Derek Dodds Bali
Life Lessons,  Travel

One Conversation Can Change Your Life

I worked for the federal government right out of college. It was the kind of job that came with a badge and a gun. G man, they called me. That is a real thing, that G talk. When you enter a government job you are assigned a grade level, GS-5, GS-7, etcetera—and when you get a promotion they bump you up a number until you reach 15. General Schedule 15 is the top dog. Ruff. Ruff.

If you met me today, you would think that I was joking if I told you that I worked in federal law enforcement. Long blond hair. Chasing waves. Talk of eastern mystics. But it’s true as the sky is blue.

After a year of working my GS-5 butt off, they gave me a seven-day vacation. I was able to wiggle another week from my manager’s greedy little GS-10’s fists. I had been surfing since I was 11 and had always wanted to go to Bali and that is exactly where I was headed.

Bali is on the other side of our globe. As far as I was concerned, it was on a different planet—another world. It’s a small island in the massive Indonesian archipelago of more than 17,000 islands. Most of Indonesia is Muslim, but Bali’s culture is unlike any of the other 17,000 islands. It feels like a mixture between Hinduism and Buddhism. The Hindu influences go back to the 1st century AD when some poor guy on his canoe likely got stuck in a current off the Indian coast and floated to Bali. That’s my guess.

Balinese believe that gods and goddesses are present in all things. Every element of nature possesses its power, both good and evil, which reflects the power of the gods. Ritual and art are expressions of these beliefs and woven into the fabric of Balinese society. There are small templates in every home. As your wealth increases, so does the size of your temple. Unlike America, where you go from a Chevy to a Lexus.

It’s an 18-hour flight to Bali direct, add a stop somewhere to gas the plane and stretch your legs, and you’ve lost more than an entire day. Luckily you make it up on the way back when you cross the international dateline, which always trips me out. It’s the closest thing we have to a time machine, that imaginary 180 degrees longitudinal line in the ocean.

I landed in Denpasar, the capital of Bali, and my driver took me to my hotel in Kuta beach. Saying ‘my driver’ sounds posher then it really is. The Balinese preempted the Uber idea decades ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if the founders of Uber got the idea after a visit to Bali.

There I was on my two-week vacation, grateful for the extra week I managed to finagle from GS-10. I dropped my bags and made my way to the pool just outside my hotel room. Something was about to happen that would change my entire life. One casual conversation was about to rock my noggin. This is something we forget often, how a single moment can shift our lives. I guess it happens all the time, we just don’t notice it.

You are probably thinking that something devastating happened to me or that someone dropped a wisdom bomb on me that made my head explode. Well, yes and no.—I had a small shift in perspective and the realization that anything was possible.

I bumped into an Australian surfer at the pool. Bali is crawling with Australians. Bali is in Australia’s backyard barbie—not the doll, the thing you use to cook food. Almost every Australian surfer I know has spent time in Bali over the years. Most non-surfing Australians have been there too. Thus meeting an Australian in Bali is like meeting a Mexican guy at your favorite taco stand in California.

We sparked up a conversation, he was the second Australian that I had met my entire life. I told him proudly that I was on a two-week vacation and went into how I wrestled my manager into the extra week. I asked him how long his vacation was? He looked me in the eyes and told me he wasn’t on vacation, he was going to be traveling for a year to see the world. I was in total disbelief. What about your resume? How will you earn money? Is that even legal I thought to myself?

He went on to tell me how he had been working hard to save the money for the last year. He had his entire route planned and shared with me some of his itineraries: Asia, Africa, and South America. I was awestruck. My mouth was watering and I was still trying to work out in my head if what he was doing was even possible. ‘Of course it’s possible mate, it’s your life, you can create whatever you want.’ Those were the magic lines that changed me forever.

Up until that point, I was living someone else’s life. I was following the script, but not my script. I hadn’t lifted one creative finger to craft my life. I hated wearing a suit, carrying a gun—I didn’t want a two-week vacation, I wanted to travel the world like my new friend. I wanted to see every continent and surf in the most exotic places I could find. I wanted my life without even knowing what that was. I knew what I didn’t want, and that was a great start. I had never thought about it before that moment. Maybe I thought about it, but I didn’t think it was possible to change it. Now I knew—once you know there is no going back.