Although it was 15 years ago, and such a small event in my life, the story that I am about to share still stands out for me as a transformational moment in my life.
I was at work, and a colleague asked me to swim laps with her over our lunch break. I said no, explaining that I could not swim. She replied that this was perfect. She could not swim either and was taking lessons to learn, so I could just join in. This gave me great pause. I had just told her that I could not swim. So how did I now explain to an actual non-swimmer (aka one who could drown in deep water) that by “not swim” I had meant that I could swim across a lake without a life jacket, but just had not swam laps in maybe 10 years.
Some reflection led me to realize that my description of myself as a non-swimmer was a way to get out of an activity that I could potentially not be amazing at. I had given her this description of myself without even thinking.
Trying to be the best at everything that I did in life was a common theme in my life. And guess what? It led me to either not try new activities, or to quickly give up anything that I was not naturally gifted at. And let’s face it, although we all have things that are naturally a bit easier for us, no one is really born being amazing at much of anything.
I admired that my colleague was willing to try swimming lessons with no fear of what she might look like, or what others might think. As I chatted with her, it dawned on me how ridiculous it was that she was willing to get into the pool, while I was not. This was the first time that I was really consciously aware that I was making a decision to not partake in an activity based on a fear of how terrible I could potentially be.
This realization led me to make myself get in that pool. And guess what? It was FINE. I was out of breath from not having swam in a long time, but I was FINE. I made myself go more slowly and be ok with not being the fastest. And I was FINE. I was not just fine.
This was entirely new territory for me. Being vulnerable was new territory for me. Accepting that it is ok to not be great, or perfect at everything that you do, was entirely new territory for me. And as scary as it was, I started realizing that I was the only one who really cared about whether or not I was great at the new activities that I tried. No one laughed at me as I sang karaokee, as I would have anticipated. No one kicked me out of classes or told me I was terrible at anything. That part was all in my head.
I also started to realize how many amazingly fun experiences I had been missing out on in life, by not allowing myself to do anything that I wasn’t instantly great at. My fear of failure had been holding me back from trying all sorts of things that I could actually become amazing at, but maybe needed to work on a bit.
What I took from this defining moment in my life was that I was creating my own limitations in my life by telling myself that I could not do certain things. And then worse… I was believing it. I then chose to avoid those activities instead of trying to learn how to do them, or improve at them, which just further reinforced my self-limiting beliefs. My philosophy nowadays is that, as soon as I realize that I am holding myself back from trying something due to fear of failure, it is up to me to push myself to face that fear.
This new philosophy has led me to so many wonderful places in my life, including closing my private Speech-Language Pathology clinic, when in turn opened up a new and exciting career path as a consultant, becoming a certified Essentrics Instructor, and shifting the focus of my career to giving speaking events and workshops. Although each shift in my path has felt a little scary at first, in hindsight, I cannot imagine how linear and uneventful my path would have been had I not decided to make myself get in the pool that day. It was the first step towards learning to be ok with feeling uncomfortable, imperfect and vulnerable. It was my first step towards realizing that the true beauty lies in the imperfection and in our willingness to share it with the world. It was my first step towards allowing myself to just be me.
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