• Diving with sharks may not be for everyone, but we can all benefit from taking a step outside our comfort zones. (Getty Images )
Sophia Auld shares how finding a passion for diving gave her the confidence boost to leave a dead end job and meet the love of her life.
By
Sophia Auld

24 Jan 2018 - 9:11 AM  UPDATED 24 Jan 2018 - 9:13 AM

Years earlier, I’d dreamed that my left hand was severed by a shark, and I sold my story to a glossy women’s magazine.

Probably not a big deal, except I was about to embark on a week of scuba-diving along the New South Wales coast, including locations renowned for shark sightings.

My left hand remains intact, but stepping out of my comfort zone to dive with sharks has taught me invaluable lessons.

Stepping out of my comfort zone didn’t come naturally.

As a child, I was incredibly insecure. Being smart, pudgy and wearing glasses put a ‘bully me’ target on my back.

I dealt with it by laying low and avoiding responsibility. I still remember the time – I must have been in about grade three – when the teacher asked me to photocopy some worksheets.

My terror of failure became a self-fulfilling prophecy as my hands fumbled with the paper pile and my panicked brain couldn’t comprehend the instructions for using the monstrous machine.

Tail between legs, I retreated to the classroom, where the task was assigned to a more ‘competent’ youngster.

Add a case of acne into the mix and the recipe for chronic insecurity was complete.

Hello years of self-deprecation, doubt and disabling fear of failure.

For me, the pattern was set – I continued to avoid risk, which sometimes left me stuck in dead-end jobs and unhealthy relationships.

I know now that I wasn’t alone. Statistics from Beyond Blue show that one in seven Australians aged 4-17 suffer  from poor mental health, about half of these are anxiety disorders.

For me, the pattern was set – I continued to avoid risk, which sometimes left me stuck in dead-end jobs and unhealthy relationships.

Unrecognised and unnamed fears kept me from pursuing my dreams of travel and writing. 

Then I discovered scuba-diving. Exploring the underwater world unearthed a passion buried in childhood.

I quickly progressed through training levels to dive master, the last step before becoming an instructor, which boosted my confidence.

Diving took me to places around Australia and overseas, and introduced me to fascinating people.

More importantly, it introduced me to sharks. While many people are petrified of them, sharks are frequently on a diver’s bucket list of creatures they’d love to see in the wild.

So, when the opportunity arose to dive a location known for its grey nurse shark population, I signed up.

Our dive leader spotted them first. His frantic hand signals were quickly understood as two sleek grey shapes rocketed towards us from out of the blue.

Our group of five backed up against the reef and spread our arms wide, trying to look as large as possible, and one of the sharks veered off. But the other kept coming.

The Darth Vader-like sound of divers breathing through regulators increased in speed and intensity. 

We looked at each other, wide-eyed. Only at the last moment, about two metres out, did the second shark turn away.

Back on shore, some research revealed we’d been buzzed by bull sharks.

These sharks are known to be aggressive, and are one of the species most likely to attack humans.

It’s the only time I’ve been afraid while diving.

After all, if I can dive with sharks, how hard can anything else be?

Knowing that I have done something that inspires panic in most people has helped me overcome fear and take on new challenges with confidence.

After all, if I can dive with sharks, how hard can anything else be?

This realisation helped me leave a dud job and embark on travels around Australia.

I left Sydney with the goal of travelling the entire coastline, doing locum work to fund my scuba-diving.

Six months later, while working in Queensland, I met the man who I knew would become my life partner. At 30, love cut short my travels, but not my passion for the ocean, which my husband shares.

I even taught him how to dive. 

Now at 49, I revisit these experiences to help me deal with anxiety-provoking situations.

Diving with sharks may not be for everyone, but we can all benefit from taking a step outside our comfort zones.

When I went into labour with my first daughter, the trainee anaesthetist fumbled to insert the spinal block for my emergency caesarean.

Fortunately, my diving training  kicked in, and I applied the “Stop, breathe, think and act” principles I’d learned.

Tempted to panic, I was able to stop, breathe and allow the doctors to do their job.

Knowing that I have stayed calm in a situation that inspires panic in most people has helped me take on new challenges with confidence.

I revisit these experiences to help with learning new skills (like learning to ride a bike), and when dealing with intimidating people (like editors).

Research has shown that people’s biggest regrets are usually a reflection of where they have missed their largest opportunities for growth or change.

I don’t want to live with the regret of not having tried.

Diving with sharks may not be for everyone, but we can all benefit from taking a step outside our comfort zones.

I’d back myself up against that rocky reef again any day. 

Sophia Auld is a freelance writer. 

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