Scuba Diving is Like Visiting Another Planet Where You Can Fly

On March 25, 2017 the only Indian couple on Caye Caulker walked back to their hotel with smiles on their faces. They felt a sense of pride, satisfaction and accomplishment having just completed dives number 10 and 11. This walk marked the end of their week of scuba diving in Belize. They were divers now.

The Hindu priest who married Bhumi and me told us that I would be the practical one and she the dreamer. We weren’t surprised as it was Bhumi who brought up sky diving first, and my practical self had already determined how it would work well for engagement proposal: you go up and come down on a designated landing area which makes for a perfect situation to sit and wait for the surprise, and you already have the option to have the whole thing captured on video. And so that led to this:

When the discussion for what we really wanted to do next came up last year, Bhumi decided to continue on the Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara adventure package and said “I’ve always wanted to go scuba diving” – pretty much out of nowhere. I had never considered it. I’m pretty sure I assumed it would be too expensive and honestly I thought it was a dangerous (and a little scary) undertaking. Those types of things don’t seem to bother Bhumi until well after the idea has already taken a hold in her head. Still unsure about how practical this idea of scuba diving was, I figured I’d give it a chance with a Groupon for a Discover Scuba course.

Discovering Scuba Diving and Its Costs

After 2 hours in a pool with Learn Scuba Chicago dive instructors, I was in. Just floating around 6 to 12 feet under water in the diving pool imagining doing the same with fish all around helped me envision what this scuba thing could be like. Bhumi on the other had was just now beginning to think about the potential dangers. Just the fact that everyone dives with 2 breathing hoses attached to their air tanks in case their dive buddy runs out of air illustrates how serious things can get. Diving is a serious undertaking, and it was now Bhumi’s turn to ask, “do we really want to do this?”

Thankfully, the scuba diving world understands the value of experiential learning and has certification courses to help you prepare you. You have to pass a multiple-choice test after learning about things like your buoyancy in salt water vs fresh water, how depth affects pressure and breathing, how long it’s safe for your body to remain under the sea. Then you practice hands-on skills in a diving pool including assembling and disassembling your equipment, clearing your mask in case it floods with water, and sharing your buddy’s regulator (breathing device that goes in your mouth).

Unfortunately, it’s not very cheap. The ideal way to get your PADI Open Water certification is to do your classroom/online learning and pool sessions (3 to 4 days) at home (assuming you don’t already live in a dive-friendly location), and then completing your 4 open water dives at the tropical destination of your choosing. We chose Belize. It was $300 each for the Chicago-based coursework, and another $400 each for the Belize-based coursework including rental equipment. We also spent about $250 each on masks, fins, boots, and other odds and ends like lights, knives, bags, etc. That got us to certified. Then to continue diving for 3 additional days to see the variety of sites Belize has to offer it would add another $600 each bringing our total scuba diving investment to about $3,000.

Making Dollars and Sense of the Investment

Now here’s where our practical approach helps make this work. We were lucky enough to have 100,000 points from the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card this year. We were also lucky that Southwest started flying to the Caribbean recently because we can transfer our Chase points to Southwest (where bags also fly free!). After researching a bit on the best diving sites in the Caribbean, lining up dates with Bhumi’s spring break, and finding a hotel that would fit in our points budget, we landed on Caye (pronounced “key”) Caulker – a small Belizean island that’s a 40 minute ferry ride off the coast of Belize City. Not paying anything for the flight and hotel made the scuba expense a lot more feasible. It also enabled us to go with Belize Diving Services, the best (and most expensive) dive shop in the area. It was worth paying extra to feel secure during our first diving experience – and I would highly, highly, highly recommend this shop! Ilya was an awesome instructor, and the entire crew was a fun, attentive and thoughtful bunch (special shout out to Walter for ensuring we saw an eagle ray on our last dive!). They also had larger boats than others (important for the 1 to 2 hours rides out to the reefs), great equipment, and a very professional approach to everything.

