We all fear something. On the surface, the biggest threats to our existence seem to be spiders or perhaps dangerous dogs. Yet if we dig a little deeper, there are often more sinister fears we’ve allowed to bubble beneath the surface. Unreasonable ones which steal our dreams and wrestle us into submission.
Who says we have the right to challenge the path our ancestors laid before us, as carpenters, corporate executives or even as stay at home mums? Our fears of failure hold us back from stepping out in search of an adventure. The fear-driven responsible voice inside warns us, “what if something goes wrong?”
Well, maybe it will. Life is unpredictable, as we know. But the best adventures are awarded to those who face their fears head on and ask themselves a new question instead,
“What if something goes right?”.
Olga Engman, a young Russian living in Sweden, is one such inspirational woman. She had dreams bigger than what her corporate accounting life could provide. Growing up as one of only two immigrants in her whole school, Olga was constantly on the back foot in trying to make friends or to simply fit in. She turned to sport as an escape and fell in love with surfing during a camp in Florida in 2002. A lack of opportunity in Europe to indulge in surfing only fueled Olga’s longing to get away from the routine of a 9-5 executive career, and surf the magnificent waves off the coast of Australia.
She would spend the nights away with her best friend, dreaming of exotic foods, golden beaches and planes to countries far away. Sleepless nights gave way to restless days and eventually, the girls made a now-or-never pact. In June 2016, two corporate companies received resignation letters, delivered by the shaking, yet determined hands of two girls with wanderlust in their hearts.
Less than a month later, Olga bid farewell to her best friend and family at the airport and set off for Bali and then Australia with her boyfriend, William, to begin a new chapter of her life.
To say it was worth the risk to brave the unknown, would be an understatement. Olga’s screeching alarm, rushed morning shower and stressful dash to work for a 9am start, has been replaced with a lifestyle more luxurious than her wildest dreams. Bright sun rays stream in through the open trunk of her camper van every morning, to kiss her awake. Her breakfasts are a choice of blueberry and mango acai bowls or perhaps a spot of French toast with maple syrup, eaten leisurely as she drinks in the warmth of the blue summer sky. She bathes with turtles in the clear aqua Aussie beach and spends her mornings surfing the smooth curling waves on her locally handmade surfboard.
On more than a few occasions, Olga’s experiences with Australian wildlife have been quite up close and personal. A few weeks after arriving in the country, Olga vividly remembers freezing in fear, when her boyfriend William pointed out a fin. It was swimming a mere 20m from where they were paddling.
“The longest seconds in my life passed”, she recalled, “then suddenly that fear turned into pure happiness when the fin turned out to belong to a pod of 10 dolphins that decided to play around us and surf our waves”.
Talk about living the dream!
She’s handfed wallabies and swum with tropical fish. The wildlife never shied away even during the amazing hours she and William spent stranded alone at a 4WD access only-surf break on Double Island Point. The high tide kept all tourists away but welcomed the dolphins and turtles who kept the pair company for the entire experience. Olga surfed a perfect, 300-meter-long right hander wave over the sand and she describes the magical day as yet another one she will always remember.
Olga came to Australia with the hopes of finding alternative ways to make money, compared to the taxing years she’d spent in finance back home. During her time abroad so far, she’s worked in a variety of bars, cafés and clothing stores. Interestingly, whilst her fortnightly salary might be lower than that of her “suit and tie” career, her quality of life has skyrocketed.
Olga learnt this lesson in a frighteningly realistic way, shortly after arriving in Bali in July 2016.
“I had been living in denial about the fact that I was under a lot of stress at my old (accounting) job”, she admitted. “I didn’t realize that the whole environment I was in wasn’t good for my health. I went to work even though I felt sick and was so riddled with guilt when I stayed home, that I ended up working from home anyway”.
This vicious cycle of anxiety all came crashing down on Olga after arriving in Bali, and she ended up in hospital with a mini stroke, a TIA. She lost her memory, was completely disorientated with her surroundings and forgot the names of family and friends.
It’s from such an experience that Olga now lives her life with a whole new meaning. As she emphasises clearly,
“I have really learnt that every day is important. We will not be here forever and I wouldn’t want to wake up one day realizing and regretting that I didn’t wake up earlier”.
Every day, Olga now enjoys the enriching lifestyle she bravely stepped away from her career to explore. She’s found acceptance and love along her journey. Something that she had craved for so long, in her small hometown in Sweden.
Her wanderlust lifestyle has allowed her to make new best friends, laugh freely with random surf partners and experience the kindness of strangers who stop to help with even the smallest of tasks like changing a flat tyre. Her love, William, has been equally supportive of her journey and Olga has found that it’s those daily interactions that make the ups and downs of an entire adventure worth it.
Olga will soon be leaving Australia. She considers Manly, NSW her second home, and knows bidding her new found family farewell, will be sad. At the same time, however, she’s excited about upcoming trips planned, including travels to NZ, Indonesia, Cambodia and Japan. Olga has admitted that she intends for life to be a little different when she returns home now, since tasting the freedom of the adventurous lifestyle. She’s excitedly announced that she’ll be starting up a new project to build her own camper van.
As she explains,
“Road tripping through Australia was the best thing I have ever done. So now I am going to hit the road in Europe to see what kind of awesome surf I can score there”.
Olga left Stockholm, Sweden fearful of the unknown, but with big dreams to surf the waves of Australia and get out to explore the world. Already, she has grown into a more confident, fearless woman with a strong sense of adventure and awareness of what she can accomplish in her life.
As Olga pointed out,
“People often have fears that they won’t make it. But I have learnt that everything has a way of sorting itself out. You can never be prepared for everything that might happen. So, you might as well go out and learn along the way, rather than stay at home and worry about what could go wrong”.
If you’ve got big dreams and are waiting for the opportune moment to make them happen, don’t waste any more time. It’s more than likely that opportune moment will happen when you make it happen. Just like Olga had to start her own adventures, by putting forward a letter of resignation. No one handed her this opportunity on a silver platter, but she’s never regretted taking that leap of faith.