Happiness Interview: Author of “Into the Wind,” Surfer, and Ted-Talker, Jake Ducey

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La Costa Canyon High School grad, Jake Ducey, does not have a perfect past.

When he was 16 years old, Jake clipped his 4-Runner on the center median on Encinitas Boulevard rolling it four times across three eastbound lanes into a nearby ravine.  When Jake got of the car, he had Xanax in his pocket, a fake ID in his wallet, and empty beer cans at his feet.  He had been drinking since midday, and with bloodied hands, he tried to push his now windowless, mostly roofless car back onto it’s wheels.  Later in the hospital, when the cop told him his BAC had been .16, he thought, “The same number as my age.”

Jake scored a 1400 out of 2400 on his SAT and failed his English class junior year of high school.

Jake received a full basketball scholarship to Cal Lutheran, where he practiced with his team six hours a day, did his schoolwork, and dabbled in heavy drinking and drugs, like cocaine and codeine-laced joints.  But instead of having fun, Jake found himself asking questions.  He fell into a mild depression as he felt he was on the wrong path.  Jake already read scores of books about finding purpose and living a life outside the box, and he realized, “All these books say taking a risk will lead me to my best life, but that’s not what I am doing.”

What Jake did then requires the kind of courage that is the only kind you ever really need.  It is the courage to do what’s right for your life regardless what others’ opinions might be.  It’s the courage to make your dreams come true.  Not to just say you will, but to actually do it.

Jake dropped out of college at 19.  He abandoned a full scholarship and used his meager savings to travel the world.  My Dad would have me shot if I did that.  But Jake knew what was right for himself, and now he is making a dent in the world.  He just gave a Ted talk, he has over 10,000 likes on his Facebook page, and Laird Hamilton wrote the forward to his book.  He started a non-profit, he is a certified yoga instructor, and is working on his second book.  Steven Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, called Jake a visionary and he was right.  Jake has enough guts and wisdom for the most important parts of dreams: the follow through.

On his 6-month journey, Jake headed first to Guatemala.  He traveled to Australia where he camped in tents, and ended his trip with meditation in monasteries in Thailand.  Jake’s book, Into the Wind, is a more helpful version of Eat Pray Love.

When I showed up for coffee with Jake off of Encinitas Boulevard, a stranger had just bought him a cappuccino and a muffin.  He handed me a copy of his book and had written a dedication on the inside: “To Natalie.  With love for all your gifts and dreams to the world.”  Jake is 22, by the way.  If you believe in good vibes, juju, energy, (I do) Jake has the best juju.  He strings together his living with motivational speaking, life coaching, and writing, and he makes a profound difference in people’s lives.  He did mine.  Jake explained to San Diego 6 News that his mission in life is to “shine the light on others that cannot shine the light on themselves.”

Ever since we were little, we have heard, “You can do anything.  Anything is possible.  Your dreams are why you are alive.”  Jake spoke at his old high school recently, and he said a kid raised his hand to ask him a question at the end.  He asked, “So you’re telling me, that if I do what I love for the rest of my life, everything will be okay?”  And Jake responded, “That’s the only way it will be.”

When Jake started writing his book, his Mom said to him, “Jake, the world is not black or white.”  This is verbatim what my Dad said to me recently, and I laughed, because I remembered what Jake said to his Mom when she said that.  Jake’s response to his Mom was, “To me the world is black and white.  I am either going to do this (write a book) or I am not.  I am not going to be the guy with one leg on the fence, one leg off.  I am either going over the fence or I am not going over the fence.”

Jake’s writer advice to me was buy bags of rice.  Following his dreams wasn’t easy.  He went into debt, etc. and when Jake sat down to write a book, he didn’t know how to write a book.  He just kept at it until it was finished.

I think there’s a world that opens up to us when we stay positive and believe in ourselves.  This is probably the corniest metaphor I’ve ever employed, but we are like flowers.  A flower’s petals close in darkness, right?  If our minds are dark, the world is closed off from us.  We can’t be creative, productive, happy when we do not believe we can actually do what we are setting out to do.  Nothing good will come when we do not believe that the world is a benevolent place that wants the best for us.  But when we believe in possibility, in our wildest dreams, we open to sunshine.  Our petals open up and good things come to us.

