Since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by the ocean, which is strange as before the age of 30 I barely knew how to swim. Instead, I spent my 20s living as a quintessential New York gal, working my way up the corporate ladder in the heart of Manhattan.
In my high-flying career in advertising, I went to bed at 2am every night and thought nothing of working 100-hour weeks. I barely even thought of the sea, let alone got near it. I was too busy making waves in leadership and management, working on campaigns with global brands, such as Coca-Coca, Rolls-Royce and InterContinental Hotels.
By 2018, I started working with a venture capital firm that specialises in high-growth impact business creation. Around the same time, there was a constant stream of news on climate devastation. I couldn’t get away from the fact that the planet was dying – and I was doing nothing about it.
I was driven by a deep instinct to change the direction of my life
It sparked a wake-up call. One moment I was sitting at my desk thinking, “I need to break from my corporate life to do more with skills”. The next, I was on a plane to Bali, and eventually moving to Perth, Western Australia. I was determined to start a new path; one that centred around impact work.
It was a crazy spur-of-the-moment move that no one saw coming. My friends and family were shocked. I was so successful in my job. I’d worked hard and had it all mapped out. People couldn’t understand why I’d leave my shiny Manhattan career behind for Perth, a rural-style capital tens of thousands of miles away.
It’s safe to say, everyone thought I was nuts. But I couldn’t justify being in an office one moment longer. I was driven by a deep instinct to change the direction of my life, applying everything I’d learnt in corporate culture to care for the ocean and the planet. And where better to start than in Australia, the mecca of all things nature, wildlife and incredible seascapes.
I needed to be able to master swimming
The move also involved setting up my own business to work alongside other companies involved in conservation and impact projects. And I finally trained to become a divemaster and follow through on the connection I’ve always felt to the underwater world.
It was an interesting journey because I first had to learn to swim. I had done so decades earlier as a child but I’d never actually put the skills into practice and was horrified to discover I could barely do a lap across the pool without using fins.
It was a sharp learning curve and I was way out of my comfort zone but I knew I couldn’t get by on treading water or just swimming a few laps. I needed to be able to master swimming to a level where I could care for others and manage every scenario, including advanced open water diving and rescue skills.
Diving immerses you in this magical, otherworldly universe
I began my training in earnest in 2019, working my way through various certificates. Luckily, I met a dive instructor in Perth who took me under his wing. He trained me really hard. I’ve also been able to learn about ocean patterns and how to navigate the sea in different environments. I spend as much time in open water these days as I do on land.
What I love about diving is that you’re completely immersed in this magical, otherworldly universe. Once you learn how to dive well, you can take the time to really look closely at different elements of marine life, revealing intricate layers of colour, behavior and detail that will blow you away.
It almost doesn’t matter what you see – it might be anything from manta rays to reef sharks, delicate coral reefs or small schools of cuttlefish – it’s all exceptional. And it opens your eyes as to why we need to protect this rare and beautiful ecosystem.
I got the idea for the expedition diving on Fiji’ Rainbow Reef
Another thing that’s special about diving is the sense of community and the relationships you make along the way. Diving requires you to trust one another in this intense and unique setting; you can’t replicate that feeling anywhere else. It’s a powerful way of bonding with strangers over something you’re both passionate about. It’s also a great way to learn about people’s lives and gain an understanding of other cultures.
In fact, it was while I was diving on Fiji’ Rainbow Reef in 2021 that I first got the idea for my upcoming Edges of Earth expedition. The locals guiding me on the dives knew the reef inside out. They led me to incredible spots I’d never have found alone, and they taught me new skills with warmth and humour.
It made me realize that I could use diving as a means of connecting with different communities around the world, while also raising awareness of the grassroot efforts happening globally to conserve our spectacular oceans.
Embarking on an entrepreneurial path is amazing and exhausting
From that point on, I’ve spent every moment planning and funding a two-year trip that will see us visit 50 destinations across all seven continents. Set to depart in 2023, our crew, including my husband and various drop-in photographers and translators, will visit some of the globe’s most remote ocean communities, highlighting major marine events and sharing compelling stories.
Looking at the adventure ahead, I’m reminded of my breakthrough moment leaving corporate Manhattan. Taking the plunge from a comfortable life into the great unknown was terrifying. There was always a risk of failing. I was so scared on my early dives that sometimes my hands would tremble. Yet each time I worked through the fear, trusting that it would pass, knowing what was waiting for me on the other side would be exceptional.
Embarking on an entrepreneurial path is equal parts amazing and exhausting. It’s not for the faint-hearted. But I’d say, if you want to do something different with your life, get your training wheels in place and then go for it. It was a radical decision to upend my old life but I haven’t looked back since.
Andi Cross is a growth strategist, divemaster, founder of impact consultancy WILDPALM, and Lead of the Edges of Earth expedition, highlighting stories of remote ocean conservation communities and organisations in 50 destinations worldwide.
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Images: courtesy of Andi Cross, Edges of Earth and Marla Tomorug.