Spyhopping Passion Through Fear
In just a few days I’m about to begin one of my biggest endeavors yet. I will be setting out solo to a country I have never been to before and one where English is not the primary language. It will be up to me to decide where I stay, what I eat, what I do, where I go; it will all be determined by me. Then I will plunge into the frigid waters that lie north of the Arctic Circle with one of the world’s largest apex predators (no natural predators). Seems a bit bold and ambitious, huh? If you ask my mom she would say, “What the hell? Do you have a death wish?”
What you just read has a lot of significance for me. This is what is about to come but this endeavor is something that started long ago. What my mom questions with why I seek out to do it is actually something she envisioned from my early years and it is exactly why I share this right now.
When I was young, probably around 7 or 8 years old, I would write stories about characters I would pick up in movies, tv shows, sports, or whatever and construct and tell of my friendships with them and their lives. It would detail what those relationships would become. It was a fictional world I created. I’m sure it would be quite entertaining to read today but it got caught in a classic “garbage instead of keep” mistake and ended up in the burning barrel. This story was my childhood manifesto. Well, not really but it was possibly 30 plus pages long.
I believe this is when my mom thought my career would be in writing, not engineering (even though math was my best subject), medicine, or sports, which my life has always revolved around. Even years later she encouraged me to be part of the school newspaper. I turned out to be terrible. That was the end of my stint in journalism/writing, at least I thought so.
Times change, people evolve, and opportunity comes. It started as a hobby I found joy in but kept to myself and then tried to follow that passion I had as a kid to the newspaper. It was systematic and sequential. I wasn’t ready. I was young and still processing. My brain hadn’t evolved yet. I needed experience. I did have the opportunity but sometimes an opportunity is meant to provide failure in order for success later. Once again the desire to pursue that childhood vigor went dormant.
About six or seven years later I was assigned a position with Team USA at the Olympic Games. I felt like this kid reaching the dream. I was 24 years old and attending the Olympics, a dream of mine since watching the ’96 Games held in Atlanta (That’s another story for another time). I decided I was going to start my first blog for the 2012 Games in London and share my experiences with everyone. It seemed so unique and rare that I wanted to give people from back home an inside glimpse.
For five and a half weeks this rural Minnesota farm kid posted every day about the happenings of the team behind team USA and the experiences that unfolded. It was a success. A lot of people followed and wanted to hear my stories. After, I even got asked by my hometown newspaper to tell more about it. My mom would tell me several times that I needed to write more. She was my biggest supporter but just because my mom encouraged and supported me it didn’t justify enough to tell me that I was actually good. I once again stepped back.
I’d write blurbs on Facebook and Instagram for a few years that followed and eventually a job the pushed me to write on a weekly basis. Then more and more encouragement came and I decided it was time to dive into my words a little more. I started a new blog featuring my experiences and thoughts. I’d take the time to make a new piece every few months or so but always finding pressure that it had to be good. It was a fear of failure. Rather than seeking the failure in order to adapt and grow it was creating a barrier. I knew I needed to write more but had to find something.
This is where my new experience comes in. Ever since I got on my airplane when I was 17 I’ve realized there was something that lit inside me when I traveled. I wasn’t sure what it was but for the most part it was always there. It was that same feeling that started when I was that young boy writing. It was creativity. It was curiosity. It was learning about the world. It was passion.
A lot of what we find passion for in life is devolved from experiences and interests we have as kids. Think about how often you refer to a movie you watched as a kid, a sport or game you played with friends, a book you read in the school library, or the times you went camping or road tripped with your family. Chances are those experiences, good or bad, shape where you find passion as an adult. Those young moments were filled with curiosity and desire to learn and be fearless.
For me, my experiences as a kid have shaped my entire career, from the Olympics, to having a camera in my hand, to following guys put a basketball in a hoop, and now adding a few thousand words at a time to share with others. I often reflect on many of those moments as a child and see if those experiences or interests still intrigue me. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.
A little less than a year ago I shared something about orca whales on Facebook because it really sparked my interest. Next thing I know an old high school friend comments and that leads into a connection with her friend who is a photographer and marine biologist which then leads into coffeehouse conversation on a work trip. It was totally unexpected.