In Jake’s book, he meets a man named Cockatoo Paul in Australia.  Cockatoo Paul said, “We must understand that dreams are the language of life.  This is your only life!  When it ends, there’s no reset button where you can go back and correct all the time you’ve wasted.  Dream awake and don’t live asleep.”  I believe that if we take Cockatoo Paul’s advice, we will live rich lives full of adventure and meaning.  Exhibit A: Jake Ducey.

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What advice do you have for 20-somethings that are trying to find their way?

There is never a right time.  The time is now.  We tend to think when I am ready, in four years, or when things calm down a little bit, I will do this.

“Living it” is living it and not waiting.  The reason that we are at the highest rate of clinical depression and teen suicide is because we’re all waiting to live.  

When I traveled, I saw that you didn’t need to postpone living, I didn’t need to postpone living.  It’s like how many of us do this?  We are waiting four years until we get the perfect job, or until we meet the perfect partner, or whatever it is.  When I came back from my travels, I learned I just had to use what I had.  And what I had was a profound realization from my journey, and I thought “How can I share that?”  And I thought, “Well, I could write a book.”  And I didn’t want to learn about books.  I didn’t have the experience.  I got a 1400 on my SATs, you know?  I think living it to me is not accepting the voices in your head, the excuses, that say “You are not qualified for this.  You are not old enough for this.  You do not deserve this.  You are not ready for this.”  Because we are never going to be ready.  There is never a right time, nothing is ever going to be perfect.

That’s a common thread I found between all these people like Laird, Rob Machado, Bucky Lasek, and Immortal Technique.  All of these people say the same thing every single time.  They say there is nothing new for us to learn.  They say there is never a right time.  It’s never going to be perfect.  You’re never going to have everything that you need.  Laird signifies living it to me when he said that, “There comes a time when you have to decide whether you’re going to live your life, or you’re going to live somebody else’s.”  That is the thread I found between all of these people.  At a certain point, living it is taking responsibility.  I could have said, “I got a 1400 on my SATs.  I can’t write, I can’t do that.  I failed my high school junior English class.  It’s their fault, it’s my teachers’ faults.  But at some point, we have to say, “I take responsibility for my life, and if I have the will to do something, that can override talent, the past, whatever it is.”

Taking personal responsibility is literally saying nobody can affect my life greater than I can affect it.  Immortal Technique went to prison.  He was in prison.  And what happens when people go to prison?  Especially a minority.  The system isn’t going to benefit them.  Immortal Technique said, “Do I really want to live my life like this?  Do I want something more out of my life?”  And he said, “Yes.”  So he started spending all day, all the time reading.  And he said, “I am going to make it out of this.  Because I can do two things with my life.  I can keep putting the blame on other people and living a fraction of who I am or I can do something.”

Rob Machado is terrified of surfing big waves.  There is no reef in North County San Diego and the biggest the waves are going to get is about 10 feet.  But if you are getting paid seven figures by a company to surf, you better be able to get pictures of yourself taken in Hawaii or on a reef in Indonesia.  But he was terrified of doing it.  He said he was so scared that there was only one way he could get in the water. They practiced big waves in November through December, so instead Rob went November until spring, so six months out of the year.  He quit going home for Christmas or Thanksgiving just to practice.  And when all these guys who were used to surfing 40 foot waves would say “All right, Rob, let’s go,”  he said the only reason he would be able to go, would be because every other person was going,  and he would get peer pressured into it.

And so what is this thread?  Taking action before you’re ready.  Just doing it because we’re never going to have all the answers, we’re never going to be fully prepared, and I am never going to learn all the grammatical ways to write.  Laird’s never going to figure out mathematically how you can ride a 120 foot wave, it’s like alright there it is.  Let’s go.

Know exactly what you want.  Laird said, “If you do what you love and you pursue it with all of you, the path will be made.  If you have this thing that you love to do and you’re not doing it, then you’re crazy.”

