Sometimes you don’t have to look far for inspiration. A year ago I started to see something different on my Facebook feed. Most of the stuff on there is pretty typical, my friends posting jokes, family posting pictures of their kids or what they had for dinner last night. Then there were Nadia Aly’s posts. Here were glimpses of far-off lands, most of which I hadn’t even heard of, much less seen. Instead of e-cards with some trite one-liner or yet another cell phone camera self-shot, she was posting pictures of achingly beautiful beaches, their pristine golden sands shimmering in the sun. I kept scanning her photos and seeing islands surrounded by sweeping coral reefs or psychedelic sea creatures suffused with color clinging to underwater rocks. In other words, here was someone doing something different and I wanted to know more.
A few years ago, Nadia was following a standard life-script. She worked for a series of household name tech companies, like Google and Microsoft. She made a comfortable living. Then suddenly, she quit and started Scuba Diver Life. For the last year, she’s traveled the world like Anthony Bourdain, diving some of the most exotic places this Earth has to offer. I sat down to talk to Nadia the other day. She’s currently in Pulau, so we chatty via Skype on a somewhat spotty Internet connection. You’ve probably never heard of Pulau. I hadn’t. Apparently it’s near Guam. You can check out some pictures of it here. I’ll warn you right now though, it might just make you a little less satisfied with your day job, when you realize you’re sitting at a desk and someone else is out there diving Pulau’s lush green and blue waters for a living.
I’ve kept the Skype like format, right down to the timestamps, with only minor edits, as it better captures the back and forth of this amazing interview. You’ll find her fantastic photos threaded throughout the article. You can see more of her photos on her site and her Scuba Diver Life FB page, which has a mere 666k likes in one year!
[5:48:39 PM] Dan Jeffries: Jeff Hammerbacher of Facebook said “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.” In other words, instead of finding great breakthroughs in the arts and sciences or pursuing their dream, kids today are just wasting their talents. Do you think that’s the true? If so, did it factor into your decision to start Scuba Diver Life and do you think it has any implications for society in the long run?
[5:52:11 PM] Nadia: I think it’s not just kids that are wasting their talents, but many adults are as well. People get stuck in the labeling of “the perfect life” and the process that surrounds it. You go to school, go to University, get a graduate degree, get a job, get married, have kids and that’s what your life is supposed to be. I strongly, strongly do not agree with this label of how life should be, and it feels like a lot of people follow this process for their life. They end up in jobs they hate, dreading each day of their lives, or maybe having ups and downs. When I was working in the corporate world my life was eat, work, and sleep – with very little time for my passions and myself.
This is why I went full time with Scuba Diver Life. I started it while I was working at Microsoft. I then worked at Google and Padi, but there was a huge empty void that was not being filled for me. The sense of adventure, travel and diving was missing and I was getting frustrated. I was frustrated as to why I didn’t like the corporate world, the world that everyone was so proud for me to be in. It took that GIANT step for me to quit my last job and take on Scuba Diver Life full time. The reward was in the risk, survival of the fittest, out there on my own, having to make it work.
[5:55:05 PM] Dan Jeffries: That dovetails nicely with my next question, which is about making changes in your life. I’m always interested in the psychology of change. In literature and film we only care about characters that transform their life and for good reason. You were following a fairly standard career tract, working at big tech firms, and then suddenly you were traveling to all kinds of exotic locales and diving in some of the most picturesque spots on Earth. What led you to make that kind of change? Did you just wake up one day and say I’ve had enough or was it a gradual thing or a combination of both?
[5:59:42 PM] Nadia: I didn’t just wake up one day. I knew the whole entire time that this is what I had to do to make Scuba Diver Life work. I needed to be out there meeting divers, telling stories, making content and investing my time into my company. Making professional content is what I knew I had to do. I often whispered to myself when I was in the corporate world. I would passionately explain to my friends my thinking. When I finally left the corporate world, I headed off to Indonesia for 30 days to dive and discover more about what I wanted to do. After that things just kept happening and I was traveling more and more, making more and more content. Here I am almost a year from that date (August 2012), and I’ve been all over the world.
[6:03:02 PM] Dan Jeffries: You mentioned that it was a BIG step to leave the corporate life, when you decided to let go and just make it happen. What did you have to give up? Was there anything you cared about that you had to let go of?
[6:04:47 PM] Nadia: Well I was nervous, really nervous. Health care was the first thing of course I worried about, but in CA I would be covered for three years I later found out. The other thing that worried me was I had a year lease. I hated the area where I lived. Money of course came to mind. I had always made a very comfortable living.
It was a really large learning lesson to let go of needing to make money. I talked with one of my life coaches Catherina who is a free soul. We ended up going to Burning Man. Soon after I quit. [Burning Man] was a really great experience, especially doing it with her and her family.
