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The triumph I felt crawling out of the pool early one morning last summer should probably be reserved for Navy Seals and Olympic champions. Nevertheless, I wrapped a soft, oversized beach towel around my body, inhaled the calming scent of chlorine and exhaled pure, unadulterated triumph.
Three Months Earlier
“Yes, that will be no problem,” I responded confidently.
I was sitting in front of my laptop interviewing via Skype for the position of head counselor at an aquatics camp just outside Atlanta.
“Can you dive to the bottom of a 12-foot pool?” my manager-to-be asked.
Of course I could. I was a Florida girl. We all grew up swimming like fish, right?
My first day on the job we changed into our suits for the swim test. My co-counselors were several years younger than me and looked like freaking Brooke Bennetts—some of them had even been to the Olympic trials. My swim experience consisted of participating in chicken fights and noodle wars in my granny’s pool every summer until my skin shriveled and freckled.
As we walked past the pool, I stared nervously at the deep end. Twelve feet looked a lot deeper than I remembered. It was no problem though. I would just dive in head first, race to the bottom and be back up in no time—no problem at all.
“OK, ladies, I’m going to drop this brick into the deep end. I want you to hop in the shallow end, swim over to the drop off and retrieve the block,” our manager yelled from across the pool.
No one had said anything about not giving us a head first start. No one had said anything about a 10-pound block.
I couldn’t do it.
Embarrassingly, even after they offered me the head start, I couldn’t do it. The manager was incredibly sweet and not only did she not fire me, she offered an excuse.
“It’s probably just the pressure in your ears, you’ll get used to it in no time,” she said.
Sure—my ears. I knew that’s not what it was. Thinking about hundreds of gallons of water over my head and no air to breath paralyzed me. I would swim a few feet down, panic, and return to the surface.
What if that wasn’t a block on the bottom? What if it was a kid? I assumed my adrenaline would kick in if that became the case, but what if it didn’t? What if I couldn’t?
For the rest of the week I came in early to work on getting to the bottom of things, so to speak. Finally, that first Friday on the job, I dove to the bottom of the pool retrieving a couple of bright aqua glow sticks.
Victory was mine.
I continued to dive to the bottom of that pool daily for the next eight weeks, checking on kids who stayed down longer than a few seconds and retrieving the stuff those little rugrats accidentally dropped.
I learned a lot at the camp—probably more than the kids did. I learned a lot about fear.
Fear is a powerful motivator, but if we’re not careful, it can motivate us in the wrong direction.
I think we’re all a little scared of the bottom. I know I am. Sometimes though, the bottom is where we find what we need. If we panic and turn around too soon, we may not reap the rewards of seeing our pursuit all the way through.
Oddly enough, it was a lot quicker and easier to make it back to the surface from the very bottom than from the middle. From the bottom, I could push off and rise quickly to the top. When I panicked half way down, it took several seconds of floundering to do the same.
Sometimes facing challenges and going through hard times gives us the kind of positive motivation and perspective we need to succeed. And when you get back up? When you come out of the hard times? There is a whole new appreciation for the air you breathe, for the good times, for success.