The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
A six-year-old girl stands at the edge, unsure about the leap she must take. She is nervous; very aware of the challenge at hand and the expectations she must meet. In the next moment, she finds herself suspended in the air, entering the watery unknown. She perseveres and passes the momentous test that most kids her age fail. I have never been prouder in my life.
The young girl on the edge was Avery, my protégé. As a certified lifeguard and swim instructor at Spring Lake Day Camp, my responsibility is to teach children the fundamentals of swimming and help them develop their skills. Not only that, but to be a role model, inspire them to flourish, and build their confidence as swimmers and as individuals.
In order for young campers to be allowed to swim in deep water, they are required to pass a Deep Water Test. The requisites of the Deep Water Test are to swim a lap in eight-foot deep water, using freestyle, followed by treading water for one minute upon completion of the lap. While this task may seem simple, it is one of great difficulty for five and six-year-old children.
Upon meeting Avery at the beginning of the summer, I noticed a girl who was curious about the world; one who did not fear exploration or challenge. She stood out. She was rambunctious and independent, a natural-born leader. Looking at Avery was like looking in a mirror. There was an irresistible energy about her. I introduced myself and felt an immediate connection with her. As our relationship developed, I learned Avery had one overbearing fear: the water.
Avery perceived water as a terrifying open body of nothingness. She did not know what lurked beneath the rippling surface. The fear of the unknown and its uncertainty haunted Avery. This began to recede slowly as I worked with her and dedicated myself to building her confidence. Recognizing that her success on the Deep Water Test was dependent upon her hard work, Avery followed my instructions. First, she met the challenge to at least put her feet in the water. Day by day, step by step, what originally seemed impossible became increasingly easier. I guided her away from feelings of trepidation toward her recognition of the potential she possessed. We worked together, focusing on the physical and mental skills swimming entails. Avery soon developed into an amazing little swimmer. She exited her comfort zone, faced her fears of the water, and surpassed my expectations.
On test day, Avery stood at the edge, looking terrified. I walked over and stood next to her. She looked up, met my eyes, and drew confidence from my presence. With her next breath, she took the plunge.
Seeing myself in Avery, I knew she was capable of anything she pushed herself to accomplish. I guided her through a test that an average camper her age would be expected to fail.
As individuals and a society, we fear the unknown; the uncertainty of what is yet to come. Life is like learning to swim. Life represents the watery unknown: what lies ahead seems frightening, but if situations are handled step by step, with knowledge and skills being acquired along the way, what seems like a ‘leap’ may only end up being a step. Ready for my next plunge, I accept every challenge. I have undergone years of preparation, learning something new with every decision I have made. The future is unknown; but just as I told Avery, it does not matter how deep the water is, as long as you can swim.