Last week we introduced the American Express Canada “Potentialist” – They are often ambitious people who are rethinking what life is all about and are finding ways to enrich their lives through meaningful experiences. For some it’s about the challenge of learning new skills or exploring new places as ways of expanding their lives. For others it's about unleashing their creative side, or connecting with the world around them through getting behind a cause.

Click here if you missed it.

This week we jump into our series of celebrity potentialists, featuring one each Monday for the next few weeks. We start with the travel potentialist – Scarlett Johansson.

I know what you’re thinking. But Scarjo actually travels undetected most of the time when she’s not on business. She and Ryan Reynolds were married at a wilderness retreat in Tofino, British Columbia. She managed to get through most of the US while campaigning for President Obama without much fanfare in 2008. She trekked acrosss South America with family last year and was able to avoid paps. And just this past summer, she and Reynolds holidayed in Europe for several weeks and made it the entire way with only one photo agency encounter. She has visited troops in the Persian Gulf and of course she very famously visited Rwanda on a humanitarian mission for the RED campaign. Travel for Scarlett then is a very private, very personal experience, that rare starlett who actually wants to broaden her perspective through an understanding of other cultures and environments without turning it into something she can sell.

That’s the celebrity angle. Now it’s your turn. We also told you that we’d be posting your stories. Many of you took the time to write about your experiences. This week we chose Serena, who told us about how her passion for the water helped her find new direction in her life. Here is her story.

Dear Lainey,

Thank you so much for sharing your story on your blog today. I have been a loyal smut hound since 2006 when my best friends older sister and I got into a heated argument over who's team is best, Team Aniston or Team Jolie. I was a die hard Team Aniston supporter and she was 100% Team Jolie. Finally, in exasperation she pulled up your blog and said

"There! Read this! You'll see..." and the rest is history.

Your story is truly remarkable, from how your blog began to the tough decisions you made along the way. I love the fact that you made the tough choice to walk away from your job to take care of your mother in her time of need, facing criticism from others and uncertainty about your career. I also love that it was this selfless act of compassion and love that led towards the creation of Lainey Gossip.

My story is not as remarkable as yours, I am not a celebrity or a philanthropist, at best I am a hobbyist and an enthusiast? But anyways, shall we?

Since I was about 3 years old I have always been a "water baby". My parents split up when I was eight years old and my mother, my younger sister and I moved into a tiny apartment two blocks from Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver. Every summer afternoon, we would go down to the beach and I would stay in the water until my mom had to physically get up, pack up our things and leave for me to come out. I loved the water, I loved being in the water, I loved having wet hair and I loved to see how long I could hold my breath and how deep I could get.

Eventually, after many a long afternoon waiting by the side of the water, she signed me up for the local swim club. Within a year I was winning provincial championships and thus began my 17 year long career as a competitive swimmer. Flash forward to 2006 after 2 failed retirements, I finally hung up my goggles and decided to get on with my life. I was 25 and had never had a real "grown-up" job so I did what any female former athlete with a superlative arts degree would do, I went to work in retail. Now right from the get-go I had a love/hate relationship with "working". I just didn't like it. I hated going to work and getting the energy up to be perky and happy. I worked REALLY hard at my job and moved up the ranks but I just couldn't get passionate about it. I just assumed there was something wrong with me or that I was an innately lazy person, which, by the way is ridiculous because I woke up at 4:40 am every morning since I was 12 to swim back and forth for two hours. Why couldn't I get pumped up for my job?! After a couple of years in my old position I switch industries and got a new, better paying "grown-up job" that I hated less but nonetheless, still hated.

During this time I also began seeing my ex-boyfriend, with whom I would end up being involved with for three years. I would talk to him regularly about my issues with "work" and my growing desperation about finding my true calling but his reply was always the same:

"Buck up princess! You have to work to survive in this world so quit complaining and just do it already. Most people hate their jobs so shut the f- up and get on with it."

This just made me feel even more depressed. Despite my increasing desperation, I did my able best to try and remedy the matter, I read self-help books and books about "finding your passion". I would ask myself the infamous question,

"Serena, if you woke up tomorrow and won the lottery, what would you do with your life?" Apparently this question is supposed to tell you what you should do as your "life's work". If you answer "I want to fix old cars." then... well, you should fix up old cars. The trouble with that question was that all I could come up with for an answer was: I want to lie on a tropical beach and swim in the ocean everyday.

This answer didn't really help me much because the last time I checked, there really wasn't much of a demand for beach bums and their starting salary was the sh-ts. So, having tried my best to "find my passion" and failing miserably I resigned myself to a career as a cubicle monkey and decided that the best I could ever do was hope to marry well...