We focused on investing in the experience of diving, and the rest didn’t matter. I would take the same approach if I were to do it again. The diving was magical. And being on an island with nothing planned and nothing really available to do was a pleasant break from the real world.

Do Your Open Water Certification Dives in the Ocean

The reason you want to do the open water certification dives on site (especially if you’re from somewhere in-land like us) is because you get to spend the 45 minutes in the ocean for each dive, where all the fish and sea creatures are instead of a local quarry where there is nothing to see. After spending the first 25 – 30 minutes practicing specific skills, you get to spend the last 10 – 15 minutes practicing your “trim” aka swimming around efficiently instead of flapping around like a fish out of water. It is during this time when you get to enjoy the sights and really start appreciating your new ability as perfectly described by a colleague of mine: the ability to fly on an entirely new planet (aka 71% of earth).

Our first open water dive was in the Turneffe Reef about an hour off the coast. The group of 15 people on the boat went from relaxed boaters to wet-suited divers in a flurry when the captain announced we were approaching the site. Everyone started putting on their equipment, checking their gauges, soaping their masks (so it won’t fog up), and getting their GoPros ready all at once. Then, we waddled to the edge of the boat with our fins already on our feet and with a long-stride off the boat we were in the ocean. We had to inflate the buoyancy control device (BCD) right away so we’re still floating on top of the water and then signal OK to the boat. This is it. We’re about to dive in the ocean!

After our instructor joined us in the water, we all descended to the sandy ocean floor about 35 feet below the boat using the rope attached to the anchor as a guide. The water was so clear, you could see straight to the bottom and see 100 feet out in all directions. I remember just watching all these little fish swimming around us that first time, just taking in the experience. We were inside a giant aquarium tank, and we were just getting started.

Besides getting to swim with all the coral and fish, we were actually spoiled by seeing a loggerhead turtle and a giant spotted eagle ray on our very first dive. Fortunately we would see several more rays during our stay in Belize, but this one was the largest by far. We were just in awe as it soared by us. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to bring your camera on your certification dives so we couldn’t capture that moment, but here is another one from later in the trip:

Over the course of the 4 open water dives we got to see 2 different reefs, reached a depth of 60 feet, met lots of fish, nurse sharks, a few more turtles, as well as eels, crab, lobster, and more. Had we skimped on the certification part and just done those dives in Chicago, we would have seen nothing.

Why Dive Belize? Because it’s Unbelizable!

Want to know why you should dive in Belize? This was my face after:

Bhumi and I got to dive 11 times in 5 days out of the 7 that we were in Belize (can’t dive the day after or before flying). We saw 4 different reef sites (San Pedro, Spanish Bay, Turneffe, Lighthouse) and the Great Blue Hole where we reached our max depth of ~85 feet. During those dives we went from apprehensive but excited land-folk to just plain happy mouth-breathers. I’m sitting here thinking about the experience 2 months later and thinking about how I felt, and there’s no better way to describe it. We were happy.

I can keep telling you about this experience, but I can’t do it justice. I will just describe the moment of elation after which everything in the world was grand and I began doing corkscrews under the water out of glee. Then you can get a better feel for the diving through our videos at the bottom of this post.

The Shark

I still remember when our guide put his open-palm hand perpendicular to his forehead and pointed over my left shoulder about half-way through dive number 7. I turned my head immediately and saw it. My body followed my head as my heart started beating a little faster. And without even thinking about it I was kicking. Kicking in the direction of the shark.

The thing about sharks is, they’re not really interested in you – and don’t even like how you taste. There isn’t a real reason to fear them (besides great whites), but having grown up watching Jaws and being conditioned to fear them, you’re naturally a little scared because of what they can do to you if they were interested in you (which they’re not). Either way, they are beautiful creatures that own their spot at the top of the oceanic food chain with their intimidatingly sharp, missile-like bodies gliding though the water.

