My Dad use to say to me when discussing my career, “Les, you mustn’t worry my girl, you are very blessed because you do such good things and when you do good, good follows you, just be patient.” It soothed my concerns to hear him say it to me, but lack of patience is sadly my greatest vice. You see, choosing to pack up a well paying corporate career (13 years ago I was earning around R550 000 ($55 000) per anum), to form and run a non-profit organization, AfriOceans, with all its financial uncertainties, has been very challenging in many ways. I certainly chose the Scott Peck, Road Less Traveled, and one not for sissies. I often wondered over these 12 years of being dedicated to conservation when the good my Dad spoke about would present itself.
But sometimes we get so busy we forget to count our blessings that are there all the time. And in all honesty if I look back over these years in conservation the good returns for me have been constant and growing every year, like a well chosen investment. The last few months alone so much good has come my way, been offered to me, just appeared as if out of no where. For example in the last 4 months I have been nominated and subsequently selected as a finalist for ‘South Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business & Government Awards’, plus I was selected as one of 50 women out of hundreds that were nominated for ‘The Mail & Guardian Book of Women 2013’, and I was selected as one of 26 women chosen to feature in Oprah Magazine’s annual ‘Women of Authentic Power’. I am not sure who nominated me for these achievements, if it was one person or different people, but whoever you are out there, if you read this, thank you for believing in me and what I am doing.
I also believe in synchronicity and in ripple effects of good things we do, often unbeknown to us. For example, little did I know that some photos I had taken of me in my bikini, freediving with sharks, shot by talented underwater photographer, Mike Ellis in 2011, would inspire people the way they have. I need to ‘walk my talk’ so to speak, so I had the photos taken to show people that despite making myself as vulnerable as I could by wearing only a bikini and freediving with the sharks, they still did not harm me. They are powerful images and they have worked well to support my efforts in changing people’s perceptions of sharks.
These same images have also caused my enemies (every good activist has enemies) to attack me and criticize me, (then after the fact some went and did the same), and still others who once called me friend to say they no longer agree with how I do conservation, accuse me of losing my way as a conservationist, and of promoting myself because of them. Each to his own and since I am not in the popularity contest business, but in the business of helping to save sharks, these few individuals negativity is like water off a ducks back. Comparatively the good the images have done is immeasurable: besides the countless times they have appeared in articles world-wide and inspired people on social media, they recently inspired well-known South African artist, Andrew Cooper, of Red! The Gallery, owned by Dave Endean, who approached me to do a series of paintings of me freediving with sharks.
From this I created the ART FOR SHARK CONSERVATION project. (South African’s sms the word SHARK to 40021 and you can win a signed copy of the paintings, signed by Andrew and myself (cost of sms R20) – International folk, donate $20 to the cause here and you will also stand a chance of receiving a copy.)
This led not only to beautifully completed canvasses, but also to Top Billing TV show featuring the paintings and my conservation work on their national TV show this month (see insert video below). And just to prove my Dad right even further, it didn’t stop there, the presenter of the show, Jonathan Boynton-Lee decided after what he called a life-changing experience (I took him diving with sharks) to become a Shark Warrior Ambassador and help me by using his name and fame to raise awareness about the plight of sharks. Then there’s pretty Hollyann Duggan-Jones who because of the Top Billing insert made a comment on Twitter which led to her becoming a volunteer for AfriOceans, and still others, Simone and Franck who were so inspired they too have offered their skills to help.
Still these pictures continued to inspire when Shark Warrior Ambassador, the hugely talented musician Roland Albertson, prior to becoming an ambassador, told me that one of the images inspired him so much he found the name for his new album, Only the Brave, and he asked to use the image on his CD cover. Apart from composing great music Roland aims to help raise awareness about the plight of sharks through his new CD.
Only good has come from those photos and more is happening which can be traced back to them. Perhaps those who nominated me were inspired by them too, but for certain because of them Andrew’s beautiful art will forever be an inspiration wherever it hangs, Roland’s great music will be enjoyed for years to come, thousands of South African’s were touched by the TV show, Jonathan who because of the paintings, which is because of the photos, has joined me in the fight to save our sharks, Hollyann who has in such a short space of time shown complete dedication to helping, and all those many more people who still see and share the photos, or the products they are responsible for inspiring, on social media.
So the moral of the story is, Be Brave, do something different, dare yourself, don’t be afraid of what people will say, expect a few will try to hold you back, especially if what you do is winning, it will cause them to reveal themselves as there will always be those who do not want to see others succeed because they want it for themselves. If you know in your heart it is right and you are doing it for the right reasons, so long as it does not harm anyone, only good will come from it. So I count my blessings and give thanks to you all, each of you I have reached through the initial good intentions of those photos, you are all my blessings. And if my Dad were still alive I know he would say, “You see my girl, I told you so.”