Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about defining moments. Those splinters of time that shape who we are and act as decision making references for the rest of our lives. I find it odd/sad that some of the people I talk to don’t have defining moments or perhaps they do but just aren’t aware of them.
Here are mine:
I was probably about 8 years old. We were on holiday at the Brede River. Like most boys that age, I really wanted to catch a fish. We had tried unsuccessfully from the jetty but firmly believed that the real fishing was out on the boat, after sunset. The dads had made promises that always seemed to dissolve into comfortable couches and post-braai bliss… and it was our last night there. I decided that I was going to go and catch a fish off the jetty, and, in the absence of bait, I decided that bread, mooshed up onto the hook, would have to do. The parents were understandably sceptical, but I was adamant and marched down to the jetty in the dark and cast my line into the water. A few hours went by and I had caught nothing and eventually started falling asleep and decided it was best to go back inside.
I remember walking back into the house thinking how awesome it would have been to be carrying a huge fish! At that very moment, thinking about how great it would have been to catch a huge fish, it dawned on me that no one ever catches a huge fish unless they put their line in the water. You have to be in it to win it.
I haven’t witnessed much bravery in my life. I’ve never seen someone run into a burning building to rescue a puppy or lift a car to free a trapped driver. Sometimes however bravery takes the form of personal courage. Courage to stand up and do the right thing, even if doing so may make you look like a loser in the process. I was 15 and my little clan of nerd friends had a favourite whipping boy called Andrew. Andrew was often the butt of our jokes. One particular day, in the absence of Andrew, the jokes got progressively meaner. Then someone piped up and said “Come on guys, that’s not cool… lets stop”.
I realise that that might seem trivial when compared to rescuing puppies from burning buildings, but if you’ve been a teenage boy you probably know that sticking up for the “loser” isn’t the cool thing to do. In that moment I realised how brave my friend was, and more importantly, how I wanted to be like him.
Your happiness is your responsibility
I think I was about 19 years old. I had recently broke up with my girlfriend, it was New Years Eve and all my friends were out of town. I got so bored and depressed that I decided to just drive around. I wasn’t suicidal or even close to tears… but in that uber-pathetic moment I decided that I was the only one responsible for my happiness. Simple.
Web Based Accounting Software
After many years working as a developer in a bunch of different industries I found myself working on a web based accounting package for a British company. It was painful work and the boss had overcommitted and we were working stupid hours with pizza as “overtime”. One evening, while working late, I decided that this wasn’t for me. I’d only been there for 3 months, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had been putting my heart and soul (and life) into other people’s businesses all over the world for the previous 5 years and I was finally done. I resigned in the morning. I was never going to let a job take priority over my life again.
For about a year I floated around doing odd freelance dev jobs, I even got a job as a barman so I could meet cool people… I made a lot of friends, I managed a band, I lived in a digs with some cool people and some psychopaths. It was fun.
I can be a Butcher
About mid way through my year “off” I decided that I could do anything. Nothing was above me, and similarly, nothing was beneath me. Not that I consider butchers to be at the bottom of some food chain, it was just that being a butcher was probably the furthest thing from what I had done up until then. I never did become a butcher, but I’m pretty sure I could be flippen awesome at it if I wanted to.
A loaf of bread or a pie
At about the same time as the “I can be a butcher” moment I found myself rather broke. There was a shoprite up the road from where we were staying. I walked there, hungry, with only a few rand in my wallet. I had to decide whether to buy a loaf of bread or a pie. I bought the pie.
Many people would consider that reckless. It was reckless I guess, but, I wanted a pie. I had faith that tomorrow would somehow bring more money or feed me. I’m still here so I guess I was right.
I don’t want to make light of it, but I also know what it’s like to live off almost nothing. I know that I was incredibly happy during that time, my life didn’t suddenly fall apart the minute I cancelled my medical aid and couldn’t afford to buy one of the “nice” toothbrushes. That realisation has helped me be a little more willing to take bigger risks in life. In it to win it.
I really like hiking. Especially on Table Mountain. I’m not nearly as fit as I should be, as my waistline is testament to, but I do occasionally just go for walk. It was during one of these spontaneous walks that I ended up about 6km away from my car without any water in the middle of a ridiculously hot summer’s day. (This was on the contour path near Platteklip with my car parked at Kirstenbosch). I came across this tiny little trickle of water, seeping down a rock. I was so hot I ended up basically licking the mossy rock to try and get some moisture out of it. I spent a good 30 minutes getting water in tiny little doses. (I just want to make sure it’s clear here, I was never in any real danger… I was just hot and tired… worst case scenario was some sunburn.) I was incredibly grateful for the water and in the heat I got all philosophical about water and nature’s provision. I started off again towards the car. About 300m down the path I came to a river. Not exactly the Holy Ganges, but enough water that I could actually fill my water bottle will real water, not sandy moisture. What did I learn from this? It’s tough to explain. Perhaps the simplest way to put it is to just say that sometimes in life you need to be make sure you’re not being an idiot by walking a little further down the road.
Death at Sea
Almost 2 years ago I went on a little sailing trip. Myself and another guy sailed a tiny little yacht from Hout Bay to Knysna, and then back to Mossell Bay. (It’s a long story). The reason we couldn’t go in at Knysna was because a huge storm had kicked up and the Heads were closed. The boat didn’t have a functioning radio, life raft or EPIRB. The flares were old and our engine was dead. At sunset, when we realised the storm wasn’t going to die down, we decided to sail to Mossel Bay where the harbour was protected by a breakwater. The swells were picking up and at some points our tiny boat was pretty much dwarfed by the water around us. We were sailing a yacht designed and built for the Vaal Dam in some of the strongest wind and biggest swells I have ever seen. We were being pushed around like a matchbox in a pool full of cannon balling fat kids. The boat’s keel was creaking as if it wanted to snap off (something that would result in almost instant sinking) and then suddenly, in the pitch black, howling night, we hit something. HARD. The entire boat stopped dead for a second. I still don’t know what it was but I do know that I have never felt closer to dying in my life. I imagined myself floating in the middle of the sea, with my tiny life jacket trying to get dodgy flares to work even though the chances of someone seeing them were pretty much zero. The keel didn’t break and after 5 days at sea we eventually got to Mossel Bay in the early hours of the morning.
What did I learn? I don’t know… But I want to do it again. It was fucking awesome.