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LIVING THE DREAM: Part 1 – From Corporate Suit to Wet Suit

(DiverWire) What is it like to Live the Dream? There are divers out there who have done it. They made the commitment to Go for it, or, as the NIKE slogan says, Just do it!

In this three-part series a diver who made the plunge, author Paul Mila, owner/founder of MilaBooks.com (www.milabooks.com), will tell us how he realized his dream.

Paul traded in his corporate suit for a wetsuit back in 2002 and hasn’t looked back. Today he is an Advanced NAUI diver, has authored four (so far) dive adventure novels, teaches underwater photography, and manages rentals for his beachfront condo in Cozumel, Mexico. The closest Paul gets to a “real job” these days is a part-time gig at Scuba Network, a dive shop located where he lives, in Carle Place, New York, a small town on Long Island.

 

Part 1.  Identifying My Dream; Deciding to Go For It!

Compared to the general population, we divers continually “push the envelope” extracting the most out of life. To paraphrase the words from a Jimmy Buffett song, Some people make the world go ’round while others just watch it turn. We divers are “world-turners,” not “world-watchers.” Most of us are individualists, so my dream may be different from your dream. But since diving is our common thread, Living the Dream likely involves hatching some scheme to rearrange your life around diving or things dive-related.

Perhaps you dream about morning commutes to coral reefs and deep wrecks aboard a dive boat scattering flying fish in its wake, instead of commuting to the office on the 6:42 express.  You might imagine enjoying a conch chowder lunch under a breezy palm on a sandy beach, instead of gulping a stale sandwich in a sterile cubicle preparing notes for your dreaded staff meeting. Maybe you’d rather write a stirring undersea adventure novel, populated with ferocious sharks, friendly dolphins, nefarious villains, and sensuous encounters between your heroine and hero under a silver Caribbean moon, instead of composing the same boring monthly status report for your boss. Well, you get the idea!

My former “real life” involved finance and banking. My last incarnation was vice-president in the electronic payments area for MasterCard, the Priceless people. But let’s rewind the clock.

Scuba diving had always fascinated me, ever since watching “Mike Nelson’s” (Lloyd Bridges) underwater exploits in Sea Hunt, the popular 1950’s TV series. Later, Jacques Cousteau’s adventures aboard the Calypso captivated television viewers. However, real-life obligations shared by most of us in the “Boomer” generation, such as raising a family, buying the house, saving for college, etc., precluded any movement toward the undersea realm.

In the summer of 2000, my wife and I took a vacation with our neighbors in Cozumel.  We were all dedicated snorkelers and enjoyed Cozumel’s warm, crystal-clear waters and abundant sea life.  After several days of hearing the hotel’s activity coordinator announce, “Free scuba lessons at the pool,” I decided to take the plunge and give scuba diving a whirl. Several intrepid tourists and I were waiting for our instructor when we noticed a tall woman approaching. She wore a broad-brimmed palm hat and huge sunglasses. Another crazy tourist, I mused, never realizing this woman would one day strongly influence my future.

“Hello, I’m Alison, your dive instructor,” she announced. This should be interesting, I thought. But within a few minutes I realized the lady knew her stuff and could teach it effectively. First there were pool lessons, later a shallow water shore dive, and the next day a boat dive.

Looking back after over 400 dives, that first dive at Paso Del Cedral was one of the best dives I have ever experienced.  A curious Hawksbill turtle swam corkscrews around us in the warm, gin-clear water, and I was amazed by the diversity of fish, corals, and colorful sponges. That dive convinced me to get certified as soon as possible. Returning home, I took classes and pool lessons at Scuba Network in Long Island but returned to Cozumel for my open water dives with that same instructor, Alison.  So, at the “tender” age of 52 I became a certified scuba diver.

The following year I learned that Alison had left her employer and started her own dive operation, Scuba with Alison. In August of 2001 I dived with her, and her new business was already successful, no small accomplishment for an American woman living in Mexico. I returned home and back to work at MasterCard, but diving had become my passion.

I had always enjoyed writing and had occasionally thought about writing a novel one day. But it was no more than fleeting whimsy.  After all, what would I write about? I had no idea, and my business career was still priority #1.  One Monday morning we had a meeting scheduled with our client, Citi Bank, to discuss electronic bill presentment. The location was in Queens, NY, a borough across the East River from Manhattan.

The date was September 11, 2001.

Our meeting was about to start when someone rushed into the conference room shouting, “The World Trade Center is on fire!” We ran to windows and saw the towers framed against a clear blue sky, the upper floors ringed by yellow-orange flames.  I thought, I guess the fire department will put out the fire. The sight was so surreal that my mind never comprehended that seeing flames from several miles away meant the fire was massive and huge. Then we heard that terrorists had attacked, using commercial airliners as weapons. Watching the flames consume the Trade Center towers we were stunned, realizing that the targeted victims were office and business workers like us, not military personnel.

The next morning, photos of bond traders, secretaries, and other office workers leaping to their deaths from the upper stories of the World Trade Center appeared on the front pages of New York newspapers. I thought about how many of those people had probably talked about living their dream in terms of, “When I reach [fill in the age] I’m going to [fill in the dream].” Perhaps some 9/11 victims had that conversation that same morning, before they kissed their loved ones and left for work.

I realized how fragile and unpredictable life was, and I made a decision. Ten months later, on a warm, sunny, Friday afternoon in July 2002, I left MasterCard’s corporate headquarters in Purchase NY for the last time. It was time to start Living the Dream.

Next Week: Getting down to work. I sure learned a lot!