Number one, you have to remain calm. Right?
Number two, you have to show no fear because the sharks, you see, the sharks can sense that fear.
Just as easily as they can sense blood. And so it went for me. Just as I knew it would. Just as nature had ordained its jaw wide open, row upon row of these razor sharp teeth glinting underwater like jagged diamonds, its tailfin sweeping back and forth as it surged in for the kill.
I swear to God my whole life flashed before my eyes. Really, I had nothing left to offer except for pure reflex. Pure reflex, and mankind’s basic drive for survival that somehow shouts,
“No, I will not die today!”
– Alex Garland, The Beach
I read The Beach in 1996 soon after its publication and became obsessed with the idea of a promised land out there somewhere in Southeast Asia, full of adventures, challenges and wonders. Back then there was no internet to speak of. We didn’t have mobile phones. Islands like “Ko Phi Phi” and “Phuket” in Thailand were still reasonably unspoilt and off the main tourist drag.
I arrived in Jakarta in the summer, and not long after checking into traveler digs on Jalan Jaksa for $1 a night, I found myself in the company of fellow travellers. People didn’t have the convenience of text messaging back then, so everything we found out about the world was through traveller’s tales. You heard rumours of distant islands, beaches or places nobody had been to before, filtered back through a “friend of a friend” who had just returned.
Today, we experience everything on Instagram first. Everyone’s seen the beauty of Palawan, Koh Phangan and Southeast Asia already, there is no mystery. In the 90s, the only hard information you could get hold of were “Rough Guides” and “Lonely Planets”. A used copy of LP could trade for $20 over an evening meal with travellers. I inherited a copy for Southeast Asia replete with all the footnotes, stickies and comments from the previous owners.
“Hotel owner is a thief, tried to steal Walkman”
“Surf instructor cute, but ask for Lani as she’s the only who knows what she’s doing”
“View amazing, make sure you don’t get room with pink walls next to brothel”
Before Instagram, before mobile and before Yelp, this is how people communicated and shared evolving stories about our world.
I spent 2 months backpacking across Southeast Asia. We got all the way out to the Eastern islands of Indonesia (Flores) where few locals had ever seen a white person before. There were no tour operators. We negotiated with 2 fishermen to commandeer their vessel and sail out to the Komodo islands to see the dragons. For 3 days we sailed around whirlpools and tropical storms, eating fish caught by the crew to finally anchor off Rinca and Komodo.
Deep down I’ve always yearned for The Beach. The adventure. The thrill. But, I always thought that was what other people did. I absorbed a carousel of images and stories from screens and books only to think this was fantasy or fiction.
Then aged 16, a family friend came by the house after returning from travels. He was 19, and as is tradition where I grew up, he took a “gap year” between college and University. He chose to travel around Asia. He told stories of traveling on minibuses dressed in garlands in the Philippines, of strange stinky fruits in Singapore and a $100 melon in Japan. When he left the house, my mind was a maelstrom of possibility. I was confused and excited.
All these years, adventures were what “others” did. And now, somebody like me has done something like this?
Now, this too could be my story.
Stories are the most powerful tools known to man.
Stories freed American slaves, sold the iPhone, got tyrants elected and took us to the Moon. But the most powerful story told is the one you keep telling yourself every day.
That’s the story of who you are and what you do:
– A “Struggling Artist” will always struggle, because that’s what they do.
– A “Boss” will always be the master, the answerer of all questions, responsible for all ideas and mistakes
– An “Influencer” will live for the expectations of others and die by their rejection.
Before Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile record in 1954, the world said it was impossible, dangerous even. Yet, in the year following his record, 4 more runners broke the record.
People don’t believe what you tell them. People sometimes believe what friends tell them. People always believe that they tell themselves. A story once believed will either imprison you or set you free forever.
In my time, I’ve played with different stories of my own:
– “lifestyle entrepreneur”
My favorite story is, however, “storyteller”
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There are no rules for telling your own story. But whatever story you choose, make sure it’s your own. As Harley Davidson once wrote, “When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.”
Everything you’ve ever achieved in your life that was momentous or special can, at some point, be traced back to a story told by somebody who meant something to you. You might think your story isn’t that special, but I guarantee it’s already shaping the lives of others.
Have fun with it. We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
You are not your job title.