It took almost 6 months for me to let go of the concept of money. “The Universe is my bank and I have endless funds” was my new motto. Nothing could stop me. I was motivated, passionate and knew EXACTLY what I needed to do.
[6:07:37 PM] Dan Jeffries: Money comes to mind for a lot of folks, so let’s talk about that. Letting go of it is hard. I’ve often described my path to becoming an author as “leaving behind a lucrative job as an engineer so I can make less money as an artist.” That seems to resonate with a lot of folks. In America that’s one of the hardest things to let go of. When you say your concept of money changed, did you just decide to live with less and get what you needed when you needed it? Did you have enough capital saved up to quit or did you finally just come to a single moment and say, I’ve had enough, I’m doing something else now and I will figure it out as I go?
[6:10:14 PM] Nadia: What happened was after two weeks of sitting around on the couch, feeling lost, I pulled myself together and went into entrepreneurship mode again. I had a very large Facebook Page for Scuba Diver Life and a very active website. Since I was working all the time, I didn’t give SDL the full time attention it needed. So within weeks I was making money for SDL and supporting my travel and need for adventure. I still am figuring it out as I go. I am making more than I was six months ago, and have plans to grow SDL even more.
[6:16:45 PM] Dan Jeffries: So I admit that I’m a little jealous sometimes when I see some of the places you’ve been in the last year and I imagine I’m not the only one. Hell, I don’t know where half of them are, without Googling! What’s the most incredible place you’ve been so far and why?
[6:18:37 PM] Nadia: Well hands down that’s going to be Indonesia. It’s my favorite place so far. The diving there is beyond amazing and it’s very cheap to do things. My top places in Indonesia have been Komodo & Raja Ampat. The people are also amazing and very happy.
[6:21:03 PM] Dan Jeffries: I’m sure it’s not all fun and games when you’re lugging a ton of gear around and bouncing between some off the grid type of places. Have you had any close calls out there or any scary moments? Do you ever get tired of the travel? Do you have to follow any security and or emergency procedures in places when you far from home?
[6:24:27 PM] Nadia: Well, yes it’s a bummer having to carry 130 lbs with you all over the world. Especially when you’re a 5ft, 110 lb girl. I had one incident where I was home sick and not very happy. That had to do with the environment and people I was around. I was quick to realize the situation and changed my environment. I always make friends where I go so that makes me feel more secure as well on a psychological level. As for security procedures I don’t really have any, I know that I can just go home at any time. It’s just as easy as booking a flight. I do have triple travel insurance, so if anything goes wrong I have many companies that will take care of me.
[6:26:13 PM] Dan Jeffries: Good to know the very corporations you left behind will be taking care of you, should something bad happen 🙂
[6:26:31 PM] Nadia: LOL. Yup, especially as a diver! You need to have diver’s insurance!
[6:26:54 PM] Dan Jeffries: All right so let’s get to it. Why scuba diving? How did you discover it and what about it really pulled you in? Clearly lots of people share the passion. I had no idea that people could or did do it for a living until I started seeing your FB posts!
[6:29:42 PM] Nadia: Well I dived when I was younger on vacation in Jamaica. In my early teens, what happened was I won a contest in 2001 to go to Fiji. I started searching for resources about Fiji and the diving there (the trip I won was a diving trip). I was not happy with what I was seeing online. I soon discovered how backwards the industry is, and that it’s pretty much run by a much older generation that has no understanding of digital media. When I came back from the trip to Fiji, I started Scuba Diver Life. I had many times started websites and over time this one would become one I committed to full time. I knew to use Facebook as my means of growing a community and started growing the Facebook Page right away. Hopefully by the end of this year I will have over a million fans.
[6:31:45 PM] Dan Jeffries: So let’s talk marketing here then, because that’s interesting to me as well, how someone really cuts through the noise and gets noticed. You seem to be a social media ninja. Are there are any tricks that you can share with folks trying to get their name out there, or is it really just a case of having a good product and people will come? What’s the single most important thing someone can do to get noticed in a world filled with noise?
In essence, every artist must be a self-promoter these days. There used to be AR guys who would find the next band. Now there are just a few of those people and they look for people who have already self-published an album, have big Twitter and Facebook followers and do shows.
[6:35:27 PM] Nadia: Yes, indeed.
[6:36:24 PM] Dan Jeffries: The same has happened in the lit world now as well. If you said that someone should self publish even three years ago, it would be career suicide. Now many folks go right to the people and the agents just browse the Amazon best seller lists and sign known prospects, rather than gamble. So maybe talk a bit about how you used FB to get out there and get 666k likes.
