I stared at the water, a few feet beneath me. If water were a metaphor for life, as it often is, I am the person who dabbles my toes in the water to test the temperature, once, twice, third time’s the charm. Then walk up to the water and gingerly step down the stairs. I feel things out. I never jump in. I’ve never done a cannonball in my life.
The water was clear, blue, chlorinated and unforgiving. I was on the springboard, age six, taking beginner’s swimming lessons. Instructors were in the water to catch me, treading water and encouraging me to jump. Everything was perfectly safe. Except I didn’t know how to swim confidently enough, and I still don’t. I hadn’t passed level one swimming class. Fail. I had to take it twice to finally pass and by the time I did, I was so traumatized I never took level two.
Jumping off that spring board would mean I’d either sink or swim. What if I sink? I had basic swimming skills and couldn’t even tread water. Why did my instructors think I could jump off a diving board and be okay? I couldn’t do it. I hesitated. My heart palpitated. My palms sweat. That lump in my throat started to form again, like it always does when I get overly anxious.
I’ve been anxious all my life, on land, and in water. In water, I didn’t know how to let go. To surrender. I was so afraid of swimming lessons that I’d cry every time I got in. A picture of me with a group of other kids smiling as we collectively kicked our feet to move the noodle flotation device, while my face was permanently etched in tears; a look of absolute terror. Freeze frame in time.
Five minutes must have passed. I still hadn’t jumped. I tried hard not to cry, but the tears started flowing like little rivulets. There was no holding back now. I was humiliated. Suddenly, someone pushed me from behind. Another instructor tired of my hesitancy, holding back the line as other kids waited their turn. There was no escape. The only way in was to jump, or be pushed. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared. I never was.
The instructors caught me. I was ok. I had survived, but not without some trauma. I sighed with a breathe of relief. I was safe. Just as I knew I would be, despite my irrational fears. They were there to catch me, but could I jump on my own? Come to think of it, this was the first and last time I’ve jumped on a diving board. My lack of swimming skills, particularly for an “island girl” like myself, is my one greatest shame. It’s held me back in the ways I’ve never gone near large bodies of water, afraid to swim in the deep end, where I can’t touch the ground. At a short 5’1”, it doesn’t take much for me to panic in water. I hold myself back from active, outdoor excursions. I dream of a day when I can leap with reckless abandon over the edge of a cliff and jump into a lake with confidence. Just like those wanderlust lifestyles. Young, wild, and free.
Instead, I am left feeling like my inner child, six years old and wide-eyed. Jump. Take the leap. Will I survive? Can I make it?
The entrepreneurial journey is similar. Taking a leap of faith. Sink or swim. Do or do not. There is no try.
As I start writing the book that will become part of my life’s work, I find myself lingering on that moment. On that spring board. Anxious and paralyzed by fear. Writing a book feels like the same thing. Afraid to take that leap, knowing a network of people are there to catch me. Afraid to jump.
No matter what, you have to push through and do it anyway. Fear may seem limiting, but it can also become a source of inspiration to break through and keep on swimming (pun intended). Fear is an indication of the things we should do, not the things we should try to avoid. Fear is what guides us. We choose whether or not that limits us, or inspires us to do greater things.
As I start my quest towards becoming a published author, I look back at my life and journey and trust, just like the swim instructors, that the Universe has my back. Take the leap and a safety net will break your fall.