Would I have hit my ceiling of joy if I hadn’t seen the 2 reef sharks during the trip – I honestly don’t think so. But the sharks were just a couple minutes of the 7+ hours we spent under the water that week. And the entire experience in total is what gave us the feelings of satisfaction, accomplishment and happiness.

We are divers now, and we hope sharing our story, pictures and videos will inspire you to pursue diving someday. It is one of the most incredible experiences we’ve had in our lives, and we are so grateful for it.

Pathik and Bhumi’s Belize Scuba Diving Videos





PS – These were filmed with a GoPro 4 Sliver at 1080p 60fps

40 Posters From Nasty Women and Their Friends in Chicago

This isn’t a post about the impressive size, diversity and broad reach of the post-inauguration march that took place on January 21, 2017. Please go to the official site to learn more about that and what you can do to help. This is simply an appreciation for those who took the time to use their creativity for something positive. More specifically, this is a post about all the posters at the Women’s March on Chicago and anti-hate (or anti-Trump) rally yesterday.

It was impressive. Good art leaves an impression. It makes you feel something. That’s what these posters did for everyone in attendance, and I’m glad that 1) my friends came in from the suburbs and inspired us to attend, and 2) that so many people made an effort to essentially create marketing pieces that will help increase the longevity of this protest.

In no particular order, here are about 40 posters and scenes from the march yesterday:

And I’ll end with this one…

How I Plan to Live More Intentionally in 2017

First of all, Happy New Year from Bhumi and me!

Being just a couple months away from completing my master’s in Business Analytics, I figured I should try to apply a more strategic and data-driven approach to analyze what I do with my life outside of work in an effort to live more intentionally.

There’s a common adage that I’ve heard through B-school, “what gets watched gets done” (not to be confused with “a watched pot never boils” – I know it’s weird that they’re seemingly contradictory). Anyways, the point is that if you track an action and are held accountable to it, then you are more likely to do that action. In school, you earned grades by completing your homework so you did it. But in college, the homework was rarely graded so you may not have done most of the homework problems.

Quick Overview of How Strategy is Applied at Work

Goals, Objectives and Strategy are important concepts in the workplace – especially in a marketing department. Those are the reasons we are paid to come into the office and complete the tasks that we do every day. An organization is founded with a mission or goals that executives translate into objectives for a given year. Then the leadership or management teams determine the strategies they want to deploy to reach those objectives, leading to the daily tactics. Those tactics are tracked using metrics, which help determine how well the tactics and strategies are working.

Here’s a hypothetical example to make these concepts more tangible:

  • Goal / Mission: Increase Awareness of Indian Culture in the U.S.
    • Objective 1: Become a top 10 Desi Blog in the U.S. for NRIs
    • Objective 2: Increase Reach to all 50 states in 2017
  • Strategy 1: Focus on South Asian organizations to gain new readers (influencer approach)
  • Strategy 2: Provide additional benefits to engaged readers/people who leave comments (word-of-mouth approach)
    • Tactic 1: Use email marketing to contact leaders of South Asian groups
    • Tactic 2: Send t-shirts to avid readers
      • Metrics: # of website visitors, email open rate, # of new subscribers, ranking on blog review sites, etc.
    • Next Step: If the email open rate is low, adjust the email content or find new targets, if you’re not getting any website visitors from Hawaii – fly to Hawaii and do something about it, etc.)

Taking a More Strategic Approach to Life

The cool (and slightly scary) thing is that it’s getting easier to do this with our personal lives because a lot of our activities are tracked and produce measurable data. Something you probably thought of right away: your fitbit or smartwatch. Something you may not have thought of is Google Maps Timeline. Here’s mine from 2016 zoomed in on Chicago:

chicago-visits-2016This provides a quick and easy way to find all the paces you visited or navigated to when you had your location turned on mobile. Is it creepy that a company has this data? Yes. But for now, it’s useful to me so I’m keeping this feature on. Using this data along with my very manual approach of writing down everything on a wall calendar helped track activities that we did in 2016. Here’s what I was able to capture:

Obviously in our 5 years of marriage, Bhumi and I regularly discuss our goals and objectives, but we were still pleased to see that the metrics in these graphs showed that we were closely aligned to what we wanted to achieve without putting a very detailed plan on paper.