[6:49:23 PM] Nadia: Yeah so I started concentrating on valuable content and growing the Facebook page. The ad platform on Facebook is really great at targeting niche fans. It’s so much more valuable then spending money on Google. On Google search you have this one instance of search and you pay for that one click and may have a returning visitor. On Facebook you can target that user based on interest, grab their like and continuously market to them. So instead of paying maybe $1 for one instance of search you pay way less than $1 to continuously market to you niche targeted user. Seems much more valuable to me.
[6:52:46 PM] Dan Jeffries: So is it really just FB ads for the site that are drawing people in?
[6:53:29 PM] Nadia: Well I have loads of content now so people come through search as well, G+ , Twitter all sort of places but FB is the top on the list in terms of referrals.
[6:53:59 PM] Dan Jeffries: Right and I imagine that folks just share your pictures over time and it has a snowball effect?
[6:55:00 PM] Nadia: Yes, a snowball effect for sure.
[6:54:53 PM] Dan Jeffries: Excellent. So, what would you say to someone out there who is looking to change their life and do something completely different?
[6:56:12 PM] Nadia: Just do it. A big part of why I was pushed was because a friend had passed away hours before his 28th birthday. It was my first experience with knowing someone close that had died. This really woke me up. “Wow we really die! I will never see David again… Ever!” I thought about that ALL THE TIME.
Life is short, you can go at any moment and what will your life have been like?
Is it worth it to hustle your life away for a nice car and a nice house? Or do you want more experiences like travel, giving, volunteering and helping the world improve?
I like what Richard Branson says, something along the lines of “follow your passion and the money will follow.’ There is no need to waste away your life in a cubicle writing code or marketing products that hurt our environment or people. Your life has more purpose than that. You just need to explore what that is. That’s how you find your passion.
[7:00:18 PM] Dan Jeffries: We’re really talking about enlightenment here, whether it’s full blown sitting-under-the-Bodhi-tree type or a moment where you decide to do something that comes from inside, as opposed to something that was put on your by society/upbringing
[7:00:44 PM] Nadia: Yes, exactly.
[7:01:59 PM | Dan Jeffries: Was this a complete internal shift, discovered through self awareness and self examination, or were there other folks that inspired or encouraged you?
[7:02:53 PM] Nadia: Yeah, Catherina and Gerry from ThinkLove.com and Sheleana and Caleb from YoungandRaw.com. They were very much inspirational in helping me move forward into doing my own thing.
Catherina and Gerry developed wrist bands for their company called Think Love. The bracelets vibrate 5 times a day and can be synced with other bands. You never know when they vibrate the only thing you know is that when yours vibrates whomever you are synced to is vibrating as well. Triggering you to Think Love towards your synced companion. Catherina and Gerry had given up everything to follow their dream of educating the world about Thinking Loving towards self and others. This was a huge inspiration to me and they were always around me when I was going through major shifts in my life. Almost as if the universe had placed them there to be there for me.
Sheleana and Caleb were living with me in Mountain View and again in Aliso Viejo. Sheleana had been sick and gained some weight in the past few years. Discovering Raw Veganism and how to live a healthy life. They both worked night and day on YoungandRaw.com and it was soon starting to provide for them.
They were living with me when I quit Padi and the first person I called was Sheleana. She was so supportive and was almost slapping me in the face, like “what took you so long?”
[7:08:13 PM] Dan Jeffries: Each in there own time. Time doesn’t really exist anyway, so who cares how long it takes 🙂
[7:08:43 PM] Nadia: Exactly. You know the 7up story?
[7:09:00 PM] Dan Jeffries: No, tell me.
[7:09:47 PM] Nadia: There was this guy and he had this passion for soda. So he started a company, he called it 3up. The company didn’t do to well so he restarted with a new company, 4up, he kept trying and trying and gave up after 6up had failed. A few years later, 7up came out…Something like that. The point of the story is don’t give up… maybe it’s not time yet.
[7:12:07 PM] Dan Jeffries: That reminds me of a story I heard, there was a powerful business man who meets a poor fisherman, the fisherman seems happy enough but the biz man tells him, look you have to think about the future, you should save a lot of money and work hard so you can do what you really want to do in life and so the fisherman asks him, what do you want to do? And the biz man says, I am going to retire and fish all day.
[7:12:45 PM] Nadia: LOL.
[7:14:37 PM] Dan Jeffries: Do you think all people have this drive to do something different or do you think it’s a particular type of personality? I know friends of mine who are perfectly happy where they are and couldn’t dream of doing something different. Then again, I always think of the line, most men leads lives of quiet desperation. Certainly the spiritual masters would say we are all one and therefore all of us have the Buddha nature or whatever you want to call it, but sometimes I look around and think, am I the only crazy one because I want to do something different and to actually start putting a plan in place to actualize it?
