Meet Cheryl! This diving beauty has been living it up in Australia, stepping out of the cookie-cutter approach to life that we BOTH were raised in. I have known this amazing woman since we were in elementary school together. We competed in sports together and academics, and it has been SO amazing to see her journey take her to the other side of the world and explore exciting and thrilling new adventures. Take a read, I’m sure her story will connect to you and maybe give you that extra encouragement to give your unexplored options a try!
Name: Cheryl Smith
Occupation: Project Manager, Sailing Whitsundays (Online Travel Agency)/Dive Instructor
What were you doing before you fell onto this path?
Leading up to my current position, I was working as a (Scuba) Dive Instructor on overnight boat tours in the Whitsundays, QLD. These tours ranged from 2 days/2 nights to 3 days/3 nights with group sizes ranging from 8 – 28 passengers. It was in this role that I discovered an imbedded passion for scuba diving, Ocean/Reef Protection and tourism; a passion that I had yet to discover in my previous years of employment.
Before landing this job, I was living and working in Ontario across various positions (Liaison Officer, Athletic Therapist, Beverage Cart Attendant, …), whilst completing my Kinesiology Degree. I always knew that I would find myself in an active role, but never imagined I would soon become a Certified Dive Instructor!
After 2 ½ years (essentially living) at sea, I decided it was time to hang up my fins and approach my passion from dry land, which brings me to where I am today! Now, I get to share my knowledge and experience with those looking to visit the Whitsunday Islands and explore the Great Barrier Reef in a variety of interactive ways. I use my creativity to develop marketing campaigns and strategies to highlight my new-found love.
Would you say you were happy with what you were doing previously? Or was there something that was missing from your previous career path?
I was! I must admit, I was very lucky with my past employment… I always seemed to find myself in positions which I thoroughly enjoyed. For me, I was missing something in my day-to-day life and the overall satisfaction I had with my home environment. Please do not mistake this with my home/family environment! – I grew up in a great home, with incredible family and friends, whom I miss dearly. It was something more external… something I couldn’t really put into words…
I now realize that I was lacking a ‘passion’, exploration and the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone.
If you were happy with your current career, what was it about (Your passion) that made you believe it was time to act on this interest & develop it into more than just a hobby?
Originally, I chose to leave my career because I realized I was the perfect time in my life to branch off and see other parts of the world! I never ruled my previous career out and to this day think there is great possibility to return to it. It was simply a perfect opportunity to explore other avenues before making concrete decisions. At that point in time, I didn’t have any solid commitments or a relationship to keep me stationary. I was a single, recently graduated and very curious 22-year old. At the time that I left, I hadn’t yet realized the ‘passion’ that I was about to pursue. I simply had the inner urge to explore unknown opportunities. My passion for travel, scuba diving and the Ocean at large came soon afterwards…
Had you had experience in an area like this before?
Prior to my arrival into Australia, I had only once swum in the Ocean (on a family vacation in the Dominican Republic) and only snorkeled on a few occasions. I knew very little about scuba diving and had yet to experience the exhilarating activity. Living in Hamilton, Canada, I also had minimal exposure to international Tourism (or even local Tourism for that matter) – it was never an industry I envisioned myself getting involved in.
My first ever scuba dive (on the Great Barrier Reef) was an unforgettable one and obviously a very influential one! It didn’t take me long to realize that I was in my element when I had a regulator in my mouth and the deep blue sea 360 degrees around me. It is a whole other world beneath the Ocean’s surface! You can watch a documentary, read a National Geographic or go to an exhibit on the ocean’s wonders… it is a whole other dimension to experience it firsthand.
Did you have a mentor/ role model whom you confided in as you ventured into this new territory? How did they help shape your decision to follow your passion/ how have they shaped your journey?
I was lucky to have many mentors and role models throughout my journey! The company I first started working for was comprised of a variety of crew, who had all come from all over the World to do the same thing: share their love of the sea with others (and have fun too!). I was working with individuals from Germany, New Zealand, the Netherlands, England, Ireland, Sweden… the list goes on! Many of these people had dived all over the World, and others had started off just as I had. I was inspired by both! Being able to see that you could go from a completely inexperienced Diver to a fully certified Instructor if you put your full heart into it was a ‘kicker’ for me. Listening to exciting dive stories from the more experienced crew gave me incentive to fulfill this new goal of becoming a Dive Instructor.
My crew were incredible and helped me every step of the way. Every one took time out of their own schedules to help keep me on top of the work load and perfect my technique. Over the course of 6 months, I successfully competed my PADI Open Water Course, Advanced Course, Rescue Course, Dive Master Course and, alas, my OWSI Dive Instructor Course! I will never forget these people – their personal stories, unique approach to diving, passion for the Reef and of course, the long-lasting relationships I had built.