Another common thread of successful people is they cut all the ties to their escape routes.  People say, “Well, if Plan A doesn’t work, go to Plan B.”  But people who really achieve great things, they say “Fuck, Plan B.”  That’s what makes Laird Hamilton Laird Hamilton.  Everyone said if you create a paddle board you are going to ruin surfing.  He said, “Then I ruined surfing, I’m going to do it because I think it sounds fun.”

My Mom said when I was writing my book, “Life is not black and white, Jake.  But to me it is black and white.  I am either going to do what I am going to do or I am not. I am not going to  put one leg on the fence and one leg not.  I’m either going to jump over the fence or come back.  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, all these people were black and white.  They said, “This is what I want.  This is what fulfills me.”  I think if you know what you want then it’s a responsibility to pursue that.      

All of these people, Immortal Technique, Rob Machado, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bob Marley, they knew exactly what they wanted, so they knew exactly what they would or wouldn’t stand for.  When we don’t know, we get distracted and we are unsure all the time.  We are like “I don’t know if I should make this decision,” “I don’t know if I should do this,”  “I don’t know if I should do that.”  How many people are like that?  We are so unclear with everything that we are doing.  And I think that’s why we are stressed out, why we’re depressed.  You need a definite objective to devote the energy of your life to, otherwise the energy is scattered in a million different ways.  

I also say that everything is a risk.  It’s a risk to have kids because what if you go into debt.  It’s a risk to study what your Dad did and follow your Dad because what if it’s not what you like to do and you just spent your seventy grand on your education and you are not happy.  Those are all risks, and we don’t consider those.  Yes, it’s a risk to step into the unknown and do something different.  And then we say, “Well, what’s the worst that could happen?”  “Man, the worst that could happen is I could ruin my life.  If I drop out of school everyone will think I’m crazy.”  That’s how we work, we ask “What’s the worst that could happen?” in everything that we do.  “What’s the worst that could happen if I write a book?  Well, what if nobody likes it?”  That’s how we make our decisions about life.  We make our decisions out of fear rather than out of excitement.  So I say, “What’s the best that could happen?”  Yeah, there’s bad shit out there, but ask “What’s the best that could happen?” because that’s how you’re going to find what you really love to do.  Stop asking “What’s the worst that could happen?” because bad shit is going to happen, it’s a part of life.  And usually we hear, “Man, I hate my job, but if I quit, in six months I’m not going to have any money and then what’s going to happen.”  But I say, “Dude, that’s in six months, what’s the best that could happen if you start working hard and put all your savings into what you love to do?”  “Ah, it could ruin my life.”

The mind is like a circus and there are thousands of different voices talking into our heads all the time.  All these voices want to take us on a ride for anything.  For fear, for some crazy story, for anything.  And we’re always told, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”  But I say, what if you don’t buy the ticket?  What if you stop taking life so seriously and just do what you want to do?

Most people never decide anything.  “What do you want?”  “I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter.  I don’t really care.”  And I think we never decide anything – we never make a decision.  People say life is not black and white, and I completely disagree.

I set goals, like has to be done by this time.  I have to have it done by this time.  I had to have a draft of my book done by a certain day, so I didn’t sleep one night, and I spent the whole next day not sleeping too.  And it was like eight in the morning, and I was heading to Swami’s, and I got up, got in my car, and backed up into my gardener’s car.  But that’s an example.  People maybe decide what they want, but they don’t decide how badly they want it.

What is your definition of happiness? 

Happiness is living life on your own terms.  So what are your terms?

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If you need a little boost today, or everyday, follow Jake on Facebook (I did).  He has a YouTube channel, too, which is equally as awesome.  For more information on Jake or where to find his book Into the Wind, check out his website: http://jakeducey.com/.

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2 thoughts on “Happiness Interview: Author of “Into the Wind,” Surfer, and Ted-Talker, Jake Ducey

  1. Awesome post! Very inspiring! My two sons are 18 and 17 (today!). I am trying to teach them the motto of “Do what you love and the money will follow”. I believe that now, and I don’t want to see them waste years of their lives doing something they could care less about just to put food on the table.
    Thank you for another wonderful post! Ann

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