Keep Swimming: Lessons on leading through life

I splashed some water on my forearms, prolonging the inevitable plunge into coolness for a few more seconds.

Tightening my swimmer’s cap and strapping on my goggles, I couldn’t stall any long; some other swimmer would want my lap here pretty soon if I didn’t push off from the sidelines and just start swimming.

Breathing in deep, setting my teeth into a hard grit, I dove in. The water enveloped me and my worries, as it has always done, as I shimmied past the first fleeting seconds of extreme coldness.

Pushing up for my first breath, I was all ‘go’ — there was no going back at this point. I was already wet, I was already cold, so why could’t I have some fun in the pool for the next half-hour or so?

That moment of hesitation, sitting on the sidelines of a cool-water pool and wondering/worrying about the chilly depths below, has plagued me in more areas of my life than just a chlorinated tank of water.

I tend to over-calculate. I reason my way out of should’ve-could’ve-would’ve. I don’t follow the innocence of my heart, but instead pursue the logicalness of my brain.

I take the risk-less path — often with little to no reward.


Before my internships at the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC), I flustered fairly easily. I worried about my appearance, my asking-of-too-many-questions, my future career trajectory, what I was going to have for dinner tomorrow. I knew somewhere in there that I was capable, competent, perhaps even worthy of love — but I had no sense of self-confidence to follow through as fearlessly as some of my friends.

But after two summer of working through workshops on leadership, and remaining a scholar at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, I learned something about myself:

I learned how to step from the shadows to the front of the stage.

Being a leader isn’t about being bullish or bossy, as I found out in this trying semester over 2 years ago now. It’s about commanding self-respect and self-worth for yourself and your colleagues. It’s about taking the plunge and not knowing full well the road ahead, believing in your capabilities to see the rough waters through.

Case in point: My what-could-have-been, not-too-late-now swimmer’s story.

Apparently all that mermaid-ness from my youth came out in the form of “I want to take swimming lessons!” during my elementary school days.

“I honestly don’t remember that!” I responded to my parents, who kindly reminded me that I had a (very short lived) swimmer’s legacy before last semester’s training. Reflecting on how I’ve always loved the feeling of floating through water, I wondered: “Why did I stop taking the lessons?”

“Because you were too cold getting in and out of the pool!” my dad said, laughing. 

I couldn’t believe it: That same hesitation I feel now — that moment of doubt before I’m about to plunge in — stopped me from pursuing a sport I have always genuinely loved.

The difference now? I’ve learned how to keep swimming.

Look how happy I am!

In the months since ‘re-starting’ this old-found passion, I’ve markedly improved my time, pace, and coordination. I no longer drip out of the pool gasping for air or emptying my lungs of runaway water. I’m relaxed and restored — and I’m happy! I’m oh-so-happy that I can swim again, move my body again, pursue a sport that doesn’t break me again.

I have learned restraint, patience, and perseverance in-and-out of the lane this winter-waiting season. Now that springtime is almost upon us, I’m looking forward to new adventures, new friends, perhaps even new relationships to pursue — and, of course, new pools of water to try this summer.

Yes, it’ll be cold. Yes, it’ll be uncomfortable at the start.

But if I’ve learned anything from Dory’s applicable advice (“Just keep swimming.”), it’s that the victory on the other side of hesitation is always worth the uncertainty at the start.

If we could all start leading more from our hearts than just our heads, imagine what impossible feats we could accomplish together.


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