My good friend Darren was in town for a few days this past weekend.  Darren and I were close friends in high school, and with my baby sister tagging along the three of us escaped the clutches of small town New Brunswick at about age 21.  We drove across Canada in Darren’s car stuffed with all of our worldly possessions, to build a new life in Calgary.  We made it, and we never looked back.

Darren and Drew in 2007 or so
Darren and Drew in 2007 or so

I eventually found my niche in the Linux administration world, and Darren settled into a career in the oilfields, one in which he was never really happy.  He regularly spoke of quitting his job and moving somewhere warm to pursue a life less ordinary – though as his friends and family heard him say the same things year after year, each time being “just another three months” from quitting, knowing glances began to be exchanged and doubts that he’d ever take the plunge began to grow.

Well, about two years ago he proved us all wrong.  After a dozen years in Calgary, Darren quit his job, rented out his house and moved to Thailand to study scuba diving.  Since then he’s become a master diver, and has spent the last few months running a diving school on a tiny island in Malaysia.  My favourite story from his recent visit was his explaining that just before he left the island he had spent two hours frantically searching for his shoes, which he hadn’t actually seen in two weeks or so.

I had the pleasure of having Darren out to the boat one evening – I would have liked to have him stay a night or two, but I hadn’t quite finished converting the closet back into a berth, and the furnaces are not currently working at the capacity that a visitor from the tropics would find comfortable.  His comment, after seeing the boat and hearing about some of the adventures, was along the lines of “Wow, you’ve learned so much in the past year!”.  I found that almost funny, considering who it was coming from!

a small selection of the books used on the boat in the past year
a small selection of the books used on the boat in the past year or so - the rest are packed away...

Regardless, it got me to thinking about the future, and in particular exploring some ideas on what new education I’d like to acquire in the next few months.  I think I’m kind of on a roll here for personal development, and well… why stop?

First off, I think I’d like to learn some more sailing skills, in particular I think it’d be pretty cool to know how to use a sextant to navigate.  Sure, the GPS has basically made the sextant obsolete – but there’s always the possibility that the GPS won’t work, and there’s something to be said for learning an esoteric skill that requires fancy instruments.  Have you seen some of the sextants out there?  A cheap plastic “student” sextant actually came as part of the purchase of the boat, and it’d be nice to know how to use it.

Secondly, it seems like a wise idea to pick up a skill or two that I could use to make some money in a pinch, like say if the market for contract Linux IT mercenaries dries up.  Ideally it would play off of my natural talents (heh), but even more importantly it should be something useful anywhere in the world.  I have two ideas for this – bartender, or sail repair.

tending bar for a crowd of about 3000 dancing lunatics at the Deep End camp at Burning Man 2008
tending bar for a crowd of about 3000 dancing lunatics at the Deep End camp at Burning Man 2008

Tending bar is reasonably simple – at least in theory – but the real money comes from being attentive, friendly and social with the customers.  I’m a pretty social guy and I seem to be able to get along with most folks, so with a short night course and an exam I could have a bartender’s license, and I could probably parlay that into a position at a vacation resort should I accidentally find myself stuck without cash off the coast of Mexico.  I haven’t researched this further yet, but I know that when I spent time tending bar at Burning Man the past few years I had an absolute blast – and modesty aside, I was really good at it.  The outgoing, good-spirited social side of tending bar is something that just doesn’t exist in Linux systems administration.

Sail repair is apparently a much sought-after skill in anchorages all over the world – all you need is the knowledge and know-how, and ideally an industrial-grade, manually-operated sewing machine.  I’ve heard that if you can sail into a crowded anchorage anywhere, hang your “SAILS REPAIRED” sign from your boom, and you’ll never want for work.  I’ve been wondering if there’s a sail loft in town that would be willing to take me on part-time as an apprentice – and for that matter, whether or not I will enjoy the work.  If I spend some time learning the ropes it may turn out that I’m not interested in doing it for anyone else, but either way it seems like the sort of skill that might come in very useful someday.

Thirdly, I had wondered about maybe taking a course or two at Langara, especially given that their ‘Continuing Studies‘ program semester starts in mid-January.  I poked around a bit on their website, but really didn’t see much that I was interested in.  There’s a ‘Performing Arts’ program, but it seems to be exclusively for acting, not for musical performance.  I had hoped that their ‘Health and Wellness’ programs might have some first aid courses, ideally of the ‘first responder’ type, but it seems more directed at folks interested in Shiatsu massage.  I think I’ll have to look elsewhere to find emergency first aid training.

And lastly, I think it’s time to get back into a martial art.  I’ve been skirting around this for years, several times joining a discipline and sticking with it for a few months, then growing bored and dropping it.  I think it’s time to start again, and this time around I have my eyes on Krav Maga.  My friend Ernst studies this in town, and from everything I’ve read it seems like the best fit.  I’m in good physical shape right now, but most of that comes from cycling and rowing; it certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing to vary  my routine a bit.

I don’t know where this newfound drive to learn is coming from, but I’m not going to argue with it – nothing bad can come from furthering my education, regardless of what direction I choose to travel.  Maybe it’s the winter cold, forcing me into a hibernation mode – or more likely making me want to spend more time away from the boat in a heated classroom.  Maybe it’s the dawning realization that I don’t really want to be a sysadmin for the rest of my life.

Or maybe it’s just simple frugality – Benjamin Franklin was once quoted as saying “If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him“, and I definitely believe this to be true.  Spending $400 on the diesel class has already saved me hundreds of dollars that I’d have spent on a mechanic, and I’m sure it will continue to save me money moving forward.

Whatever the cause, I haven’t felt the urge to learn in a while – and I’m going to take advantage of it while I can.