May 11, 2013

“Passion and Adventure – All in a day’s work”

Two of the most critical components of a meaningful life for me are passion and adventure.

How often does each of us get to experience both in our daily lives?

This week marks seven years ago since I moved from NYC to take the Executive Director position at Save Our Shores.  Many have asked me why I left everyone and everything I had known my whole life to come to Santa Cruz – a town I knew nothing about and where I knew no one.  The answer was my passion.  I had always been passionate about the environment and since I was a little girl growing up right by the beach on Long Island, I had a particular love of the ocean.  The job at SOS was a chance to run an organization that was all about protecting the ocean.  I jumped at the opportunity because for too long I had been in jobs that weren’t making enough of a difference and weren’t directly helping to improve our environment.

While it was passion that drove me to make the decision to come to a place where the ocean was on “the other side”, it was my love of adventure that literally drove me out here.  I packed up my red Chevy S-10 pickup truck and drove across the country, stopping at every national park that was reasonably close to my route.  I had no idea what I was in for when I would arrive in Santa Cruz and when I did the adventure didn’t stop there.  On my first day of work, I quickly found out it had really only just begun.

There were no staff to run programs and maybe that was because there weren’t really many programs running and maybe that was because SOS had very little funding.  But I loved Santa Cruz from the minute I arrived and I had come such a long way.  I was determined to do all I could to build the organization back to the strong leading non-profit it had been in this community.  This translated to working constantly;   late nights in the office until I would pass out from exhaustion, leading all of our beach cleanups and tabling events every weekend and attending every meeting I could to make connections and raise money.  If it weren’t for my passion to protect the ocean I don’t know that I would have been able to put in all of those hours.  So while I spent the past seven years working hard behind a computer in my office or in meetings in conference rooms, I never found enough time to be as connected to what I’m protecting as I wanted to be.  Until now, that is…….

On Wednesday I took a journey across the Monterey Bay in a small (17.5 foot) boat with Matt McFadyen and Cameron Webb of Peak Teams.  I had this rare opportunity to row and sail because Matt and Cam are taking their boat, “Fairmont’s Passion”, on an expedition through the Northwest Passage to the Arctic Circle this summer and they wanted to do this 25 mile training run.  I asked if I could come along so I could see first-hand the amazing beauty of our Sanctuary and the wildlife in it.  Because the expedition, “Beyond the Circle”, is a 2,000 mile journey where they hope to raise awareness about ocean protection and raise money for SOS, they thought it was a great idea to include me since we were already partners.  I thought it was a great idea too, three months ago, but in the days leading up to it last week, I thought I was out of my mind.

I had been out for the Wednesday night sailboat races and kayaked a few times in Santa Cruz but two hours on the ocean is usually the amount of time I’m comfortable with.  This would be six hours at least on the water in a very tiny boat.  Would I be cold, would I get seasick, would I get bored?  All of my fears seemed to fill my head the day before the trip.  Cam has said, “One way to make something big happen in your life that you’re not sure you can do, is to tell everyone you’re going to do it and then you’ve got to do it.”  Well that’s what I had done.  The press release already had gone out so there was no getting out of it.  I just hoped I would survive without being too miserable.

And miraculously, the absolute opposite of what I expected, happened.  I enjoyed myself so much that it felt like the best day of work ever!  Just being out on an adventure, doing something I wasn’t sure I could do left me with such a feeling of accomplishment – my words here can’t describe it.  Now it’s not like I was rowing the boat the whole way.  These two guys are the real adventurers.  They rowed for hours in perfect rhythm, making the task appear easy.  I was given the responsibility of steering the boat and using the compass – not so easy since I was hoping to concentrate on finding whales.  I did prove Cam’s theory that humans only have a nine second attention span.  I would be steering us straight and then a few seconds later I’d be leaning the tiller off to the right as my eyes drifted from my Monterey landmark in my search for whales (which I never found).  I did get a chance to row for a while (maybe because they wanted someone else to steer so we would actually arrive in Monterey at some point) and it was definitely not as easy as these guys made it seem.  I had to really focus so as not to continue to jam my hands between the oars which I did three times.  All I could think of was, this is just one day of rowing and these guys are going for 90 days of this to make their 2,000 mile voyage?!

Many would think they were crazy, as I may have thought as well prior to this day with them.  But I think now I get it.  Matt says there are three main reasons to do this trip:  1.)  To go where not many people have gone.  For me, I’m not sure how many other people have made the journey I did to be one with what they protect.  2.)  To get away from the hecticness of what daily life has become – the cell phones, the constant emails, etc.  And I must say for those seven hours I felt completely at peace, my mind was clear and I felt at one with nature.  3.)  To be able to come back and tell their story to others who haven’t made the journey.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell you here what my experience was.  It was a wonderful journey for me, witnessing first-hand the beauty of the Sanctuary, finding only two pieces of trash (a balloon and a potato chip bag), and seeing sea otters, seals, sea lions, cormorants and baby dolphins all swimming by us.  Watching the animals so seemingly happy in this Sanctuary, I felt like they were trying to say thanks to SOS because they were all doing so well.  That alone was enough to make me feel like all that work in the past seven years was worth it.

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