AS THE ORIGINAL wimpy kid (though without a diary), I was scared of the water when I was young. I didn’t learn to swim until I was maybe nine or 10, left on the tippy-toe sidelines of the shallow end of the pool while all my friends larked in deeper water.
I don’t recall whether it was embarrassment or envy that finally propelled me into facing my fears. Still, I remember three lessons from learning the choppy, inelegant strokes that get me around in the water to this day.
Fear flows out. Much as you may try to bottle it up, fear leaks into other areas of your life. If you don’t feel safe in deep water, you are probably going to nix activities that involve any kind of boating or being close to the edge of rivers, lakes and oceans. Your horizons shrink.
Surviving means surrendering. The essence of staying afloat is counter-intuitive—giving in to the water rather than trying to fight it. The more you thrash about, the more you endanger yourself. Only when you relax can you begin to work with what otherwise endangers you. As Attis Clopton says in this New York Times video of how he overcame a long-time water phobia, “It’s all about letting go.”
Style is overrated. I’m never going to beat Michael Phelps or qualify for a synchronized swimming team. But when I’m in the pool or ocean with family and friends, they’re not grading my strokes; they’re just glad we can be there together.
Of course, each of these lessons has application on dry land. Through the years I have learned that being scared of being known for who I really was kept me from people and places where I feared I would be exposed, but who and which actually would have enriched me.
I have also discovered that sometimes the only way to get through something is by giving in (which is not to be confused with giving up) and finding a way to use what seems to threaten you to your advantage.
And I have come to accept that you don’t always have to be able to do things well; sometimes just doing them at all is enough.
Facing fear doesn’t mean becoming foolhardy, however. There is a difference between addressing an issue and mastering it. I enjoy the water these days, but I still treat it with respect.
Photo by avlxyz on Foter.com /CC BY-NC-SA