Some positives we noticed:

  • We spent a lot of time with a lot of people in 2016 (pretty good for us introverts!)
  • The [time with parents + family stuff] == [cousin & sib stuff + friends stuff]! (we definitely try for this balance)
  • We left the state of Illinois nearly every month, including the East and West coast multiple times
  • Between trying restaurants, going to shows, biking on the lake, and just visiting the sites, we did pretty well being tourists in Chicago (we want to maximize this opportunity)

Some areas for improvement:

  • We only hosted a person or meal once per month (it felt like more)
  • We weren’t quite as involved in religious activities as we were in the years prior (no more YK)
  • We only had 6 weekends in the entire year where we didn’t go see people or have a scheduled event/activity (need more down time!)

Now you must be wondering, how were we judging the data in these metrics and categorizing them as positives and negatives? Well, the detailed plan below is how we’re going to make it easier for ourselves to make these judgements moving forward. We simply have to compare the metrics to the objectives to see if we were aligned to them.

P & B’s Detailed Strategic Life Plan for 2017 & Beyond

Goal / Mission:

  • Moksha (BHAG = Big Hairy Audacious Goal…yeah, we’re lucky our beliefs give us many lifetimes for this, heh)
  • Long-Term Happiness (tangible, but always challenging enough)

Over-arching Objectives for life that will contribute to long-term happiness:

Near-term Objectives:

Using Data to Make Life Decisions and Improvements

After developing your objectives, strategies and tactics all you have to do is go back to your metrics and look at which numbers you want to increase each month (indicated in green) or decrease (red) next year. Then be sure to add an action step to clarify what you’ll do to achieve this. You’ll notice that we added new metrics (indicated in yellow) to track things that will help us better understand if we’re working towards our objectives or not. We could have really gone nuts here and created many more (did you know I spent ~60 hours of my life watching Cubs games from October to November!? It was worth it.), but after a while there’s diminishing returns on the things you track. Track what you are willing to measure and use to make decisions or behavior changes.

Final Thoughts and Considerations

Thank you for reading this far. It’s been freeing getting this all down on paper. And I feel very lucky that we have the problem of “too many” people in our lives rather than the opposite. We are truly blessed and grateful that we have that many big rocks. Hopefully reading through my process was helpful and inspires you to connect with your big rocks and be just a little more intentional this year.

Knowing what the “big rocks” are and prioritizing them makes it easier to make decisions about the other little things because you know those don’t have as much of an impact on your objectives. Also, I’m sure you’ve heard about the studies that show writing down your goals and looking at them regularly helps you stick to them. I’ll be revisiting this post regularly to keep myself in check. And you too can help us reach our goals by asking about our progress – and also by letting us host you sometime this year 😉

Here’s to a fulfilling, productive and very happy 2017… HAPPY NEW YEAR (again)!

PS: Finances come with built-in data tracking. Budgets, retirement calculators, and other tools help you make decisions with your financial numbers in the same way the above table does. Set financial goals and budgets for a given time period, evaluate how you’re doing compared to the goal, and make adjustments as needed. I could do a post on this later, but there’s plenty of smarter people than me who have written about managing your money. My cousin Rishee gave us a great book on finances this year that I would recommend if you’re looking for something on this topic: The Simple Path to Wealth. The author also has a blog: http://jlcollinsnh.com/.

Hey Chicago What Do You Say Let’s Count Our Blessings Today

nlcs-win-wrigley-signI just finished re-watching the entire, 4+ hour World Series game 7 (thankfully minus the rain delay) that CSN was re-broadcasting today. Partly because my body was strongly discouraging me from any more activity after celebrating for couple days, but also because I think my mind might have been on the brink of withdrawal. Like many of you reading this, I just spent a solid month watching every single pitch, hit and run of the Cubs’ 2016 post season – often delaying much-needed sleep to do so.  Today, Friday, November 4, 2016 is the end of that experience. It is officially over.

