One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do. ~Henry Ford
I’m training for my first triathlon in September this year. By far the most intimidating part of the event is the swim. It’s intimidating on so many different levels. I’ve had to relearn how to swim efficiently, in order to prevent feeling completely exhausted after swimming only a couple of laps. It’s taken a lot of refocus and drills in the pool, but I’ve finally learned the technique I need to accomplish efficiency.
My next, and much more daunting task, is getting over my fear of swimming in the open water. The event starts with swimming in the water of the Gulf of Mexico. For several months I’ve been working myself up mentally to get in the water, something so many other people do with ease, but seems enormous to me.
Over the 4th of July I attempted a quick swim on a beautiful day where the water was clear and calm. After only a few minutes of being in the water, I heard the shrill of my sister’s voice as she screamed “Jenn!! Get out of the water!! There’s a SHARK!!” Much to my disappointment, my reaction was not one I’m too proud of. I proceeded to scream, stomp up and down, and flail my arms around and as I ran out of the water. As I stood on the shoreline in my state of panic, I looked in the water, and sure enough, a six-foot shark swam by, un-phased by my embarrassing display.
Several weeks later, I tried again, this time I swam in the bay with my husband Greg at my side. We were both nervous. We finally mustered up the courage to do it, and we were off. At first, I was ok, seeing the bottom was comforting, but that was short-lived. Before I knew it, I entered into deeper water, and my view of the bottom turned into a pitch black abyss.
The darkness and cooler temperature of the water got into my head. I felt myself start to panic at the thought of the unknown. I couldn’t see what was below me. I started to think of my recent close encounter with “Jaws” and I began to breath faster. I popped my head out of the water, and saw just a few feet away my husband treading water waiting for me, and encouraging me to keep going. So, I took a deep breath, and pushed on.
Eventually we made it to the halfway point, and I was beyond relieved. As we swam back, I was still nervous about the dark waters, but not nearly as much. I had a new nemesis to struggle with; the current. I would stick my head up, and expecting to see that I was closer to the shore, I found I was facing completely 180 degrees in the opposite direction. I’d been completely oblivious while the current had spun me completely around. I quickly had to adjust and keep pushing towards the shore.
Several more times the same thing happened. At one point, I looked up and saw Greg swimming in the completely wrong direction as well. It was so crazy! But! Finally, after what felt like a never-ending swim in my fears, we made it. I couldn’t get out of the water fast enough!
After the swim was over, I thought about some important insights I was reminded of during the experience.
- Sometimes Our Fear is Much Bigger than What We’re Scared Of
My encounter with the shark is a great example of the “idea” of the shark, was much more scary then the shark itself. I realized as I watched him swim by, I’d let my own perceptions and fears completely fill my mind which in turn, caused me to act like a crazy woman.
In life, we can build things up to much more than they really are. We can’t let our perceptions and opinions stop us from doing what matters.
- We Have to Keep Going, Even If It’s Into the Unknown
My swim in the bay is a great analogy to life and doing something outside of our comfort zone. When we take a chance, as long as we can “see the bottom” and have some idea of what we’re dealing with, it’s much easier to take the next step. It’s when you can’t see what’s in front of you, that fear starts to take over.
The reality is that we can’t always see what’s next. Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith. It’s faith and perseverance are what push us forward to accomplish what we never thought possible.
- Expect to Redirect in the Current of Life
Just like my swim, sometimes life can have an underlying current that can take us in the complete opposite direction of what we intended. Stay the course. Keep your focus on where you’re heading, and eventually you’ll get there.
Be patient, be positive, and be profound.
My swim, and many more moments in my life have served as a perspective meter for me as I continue on my journey. Life is an amazing gift, don’t let your fears paralyze you from experiencing it.