight to the Maldives for a three-month internship at the Four Seasons.
I worked six weeks as a Divemaster intern before completing my Instructor Development Course (IDC) and my Instructor Examination (IE), followed by six weeks as a Open Water Scuba Instructor.
What was the process of becoming a diving instructor like? Any tips for those who might want to follow in your footsteps?
Basically, you need to move through the ranks as a recreational diver and then onto the first professional level as a Divemaster. After you receive your professional rating as a Divemaster (and you have at least 60 logged dives), you can progress to the IDC and IE.
It can take as few as eight weeks full-time to go from “zero to hero,” from no experience to instructor. That said, I suggest gaining experience as a working Divemaster before going to an instructor level. Get as many dives as you can under your belt and experience guiding and putting your new skills and knowledge into practice before moving on to instructor level.
How did you afford to uproot your life like that? Did you start making money right away or did you have to fund instructorship training yourself?
When I decided to quit my job, I had just become debt free and was starting to save most of my salary. I had budgeted that I needed to work at least five more months to fund myself. My expenses were airfares, courses, fees, equipment, and some living expenses. I could have worked for longer in order to be more comfortable financially, but I knew that it would just hold me back for longer and I was jumping out of my skin to begin this new adventure.
I am currently seeing out the end of my internship, which I paid for and receive no income from, and am now exploring options for employment (as I need to start making some money right away to continue doing what I am doing).
What do you love most about your life now?
Happiness has become my wealth. I live day-to-day, meeting my immediate needs with few creature comforts. I have learned to be more with less.
What were the biggest challenges of making the switch?
The biggest challenges were within myself: self-doubt and lack of confidence. I was questioning if I had made the right decision, if I was crazy to think that I could do what people only ever dream of, if I would succeed or fail. I had to learn to truly believe in myself.
What tips do you have for others who want to quit their jobs, leave their home countries, and become diving instructors?
The first thing I need to say is just how easy and accessible it is to go from inexperienced diver to professional diver. You can look just about anywhere in the world and you will find dive centers full of opportunities. First, though, you have to believe that you can do it. It is challenging to move away from your comfort zone, from a life that you are accustomed to.
As they say, though, when we look back, it is the things that we don’t do that we regret, not the things that we did do.
How has the experience changed your life and what’s next for you?
This experience has taught me many things and changed my life in countless ways. First and foremost, dreams can become your reality. Go out there and live them. The only thing standing in your way is yourself.
I have no plans following the end of my internship in the Maldives. I have left the door wide open for any opportunities to come my way. At this point, as I have nothing arranged, I will most likely return home to Australia for a short time. Mexico and the Caribbean are at the top of my list and I hope to be in that part of the world next. There is a whole world out there to see and I won’t stop until i’ve seen it.
Want to hear more from Kassie? Stop by her blog or leave a comment below.
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