@cubs #flythew #gocubsgo⚾️ #baseballcanbeexciting #wewon

A video posted by Pathik Bhatt (@pathikbhatt) on

Thankfully for all of us Chicagoans and probably most of the country (minus Lebrony-flop-face & Cleveland), the ending was the best possible outcome we could have asked for. We didn’t suck. We didn’t choke. We came as close as humanly possible to continuing the freaking curse conversation… and then WE WON. OUR CUBBIES ARE THE 2016 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS!!!!!!!!!

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You want to know how big of a deal this is? I naturally hugged my brother in shared glee right after we won. In the last 10 years, I have done so maybe twice… at my wedding and and then at his.

When Baseball Actually Mattered (to me)

After going away to college and being thoroughly disheartened by the Cubs in 2003, baseball has kind of taken a backseat. Sure I watched a game here and there, but it was nothing like the summers when were were younger, cheering on Sandburg, Dunston, Sosa, Grace, Lee, Wood, Prior, Farnsworth, Brian McRae, [O] Henry Rodrigez, etc. and watching Harry Caray deliver the 7th inning stretch on TV most afternoons.

moneyball-cubs-fbEven I had forgotten how much the sport mattered to us when we were growing up. Of course my brother and I played t-ball and peewee baseball. But we played the backyard “ghost man on second” whiffel/tennis baseball and softball much more often. In fact, I think I still have the bases that I cut out of carpet pieces several decades ago sitting my garage. Naitik and I would often keep ourselves entertained with just a ball and a glove by practice pitching and calling each others’ balls and strikes.

Beyond that, Naitik and I had become associated with the famous Abbot & Costello Who’s On First baseball comedy skit through my dad’s efforts. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say we have performed it 50 times (several of those in our very own Gujarati rendition).

Despite my parents’ general disinterest in American sports fandom, I am fortunate that they were encouraging and supportive in my and my brother’s desire to become a part of it. We may not have had the Starter sports team winter jackets and jerseys that everyone was sporting at school, but still I remember when my dad took me to Montgomery Wards in Randhurst Mall (Mt. Prospect represent!) to buy a Michael Jordan t-shirt after one of the Bulls championships. I still have the one Cubs t-shirt I got at age 13 sitting in my closet too (it only has one tiny hole I swear). My parents even took us to some Cubs games at Wrigley – one time sitting in the bleachers (that was fun ha!) – and I remember how Mom would ask us about all the rules and players.

Blessings from [the Baseball] God

Now that I’ve taken you through my personal reflection essay on baseball’s role in my life let’s get back to present day… Go Cubs Go, FlyTheW, etc., etc. I was living in another state this time last year. 2016 is the first year I have ever lived in downtown Chicago, and the first time my family is blessed enough to feel comfortable buying unnecessary-but-oh-so-pretty-and-cool Cubs gear AND pulling the trigger on Cubs NLCS tickets (I don’t know that I would have gone had the Cubs actually gotten this far before this year).  

20161016_214832My 2016 Cubs Experience Investments:

  • Cubs car magnet set – $X
  • Cubs long sleeve t-shirt – $XX
  • Cubs scarf – $XX
  • First Cubs baseball hat – $XX
  • CTA Red Line fare to Wrigleyville – $XX
  • Cubs W flag (2) – $XX
  • Cubs ladies fashion jersey – $XX
  • Cubs baseball tee (his & hers) – $XX
  • Cubs “we came to reign” hoody – $XX
  • Ginger beer and bar food in Wrigleyville – $XX
  • Cubs regular season game experience for two – $XX
  • Cubs NLCS game experience for two – $XXX

Being fully immersed into the Cubs again and experiencing the most historic (and best-ever) baseball post-season / game while living in Chicago and sharing in this joy with friends and family: PRICELESS.