[7:17:36 PM] Nadia: I think people get comfortable. That’s what happens. I have friends who are happy in their jobs as well. It becomes all they know. If you took them on a journey around the world for a year, would they still feel the same way? Would they still be happy going to their desk job?
Of course personality plays a role in it. Many people come to me and say that I am lucky to have found my passion. They don’t know what theirs is or they feel they don’t have a skill set. I don’t know what it’s like to be in that position. If I were though I would probably do a whole bunch of different things until I found something that I really liked that fulfilled me.
[7:19:24 PM] Dan Jeffries: I hear that type of thing all the time as well, so it really resonates. I meet a lot of artists, who are still finding their passion and they want to know how to get to it. Sometimes they say they found it but they are just not doing the work to do anything with it.
So let’s switch tracks just a little. It seems like you have strong conservationist streak, like many folks who spend their time outside. Have you personally seen evidence of damage we less-than-thoughtful apes have done to the planet? Do you think there is any real chance that we turn this thing around or does the Earth just kill us off one day and start over with a new dominant species? Are we just too fucking stupid to take care of the everything around us? Will we ever get right?
[7:48:53 PM] Nadia: OMG. Yes humans are destroying the planet. The ocean is dying. We kill over 100,000,000 Sharks every year! EVERY YEAR! Can you believe that! Out of sigh out of mind.
Did you know that about 80% of our oxygen comes from plankton? If we kill all the sharks there will be more and more plankton eating species on our planet. We don’t know how that will affect us long term. Also I think about this quite a lot: Packaging, in essence, is really new to society. The grocery store came out in the late 50’s along with TV dinners and all that jazz. Slowly we grew and grew and packaging was everywhere. The oceans are full of plastic and packaging, and the material is very new to society, around 60 years. What does that mean for our future?
If you go diving in some parts of Indonesia, you are diving with trash. Lot’s of it. You bankroll into a garbage dump.
The people in Indonesia used to eat organic foods, bananas, mangoes and just toss the remains. This has carried on to the younger generations and they just toss plastic and garbage around, even into the ocean. I mean dumpsters… into the ocean!
Some scientist say that 25% of earth’s species will be extinct in the next 100 years.
[7:53:57 PM] Dan Jeffries: I think the short answer is we have no fucking idea what will happen, that stats all point to the fact that we are killing off all kinds of things at an insane and accelerating rate. You’ve got to read A Short History of Nearly Everything, it is all about how we learned what we know and how we learned it, and it is alternately mesmerizing/uplifting/mesmerizing and maddening.
When you realize that we’ve had a few total annihilation of the planet. 4 of them that we know about, that wiped out all life on the planet for eons. We’re just not that important and the Earth will reset us in the blink of an eye and not care in the least.
[7:54:34 PM] Nadia: This is a book?
[7:54:36 PM] Dan Jeffries: Yeah. It’s hands down the best non-fiction book I have ever read. It covers the duality of man like you would never believe. Every other page will just make you stop and say, no way! Take Conservationists from the last century. They single-handedly killed off numerous nearly extinct species. Conservationists! They sent there people around the world to collect specimen and if they found a bird that was the of its kind, they’d shoot it anyway, so they could mount it in their collection. They just had no idea. It’s unreal.
The dodo bird is the best example in history of the duality of man. We literally killed it for no reason other than it was stupid and trusting and it was fun. They lived in isolation for millions of years, with no predators. Then they came into contact with us and they were gone in a blink. All because they would come right up to people, with no fear and if you grabbed them and shook them, they would call all their friends to come see what was happening and get killed too. I won’t spoil any more. Just get it! That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
[7:58:31 PM] Nadia: Yeah, don’t! Getting it now. LOL.
[8:05:43 PM] Dan Jeffries: Well, I got one more question here.
[8:05:52 PM] Nadia: OK, shoot.
[8:06:02 PM] Dan Jeffries: If you ruled the world, what would be the one thing you would change?
[8:07:02 PM] Nadia: I would change the oceans, have them protected and cleaned up. Did you know that at the CURRENT rate of fishing there would be no fish left by 2040, is what many scientist predict, again that’s at our current rate.
The ocean is a food source for millions world wide. We are not being intelligent about how it’s sources are controlled. We need to implement sustainable fishing world wide. Shark finning is not necessary for survival, things like that.
[8:08:40 PM] Dan Jeffries: This was a lot of fun. Thanks for doing it.
[8:08:48 PM] Nadia: Yes it was. No worries! Anytime!
Lastly, here’s a little video with some fantastic underwater imagery for you to enjoy. Oh and it’s also got the last Komodo Dragons in the world: