Feb 9, 2012

Swimming - Life's Little lessons

Three-years-old and frozen at the edge of the pool, I’m counting one, two, two and a half, two and three-quarters and then three. ‘Whoosh’ I yell to my parents as I jump in the water. I had just taken my first stroke in a long journey to swim the english Channel.

Now in junior high, an adolescent struggling in school, my parents enroll me in clubs and sports so I may do well, build self-esteem, and become resilient. at 4’11” I learn basketball and football are not for me, that I am too slow for track, that choir and band are oK, and somehow, I find my way back to water.
Many successes and failures behind me, I am sitting in a familiar place after two and a half years of training, at the edge of a body of water – this time – the english Channel. Thousands of miles swum under every conceivable condition - freez- ing 60 degree fahrenheit water, jellyfish, darkness, sharks, huge waves, spinal damage, and even fam- ily tribulations only a parent appreciates. every detail planned. I am prepared.

I find myself facing a familiar challenge ... one, two, three ... but this time, it’s bad weather turn- ing minutes into hours, hours into days. I grow increasingly anxious, hope fading as wind and rain sweeps ‘la Manche’. a full week passes and my opportunity to swim the english Channel this season fades away. I am crushed.

While we most often think of resiliency as a virtue that helps us react to challenges and disappointments, it also proactively supports our lives. Before leaving for dover, I knew that the chance for success was illusive as weather blows-out more than 50 percent of all attempts and that success rates of those who get their chance is less than 20 percent. This is why (my friend and training partner)doug McConnell’s success is so sweet and my disappointment, while quietly understood, is so humbling. yet just getting there and being pre- pared is a success that will have to be enough for now. some things you just cannot control.

Without resiliency we are content to play it small; play it safe; hide from the world, protect- ing ourselves from being hurt, thus removing ourselves from joy, excitement, and satisfaction. It’s something you have to earn, like jumping in the water, taking that first stroke or watching your friend swim the english Channel.
resiliency is a learned virtue that comes from repeated exposure to success, disappointment and failure. We need to teach our children to try things on their own, that it is oK to fail and ex- perience negative emotions like sadness, frustra- tion, and fear. It is equally important to persist in the face of failure. as we get older we bounce back from our disappointments, overcome temp- tations to quit, face embarrassment from failure, and accept praise graciously while not gloating on our successes (which in this age of social me- dia is all too easy).

There’s no shortage of hand-wringing these days about the effects of coddling our kids, unin- volved parents, or the dangers of overzealous ones. This concern about kids getting “soft rewarded” for everything is easily spun on an age-old criticism leveled by each and every generation (“Back in my day...”.) But for a child to take chances, they must feel safe and supported so they can take that first stroke.

As a parent, a resilient spirit is one of the greatest gifts you must demonstrate and share with your child. It is a set of learned skills that will help them do better in school and work, have healthier relationships, and live a happier, and maybe even longer life. It’s the key to helping them reach their potential like my parents and teachers did for me all those years ago.
not everyone can be a winner all the time. yet trying our best and managing to cope with disap- pointment is perhaps the greatest lesson of all.

To donate, or for more information, visit www.220foundation.org and select the English Channel Challenge.
Quintessential Barrington | QBarrington.com