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How Scuba Diving Made Me Realize Not to Sacrifice Happiness for Money

The story of how my passion for scuba gave me the courage to change career paths and find my own happiness

It was during the middle of college that I realized I wasn't happy with the way my life was going. I was on track to go to pharmacy school, was getting good grades, and had everything figured out. 

The only problem was this: I felt unhappy. I wasn't excited about pharmacy school and never even wanted to go in the first place. My family and high school counselors pushed me to become a pharmacist and dismissed my dream of becoming an archaeologist. They told me that dream was never going to work out and becoming a pharmacist offered "financial security". At the time, pleasing my family and the prospect of making a whole lot of money was my only priorities. So I did what I was told, stored that dream away, and I was fine with it.

At least that's what I kept telling myself. You can lie to yourself about being ok for only so long before the effects of making a choice that you didn't want to make start to show. Eventually, you break. In my junior year of college, I fell into depression and felt my life was not in my control. Every time I thought about my future as a pharmacist, I wanted to gag. I finally had to face the fact that I couldn't keep doing this. The "financial security" wasn't worth the cost of my happiness. A change needed to happen.

I decided to try something that was completely my own choice. Something that I wanted to do since I was a kid and saw the world as my oyster. Something I once believed would make me a great archaeologist. I decided to learn how to scuba dive.

I remembered that when I was in a local community college they offered a course on scuba diving. My journey started there with online learning courses and pool sessions where I learned things I never imagined were essential to scuba divers. Taking off and clearing your mask underwater, sharing air with other divers, putting all your scuba gear on while trying to stay afloat, and countless other skills. While this was all done in the safety of a well lit, chlorinated swimming pool, I felt like I was already a master of diving.

Then it was time for the open water test.

Let me clarify by saying I live in Northwestern USA. Which means any water that is outdoors will be a guaranteed 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. I didn't believe this was going to be a problem as wetsuits are supposed to keep you warm, right? Wrong. They let the water in, then the suit is supposed to insulate and warm up the water to your body heat. Or, in my case, you just constantly feel as if you're submerged in an ice bath that wants to get in every crevice of your body.

Once in the water, our instructor's plan was to lead our group to dive 30 feet and then circle back and, voila, we would be certified recreational scuba divers. I only made it a few feet in before I had a panic attack and had to resurface. After I was dragged back to shore, I broke down in shame that I failed to get my certification. After much reassurance from other divers and friends, I realized that this was only a minor setback and even though I panicked I was more determined than ever to get my certification. I had finally found a challenge that while difficult, stirred a feeling of purpose and passion that I hadn't felt in years.

On my second try, rather than panic, I felt an indescribable feeling of calm. I felt I was part of something greater than myself as I observed the fish swimming by me nonchalantly like I was one of them. I was able to complete the open water dive and received my recreational diver certification. My scuba journey finally came to an end.


The moment that dive ended, it felt as though a dam of possibilities was unleashed. I wanted more. I went on more dives and while I still experienced struggles while diving, I never felt happier doing anything else. Scuba gave me the courage to tell my family that I no longer wanted to be a pharmacist. I decided to finally follow my dream of becoming an archaeologist. Unsurprisingly, some reacted poorly, but I was beyond trying to please them. The only thing that mattered to me was my own happiness and making my own choices. I understand its hard for some families to accept that while they think they're doing whats best for you, in the end you have to be true to yourself or end up miserable with the way your life is heading.

Today, I have an advanced diving certification and have dived countless locations in the USA and outside of the country. I am currently finishing a degree in archaeology and while it means I'll be in school longer, I regret nothing and am still radiating with joy at the fact that it was ME who made this decision. A decision I would never have made were it not for me taking a chance and trying scuba diving.

Overall, I know that it's scary to go against the wishes of family and peers (it was downright more terrifying explaining my new career than it was diving 100 feet). And while they believe the path they put you on may seem like the financially right choice, you have to ask yourself: is it the right choice for me? Do what makes you happy and explore the world of possibilities before you.

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