Many books that I’ve been reading talk about discovering your happiness in life, and the easiest way to start is to look back at what you were interested in as a child. Did you ever play games/ participate in activities related to this field?
My parents always referred to me as their ‘water baby’ or ‘little fish’ for my evident love of the water from a very young age. My mum tells stories of bringing me to my brother’s swimming lessons: she would put me on the edge to do a skill with Greg and I would just launch myself back into the water and frolic my way to the surface with a smug smile from ear to ear into my mum’s arms. I seemed to have no fear when it came to the water! My love for the water was apparent in the many activities I participated in growing up: competitive swimming, synchronized swimming, wake-boarding, fishing… I guess it should come as no surprise that I took to scuba diving so quickly and fondly!
Instructing was also an area I enjoyed from a younger age. My first job was as a Swim Instructor working for the Orangeville Otters. I loved being able to work with kids, teaching skills and getting to see the results. Again, my transition into becoming a Dive Instructor was a rather natural one given my past teaching experiences.
What were some of the challenges you faced when deciding to follow your passion & pursue this dream?
The ultimate challenge that I still to this day struggle with is being so far away from my family and close friends. I never had the intention of staying in Australia when I left, but now that I am still here, I do have to deal with the consequences of my decision to stay. How I deal: I Skype with my parents on a bi-daily basis, FB stalk nearly every one of my close friends on a daily basis, ensure at least one trip home to Canada per year, try and arrange holidays with friends and lastly, I ensure I’m surrounded by supportive people over here. This year, I am lucky enough to have both my mum and dad come visit!
A major challenge I came across when becoming a Dive Instructor was realizing that what I was attempting to do in 6 months, many did over the course of years! I was surrounded by admirable professionals and wanted to meet their high expectations. Building my confidence up, learning from my mentors and putting in the extra effort showed them I was fully competent to take on this role.
Ironically enough, the next hurdle came when I finally became certified as a Dive Instructor: having confidence in myself as a professional. A very common question you will get from a student diver is ‘how long have you been diving for?’ or ‘how many dives have you done?’ Obviously, getting started, my experience was limited. But we all have to start somewhere, don’t we!? It was challenging gaining the trust of my divers if they were aware of my ‘Novice’ status. I dealt with this by perfecting my briefings (for both certified divers and introductory divers), speaking with a firmer confidence and answering questions in an honest way, but not a “yes, you are right: I am brand new to this and you are about to trust me with your life” sort of way.
Do you have any advice to other women who are possibly on the fence with following their own directions?
Just follow it! Take the chance. Take the risk. It could be the best decision you’ve ever made… For the pessimists: of course it could very well be the worst decision you’ve ever made; I promise, even if this is the case, the whole discovery process will leave you feeling empowered as an individual.
Focus on the positive and what you will get out of it.
At the end of the day, just because you choose to pursue a new path, it doesn’t mean you cannot return to your old one. Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work out and you return to your previous route. At least you will know that you took a chance, put yourself first and you can continue living your life without the ‘what if?’
But perhaps you will find a missing piece of the puzzle, as I did? With pursuing passion comes great happiness.
Looking back, is there anything that you may have changed that you think would have helped you get on this path sooner?
An open mind!
Where do you see this passion growing to over the next 5 years? And 10?
Honestly, I do not see myself pursuing dive instructing in the future. While I will never say never, I have discovered that scuba diving is something I get most out of when it is for my personal enjoyment! I have had a blast introducing others to the underwater world, seeing the huge smiles following a dive and knowing that I may have kick-started someone else’s scuba diving journey. At the same time, it is a high-stress job with many risks involved. I am at the point where I would like to explore new underwater worlds and improve my underwater photography skills – as opposed to looking after students!
It’s also time for me to explore new passions! Through pursuing this one, I was introduced to so many other great things that I now have in my life. It’s amazing how taking one chance can open up the door to so many other great things. If I hadn’t taken that leap of faith, I would not have met my partner, Luke (my perfect match); I would not have known how much I love to Stand-Up Paddle Board, golf and box!
Where I will be in 5 years? 10 years? I have no idea, nor do I want to know. If there is one thing I have learned over the last couple years it is: to live in the present. If I continue to make the most of my ‘now’, I’m sure I will end up in a great place in my future.
Where can someone find more information about your company/ career choice?
There are many dive organizations that offer scuba diving instruction, but I would recommend PADI over the rest as they are recognized world-wide and an organization with the highest of safety standards.
Go to: http://www.padi.com/scuba/
For more information on the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef adventures, go to: