Personal best: Executive Lance Diaresco gets lost around the world to find himself
For Diaresco, the sudden loss was a wake-up call.
"Many of us busy executives in Hong Kong spend our time on our career," says Diaresco, 46, who was the chief marketing officer and vice-president of brand management at clothing brand Levi Strauss & Co. "We tend to forget that there are other important things in life, like relationships and health."
He was already considering a break from corporate life after 22 years of marketing and branding for major corporations in China and the Philippines, ranging from Disney to Colgate to Procter & Gamble.
The tragedy strengthened his resolve. Within three months, Diaresco had quit his job and embarked on a worldwide journey, one he's dubbed a "purposeful sabbatical".
The goal during the ongoing 18-month trip is to explore his creative and spiritual side, live life to the fullest and give back to the community.
He started with Europe. Using Berlin as a base (because he enjoys the art scene there) he travelled to France, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal, Croatia and Israel. Diaresco played each trip by ear: booking one-way tickets, with no accommodation or plans lined up. "I would arrive and look for a bed and breakfast. Then I'd explore the city on foot and try to meet and adapt to the local culture," he says.
After four months in Europe, he went around Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Myanmar and his native Philippines, and India. He wandered off the beaten path - often getting lost - but he enjoyed it.
"I think getting lost or being in a new place forces you to listen to your intuition," he says.
More importantly, he learned to relax: "Every business trip I had gone on before had a fixed itinerary and it was all about being efficient and getting things done. This trip showed me that sometimes it's best to just relax and go with the flow."
There was the time he got lost hiking up a mountain in Portugal. By the time he made it to the top after a long detour, he was minutes away from missing the final bus - the only way out. But a group of Korean tourists spotted Diaresco from afar and notified him.
"I am a firm believer that if you approach something with the right mindset and a good heart, you attract positive energy," he says. "Everywhere I've gone, I've met good people."
In Asia, Diaresco travelled to rural regions and volunteered with children's charities, such as Child Haus, a shelter for young cancer patients in the Philippines, and Studer Trust, a Myanmese group that aims to build schools. In his spare time, he meditated and did yoga.
He also rediscovered an old passion while suspended a few thousand feet above Cappadocia in Turkey, on a hot-air balloon. At that moment, as he was snapping photos, he realised he wanted to share his shots with more than just Facebook friends. "I have always loved photography - I'm self-taught - so I decided to try to hold an exhibition."
With his connections in Hong Kong, a few e-mails and phone calls was all it took to set up an exhibition at the Amelia Johnson Contemporary gallery last March. The images included portraits of everyday people and scenic shots ranging from Balinese beaches to Israel's Masada mountain. The proceeds went to Child Haus.
During his nine months away, Diaresco developed a fresh outlook on life. "I realised that too many people define success by wealth and social status, strength by physical power," he says. "This sabbatical has enriched my mind, body and spirit."
Diaresco returned to Hong Kong in May. His travels, especially the social work, have caught the attention of many. He says a few friends have been inspired to take similar breaks, and within weeks of his return, South Africa's Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife invited him to join their conservation research and community development.
He will be heading to South Africa in October. But first, he'll spend two months in New York, where he plans to speak to publishers about a possible photo book, and to volunteer at charity Christopher's Haven.
He plans on returning to work in Hong Kong, but for now, his journey is only just reaching an intermission.
He jokes that he'll be broke soon with all his travels. But he says: "It's all worth it."