20161022_222342So many things had to go right to make this possible. Of course my birth year and birthplace, my grad school schedule (I had a break from September to the end of November), my place of employment (bringing me back to Chicago), my current living situation (a few blocks from the Red Line), Schwarber, the rain in Cleveland during game 7, the perfect weather in Chicago after the game and on parade day, everything – just everything aligned to make this an indescribably incredible time that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

The Power of the Collective Cubs Fan Positivity

Of course, my experience is hardly unique or significant compared to the millions of Chicagoans who have much deeper and longer ties to the Cubs. Many of my friends and I vividly recall when our entire dorm when dead silent as the Cubs’ 2003 playoff run came to an end…a long 13 years ago. But that is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the century of struggling other Chicagoans have witnessed. Even worse, there are those who never had the opportunity to share in the Cubs elation we have been experiencing as of late Wednesday night because they are no longer with us.

We passed by a retirement home on our journey out of Wrigleyville and there were two elderly individuals standing in the window waving at everyone passing by with a smile, taking in the celebratory atmosphere at 1 in the morning. It was moving to see that. They got to see the Cubs win in their lifetimes, and naturally wanted to join the collective Cubs community to enjoy it. 

img_3274Sure it’s personally satisfying to see your team win it all, but there’s something special about sharing it with someone. That’s why when we can’t make it out to a bar or a friend’s place for a game, we’re tweeting and posting about great plays and wins on Twitter and Facebook. I subscribe to the “Happiness Only Real When Shared” school of thought (quote from Into the Wild, a great movie about Christopher McCandless). And one of the greatest things about sports – both playing and watching – is that it’s a social, shared experience – that’s coming from an introvert. Whether you’re associated through your high school, university (I-L-L – I-N-I!), town, city, or country, there’s a built in group to share in your happiness and sorrow.

rachna-fb-postThis Cubs World Series run provided the most opportunities to share fun times with Bhumi (and fully initiate her into the Cubs fandom), with Naitik and Rucha, with friends both in-person & social media (thank you again Shruti for getting the game 7 Wrigleyville bar reservation), and with family including many of Bhumi and my younger cousins.cubs-family-selfiecubs-scarves-cousins

cubs-cousins3I also agree with “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” No group of fans anywhere in this country (maybe world) embodied that message better than Chicago Cubs fans. They have been with the team for over a century without tasting the bliss of the ultimate destination.

cubs-2009

yeaassLike a Hindu puja, sports provides a way to fully immerse yourself and all of your senses into something to the point of losing yourself and becoming part of a greater whole. It is at that point when you experience a joy unlike any other. That is what the 2016 Cubs gave us this past month. And for that I am very grateful.

cubs-cube-fbThank you, Chicago Cubs

grandpa-cubs-paradeWalking the streets of Wrigleyville after winning both the NLCS and the World Series was a once-in-a-lifetime eruption of happy celebration, twice. Walking around downtown Chicago this Friday after watching the team drive by us on Columbus earlier in the day was beautiful. Everyone was content with the world, groups of all ages and races in Cubby blue. We did it. We didn’t suck. Next year was this year.

Thank you Cubbies. Thank you. This fan out… til next year.

#FlyTheW

PS- I totally had my Cubs scarf blessed at the temple during this Diwali… so you’re welcome for that.

dsc02227PPS – check out this sick shot of the Chicago skyline lit up for the Cubs by Bhavin Patel Photography// Bhavin Patel Photography

// Bhavin Patel Photography

 

How AGILE Greece Strengthened My Kelley Direct Online MBA Relationships

kelley direct in athens greeceThere are few greater joys in life than the liberation you feel after letting down your guard. You know that moment when you see their eyes widen – that smile of acknowledgement appears on the others’ faces. You are no longer a stranger, a colleague or a classmate – you are recognized for you, the individual. It wasn’t until 3 months of weekly phone and Skype calls, ongoing online chats, 1 weekend together in Philadelphia, and 4 days in Athens, Greece that this moment finally happened with my Kelley Direct AGILE study abroad team. Continue reading