By now I was 27, unhappy in my job, stuck in an unhealthy relationship and shoulder deep in a horrible depression that just seemed to keep getting worse. My family was at a complete loss, they had watched their daughter and sister go from one of the top competitive swimmers in Canada with a passion for life and a mission to succeed to this unhealthy, dead-behind the eyes shell of a human being with no goals, ambition or future, hopped up on anti-depressants. I hated weekdays because I had to drag my sorry ass to work and I hated weekends because I didn't know what to do with myself. I had no hobbies, no interests and I had lost contact with almost all of my friends and family. All I did was sleep and eat. At one point I started crying in my ex's bedroom and just could not stop. I cried for 4 straight hours as my ex tried to comfort me, paced back and forth, yelled and then finally threw his hands up in the air and called my mom, he had had enough. My mom drove over, put me in the car, packed up some clothes and drove me to her house where I stayed for the next month.

The first glimmer of light came when my ex found out that he needed to take an Open Water Scuba class to participate in his master's program. I had zero interest in taking any classes but I had always loved the ocean and the water so I decided, "what the hell" I'll take my Open Water course and maybe me and my ex can go scuba diving some time and try and resurrect the decaying corpse of our relationship.

My first open water dive was on April 19th 2009 and I will remember that feeling for the rest of my life. When I took my first breath underwater this overwhelming feeling of calm and wonder consumed me. I felt amazing. The dives themselves were nothing to write home about, I don't even think I saw a fish but I was so happy to be in awe of something.

I must have been beaming ear to ear at the end of the dive because my instructor looked at me with a smile and asked if I had a good time. I timidly replied that it was awesome and I can't wait to do it again and he laughed and smiled and told me that I did a great job.

By the end of the day on April 20th I had qualified as an open water diver and my instructor, Kirk, took me aside and asked if I wanted to join the class that was going out in two weeks, I said yes and thus began my love affair with Scuba.

Over the next few months I would get certified as an Advanced Open Water Diver, Rescue Diver and Emergency First Responder. I have done dives in Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast and Nanaimo, seen octopus, seals, rockfish, ling cod, sea stars, anemones, crabs, flounder and a sea angel. I was starting to get back into the groove of life. I got off of the pills and I began to participate fully in my own existence. I also made friends for the first time in years and became part of a community. By January of 2010 I had begun my Divemaster internship with Kirk, started practicing yoga daily and broken up with my ex.

I was so excited to be good at something and my self-confidence started to come back. Diving gave me back my life, and a reason to get up in the morning. At the time, it was still a hobby and my primary source of income was my old cubicle job but I started to realise that my dreams of beach life and the ocean could actually become a reality.

Through diving I started associating with some absolutely amazing people that had accomplished so much, many of them were only in their twenties but they were living their dream and had such a great passion for life. In July of this year, after completing my Divemaster course I got my first paying job as a diver at The Edge Diving Centre. By then I was a completely different person from the year previous. I was in amazing shape, I looked amazing and I am absolutely loving my life! Everytime I lead a dive, assist with a class or just dive with my buddies I feel like I am in heaven.

Honest to Pete, if you come down to Whytcliff park on the weekend you will see my bouncing around the parking lot in my wetsuit getting geared up, talking shop or giving a dive briefing. I just can't help but smile even thinking about it. I love diving and I love sharing my passion for diving.

To be completely honest, everything sort of came together at the same time. In 18 months I have done a 180 from where I was, lonely, depressed and lost to enthusiastic, focused and happy. Diving is my life and I can't believe there was a time in my life where I wasn't this ridiculously and infectiously joyful.

Lainey, yesterday, after 2 months of hard work I passed my PADI Instructor Examination and in 2 weeks I am getting on a plane to go live and teach diving on a beach in Thailand. I have sold all my furniture, quit my job, packed up all my things and am about to embark on the next chapter of my life. I am both excited and nervous about giving it all up for a dream but like they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Diving has led to some of the strongest friendships I have ever forged and some of the greatest memories that I will cherish forever.

I still think about that question I posed to myself two years ago,

"If money were no object, what would you do with your life?" I can honestly say that the answer to that question is, exactly what I am doing now. If money were no object, I would be flying to Thailand, living on a beach and diving in the ocean everyday.
Thank you so much for letting me send in my story. It was fun to write about my journey and I hope to read more about other Potenetialists' stories :)


So how about you?

What’s your experience? Share with us why you are a Potentialist. Email me at [email protected] with AMEX Potentialist as the title. Each week we’ll be posting a new Potentialist story and I’d love to hear from you and share it with everyone else. The theme next week is giving back – someone who reaches their potential by donating their personal time to a worthy cause.

Visit the American Express Realize the Potential page to see how the company is encouraging Canadians to realize their full potential. Or to learn more about Amex Canada, check out their site:

Here’s Scarlet at the Mango Awards in October.

Photos from Sean Thorton/

*celebrity names/images are used for editorial purposes only and have no association with the products featured in this advertorial