Living the life I choose, one choice at a time

“I have seen the seasons change and lived through that in a much more immersive way and for the first time, I’ve truly understood it.”

“Whoooose land is this?!…
Whoooose land is this? Whoose…whose…whose?
Whoooose land is this? Whoose…whose…whose?
…goes the rhythmic, powerful and rhetorical chant of a big lions’ roar!”

It’s 4:30 am and the roars are coming from the lion ‘Mburri’ (the beautiful one) and his son across the riverbed just 50 meters from my two-man canvas tent that’s been home for the last two months.  The ecologically rich savanna biome I’ve been privileged to have been doing my field guide course it is an inspiring change from the concrete jungle I have spent the last 25 years working in!

I took a decision a little less than a year ago to quit my regular job as a director of a large consumer business in order to pursue three of my passions…

  • Beautiful girls – to be specific, the three young ladies (Wendy, Casey-Lee and Tyler) making up my family;
  • Photography – a long-standing hobby that I’ve enjoyed on and off over 40 years and;
  • Wildlife and nature – the ‘African bush!’

It was a tough, somewhat emotional call at the time and I still don’t know if whether or not it’s sustainable? I don’t know where it’s all going to lead, but for the first time in many years – I’m living!

Grant having a sundowner with his fellow students on the course (c) David Havemann

As the lyrics of one of my favourite songs go, “Let’s leave everything and go travelling, see what tomorrow brings; it’s only a choice away. Let’s pack up and leave today. Tell me what do you have to lose? Are you living the life you choose? There’s a place we can live like kings – let’s see what tomorrow brings…Your dreams are your reality!”

The 55-day FGASA Field Guide course started six weeks ago and I started out having spent one month in the Mashatu camp situated in the southern part of Botswana. I am now, here in this tent on the banks of the Selati river in the northeast of South Africa completing the last part of the course.

This course covers everything from guiding skills to astronomy, ecosystems, biomes, conservation management and even a plethora of insects, birds, reptiles, mammals and animal behaviour. What has been most fulfilling for me personally is getting a better understanding of their connectedness’. and in many ways finding my own deeper ‘connectedness’. It does sound a bit ‘zen-like’ but it’s been a grounded, authentic and purposeful experience.

Making coffee for his ‘guests’ on his game drive. Hosting as integral part of Field Guide training (c) David Havemann

I’m quite new to this concept of “pack it all in and head out into the unknown”. It’s daunting and actually scary. I am however privileged to have a little capital which buys me some time but I plan to live a lot longer than I can currently afford. Making this decision at 44 years old is actually riskier than earlier on in life when there is still time to recover. For one thing, my monthly bills are higher with three daughters and two dogs!

If it’s helpful to anyone out there considering something similar, I used these three thoughts to help me rationalise and motivate my decision to take the plunge and they are:

  1. I need to be serious about monetising my passions…without focus and discipline, it’s likely to just morph into an extended hedonistic holiday!
  2. Regret about not ‘having a go’ at chasing down a dream and building unforgettable life experiences is not something I’m prepared to grow old with and;
  3. Going back to the concrete jungle is always an option. So, if you think about it:- my downside isn’t too far off where I have headed anyway!?

On the first point: – I decided I needed a basic foundation, a ‘ticket to the game’ if you like, and the FGASA Level 1 (and possibly the trails guide) qualification gives me that platform. This credibility offers me the chance of being taken seriously as a safari expert rather than just a passionate hobbyist! I’m in the process of building a private guiding business covering self-drive, vehicle set-up, itinerary planning and so on. My preference is very much more towards photographic guiding and helping people who love the bush and wildlife and enjoy photography, create more powerful, fulfilling images.

In order to do achieve this, two things are crucial:

  • Knowing how to use and navigate a professional camera. Understanding the tools available and how to apply them and;
  • Understanding the environment and animal behaviour and how to maximise this to your advantage. This starts with the correct choice of destination, time of year, length of trip and correct positioning of the game drive vehicle in a sighting and predicting what the animal or bird is likely to do next, in order to capture that moment.

Bringing these two together is where the real magic happens!

However, there’s one more element that so many in the industry seem to forget or de-prioritise and that is the all-important customer focus. On this point the guiding qualification is very useful, after all, it is a hospitality role. Creating an enhanced guided experience and putting your guests’ interests first in a safe and sustainable way for the environment is at the core of it.  My background in a customer-focused business has sensitised me to how crucial an exceptional guest experience really is!

I sit here at 5 am next to the fire at the end of May. Mburri is calling, this time just south-east of camp. I leave today to head back to my other home, in the concrete jungle. I’ve seen the seasons change and lived through that in a much more immersive way. I’ve seen it play out across the insects, the birds, the reptiles and the mammals and for the first time, I’ve truly understood it.

In a way, not unlike my own seasonal change. “Tell me, what do you have to lose – are you truly living the life you choose?”