For a person with a massive fear of sharks, life as a Navy Clearance Diver doesn’t seem like an obvious career choice.
But nothing is obvious about Paul de Gelder’s path through life.
A highly spirited, physically adventurous kid and troubled youth, during his late teens to early 20s, Paul did everything from fight in the street, steal, sell drugs, work as a barman in a strip joint, become a rap artist and even open a concert for Snoop Dog (true story).
But at the age of 23, Paul joined the Army and life was never the same.
After 4 years in the Army, Paul decided to change services and join the Navy to work in one of the defence forces most specialised and elite units as a Clearance Diver: “it just sounded so cool; it sounded like such an adventure”.
Then, one day in 2009, Paul’s life changed when he was attacked by a bull shark while working in Sydney Harbour, becoming the first person to be attacked by a shark inside the Harbour in over 60 years.
Paul briefly shares the story of the attack in this conversation.
But this is not a story or conversation about a shark attack; it’s about overcoming adversity, embracing challenges and learning to live with, and manage, your fears.
My favourite quote from this episode:
"My aspirations outweighed my fear. And I think that's part of what you have to do when you have any goals where you're afraid of something."
In this conversation we discuss:
* his rough-and-tumble childhood, which included getting his nose bitten off by a dog when he was about 6,
* what prompted him to resort to self-harm during his teenage years,
* how Muay Thai kickboxing gave him an outlet and taught him to control his anger,
* his decision to join the Army, why his two younger brothers (who were both already in the Army) “wet themselves” and some of the memories and lessons he treasures from that time in his life,
* why he decided to change services and join the Navy to work as a clearance diver and how he overcame his massive fear of sharks to do so,
* his advice on how to manage your fear of risks such as sharks or riding your bike on the road and why you should assess the risk more objectively than emotionally,
* how he overcame his fear and his experience to get back in the water with bull sharks and learn to feed them by hand, and
* how he’s since become an advocate for the protection of sharks.
It’s a heavy topic, I know, but this was also an inspiring and fun conversation.
That might sound strange but I laughed - a lot.
And I think as we go into the New Year, Paul’s challenge to make sure your aspirations outweigh your fears is one to keep in mind.
Click here to listen on iTunes.
Notes and resources:
iTunes | Stitcher
To find out more about Paul or to say hello, you can find him on Instagram or YouTube.
Sixty Minutes - Settling Scores (2013)
Discovery Channel - Shark Week