When I was in elementary school I was the nerdy kid in the non-fiction section reading about cities, buildings, bridges, animals, and regions of the world. I can still recall exactly what some of those books looked like. Who knows how many Zoobooks I checked out from the library.
One of my favorite animals to learn about were orcas, or killer whales. They fascinated me. Keep in mind this was also at the same time as Free Willy being a popular movie. When I received that movie for Christmas I couldn’t tell you how many times I watched the ending credit sequence with Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There” overlaying the wild orcas joyously leaping out of the water (linked below).
I danced in my living room with amazement at these gracious creatures. For years after Keiko, the whale who played Willy, would be featured in Weekly Readers (remember those?) as he was reintroduced into the wild. I followed each time, wondering how he was doing in the wild. I was genuinely interested in these marine mammals.
About eight years ago I’d get the opportunity to go whale watching in the San Juan Islands north of Seattle and see the pandas of the sea in the wild. I’d learn more about them. I realized that what interested me as a kid was still there. The orca community or field wasn’t something I was around so it wasn’t going to pry me from my career path but I still felt the passion and thought maybe, just maybe someday I’ll be in a position to be more involved and advocate for. I always figured, well, it may be a bucket list thing but who knows, maybe it will manifest.
In steps this new coffeehouse encounter, Kelsey, who has a passion a hundred times bigger than mine. She pitches to me this idea of joining on this expedition to the Arctic Circle in the fjords of northern Norway to study and photograph orcas. Oh and one other thing…snorkel with them while doing it! What?! This is where that death wish comes in. Snorkeling in the frigid waters in the middle of nowhere with wild apex predators, who the hell does that? Well, no humans have been killed by orcas in the wild yet, only in captivity. Why does that intrigue me?
Of course I decide the time to do something like this is now and sign on. Like I said, it is my biggest endeavor yet. These massive and powerful creatures will be swimming and feasting on herring right by me as I gaze on. Seems terrifying, right? I should be filled with fear, not excitement. I can feel that fervor from my childhood returning. The opportunity was there. I had to chase it!
Sure, the trip is a chance to chase perhaps a bucket list item but it’s become more than that. It’s finding something I’ve always had a passion for but now I have the opportunity to look it in the eye. Yes, being within a hundred feet or less of these creatures will probably put me in a shock initially, or a sense of fear but it’s facing the fear and embracing it, remaining confident.
Confidence hasn’t always been something I’ve had. I cried the first year of tee ball and missed the season without stepping on the field because I was scared of the other kids. I waited until my brother could join me the next year. I was always afraid of starting new things or meeting new people. I was the sidekick to my best friend Tyrel growing up and drew my confidence from his own.
As I grew older I faced that fear and got better at finding confidence in myself. The fear no longer hindered me but enabled me. I embraced it. Now I’m going solo to a foreign country. It’s funny how those fears once seen as weaknesses are now some of my strengths.
It’s not like I’m fearless now. I still get nervous. I get nervous sharing all of this. Just the other day I was nervous just to start swimming laps at the local pool. However, I’ve learned how to draw on my confidence now to embrace those fears and jump in knowing it only gets easier each time but it starts with the first plunge.
Now as I draw this all together and try to channel those passions I found as a kid for my latest undertakings, I know there could be failures or challenges. However, I feel empowered by that youthful curiosity to pursue them and learn from them (and no mom I don’t mean becoming that first orca statistic). I look to draw on that fire I had a kid for things I’m interested in. We all have those same fires inside. I plan to share more of my story, of how I got to this point and how the future will shape because of it.
I haven’t even jumped in the physical water yet but it’s already helped me find that drive of my youth to break the surface of the metaphorical water that is my writing. It has reminded me to use my passion with confidence to go through fear. I intend to breach that surface and turn that youthful enthusiasm and zeal into confidence against those self-imposed barriers. The passion will seize the moments and take advantage of these life developing opportunities that have come full circle.
For when I jump into that water to see the orcas in their habitat of water it will be just like them spyhopping to see my habitat of the air above. (Spyhopping is when a whale pokes it’s head out of the water vertically) It is looking past that barrier, in this case the surface of the water, with a spirit of inquiry. I will be spyhopping in my own way, spyhopping passion through fear.
Much more to come from Scandinavia and my orca encounters. Stay tuned. Subscribe for future updates!