There are no bad experiences, just experiences.
I heard this while sitting on an island, frizzy hair and damp swim suit while huddled around a plastic picnic table eating Tom Yam soup (a Malaysian staple) to replenish after a morning spent along the ocean floor. The restaurant was authentic: open air patio with a small kitchen views of the picturesque beach and unsophisticated—yet adequate—squat toilets and signs warning Do not feed the monkeys to keep things interesting.
The insight came from JC, a 5’3” scuba instructor living in Kota Kinabalu, a vibrant city on the island of Borneo.
He was born in Malaysia but grew up in London and maintained the British accent long after he returned to Malaysia twenty years later. His wide smile, boundless energy and easygoing nature made him a fantastic guide for a scuba adventure.
I had completed my scuba certification in Australia the week before in order to take advantage of the great diving Malaysia had to offer and booked a day-trip a few days before arriving.
JC and I met when I discovered he would be our dive master charged with taking us out along the reef, keeping us safe, and showing us a good time. Over the course of two days and six dives, JC was constantly smiling, cracking jokes and accommodating the various requests of scuba divers. Both days we took a long lunch that provided a good chance to learn more about the folks on the boat.
JC has been in the tourism industry for years. He began by taking travelers up Mount Kinabalu (a two-day trek with a hefty incline). After hundreds of trips he needed a new challenge and switched to weeklong treks through the jungle. He also teaches weekly spin classes and is in the process of learning to hang glide.
When I asked him what it was like to be a scuba instructor he said the trick was to always be four steps ahead. He interacts with people so often he can predict their needs before they realize they have them. It’s evident he prides himself on offering great service to travelers and shaping new experiences.
Between exploring mountains, jungles and the ever-changing ocean floor, JC had many stories. He shared a few good ones before I asked about the worst experienced he’d had as a tour guide.
There are no bad experiences, only experiences.
Yes, sometimes the weather isn’t cooperative, equipment breaks, and things don’t go according to plan. But still, within those moments, exists learning, memories, emotion—the feeling of being alive.
An experience isn’t good or bad, it simply is what it is. And if you accept the situation as it is, you can stop analyzing and simply be in the moment. Not all moments are enjoyable, but it’s easier to make the most of them when fully immersed.
The alternative—ruminating that you wish this wasn’t how it was—is unproductive when you’re in a situation outside of your control.
That’s how JC succeeds on the job. He’s fully present as he surveys the weather, the equipment and the people. He doesn’t get overwhelmed when things don’t go according to plan: he stays calm and seeks solutions.
You can focus your energy on judging a situation or you can focus on finding a solution.
The remaining time I spent in Malaysia (and southeast asia) was filled with experiences: crazy road trips across potholed roads, sunburns, late night games of cards, nearly missed flights, new friends, moments of exhaustion followed by bursts of adventure and energy.
Some moments felt good and others didn’t, but being fully immersed made the sum of those moments lead to an incredibly rich and memorable experience.
JC would have been proud.