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Deep Advice

Morgan McArthur for Straight Furrow

23 March 2000


A near-death experience wasn’t on my list of things to do this year but I’m glad that it happened.

One of my workmates is a triathlete. He’s an inspiring kind of guy who started the sport at an age when most people are giving it up. He’s over 50. Because of him I was enticed to give one a go.

Fair enough. It’s a healthy pursuit. We would do it for the sake of male bonding. And, the testosterone-driven truth is that I can’t let a guy who’s ten years older show me up.

So our company put together a three-man team and we entered a corporate triathlon. Each individual is responsible for swimming 500 metres, riding a bike 15 km and then running 5 km before handing off to the next teammate.

The bike and the run are no worries. Ah, but the swim… I can barely remember swimming as a kid. But it looks so simple. And it’s only 500 metres. And I should be fine. Right?

I thought so.

A month and a half before the event I decided to get into the water and stoke my stroke. I bought myself some little bitty swim goggles and a little bitty swimsuit and plopped into the local pool.

Let the lessons begin.

People who can swim well are imposters. They make something very complicated look deceptively easy. Fact is, swimming is an unnatural act.

I sputtered and gasped and flailed halfway down the pool before resigning my pride at 15 metres where I stopped and stood up. My goggles and lungs were half full of water. My mind was drenched in doubt.

At this point, 500 metres may as well have been 500 miles.

Over the next few weeks I endeavoured to become more fishlike. I acquired neither gills nor skills.

But the moment of truth occurred just six days before the event.

On a windy gray afternoon my mentor took me to the deep dark waters of Lake Pupuke where, on the day, 400 swimmers would be frothing toward the distant buoy. This was the test. He shrink-wrapped me in a black wetsuit and we launched off to swim the course. We got out about 100 metres. Between the choppy swells and waves of panic I was soon panting, dog paddling, and hunting home.

Friends, I was in way over my head.

Do you know this feeling? Most of us do, especially when we’re taking on something that involves a major change. Whether it is something basic like swimming or more involved like a new way of thinking or doing business, we may jump in and discover there is waaaaay more to it than we thought. Blub, blub, blub. We may have shallow skills in deep water, so to speak. Gasp!

Getting into trouble early on may be a good thing.

These points of panic force us to make some hard but honest decisions. In my case I realised I was unfit and I withdrew from the team. I didn’t quit learning to swim, however. I just reassessed my situation. My goal is now to become a strong swimmer but to do it on a realistic time schedule and to do it right.

The latter point is very important. If we establish good habits and build an understanding about what we are trying to accomplish or change we not only reach the objective faster but we have made good on our investment of time. The best way to do this is to seek competent advising and coaching.

One of the most important things I have learned about success is that we can’t achieve it alone.

The fast track to accomplishment is to tap into OPE, or Other People’s Experience. The best veterinarian I’ve ever worked with once told me that we are all a compilation of others’ ideas and techniques. It’s true, isn’t it? We can get OPE by getting close to people who excel at what they do and asking good questions. Sometimes we may have to pay for expert advice. If it’s good and usable it’s a wise investment. Sometimes it comes from resources that are outside the box. Never in history have sources of good information been more plentiful and easy to acquire.

Today I’m able to get input on swimming techniques from the library, from other swimmers, from videotapes, off the internet and I hire a swim coach once a week. Dolphin Boy I’m not but I am progressing far faster than I ever could have without all of this help. Whatever your goals there is an abundance of assistance out there which can shorten your path to excellence.

If you’re serious about achievement don’t be deterred by setbacks. Assess your approach and timetable honestly and then look around you for good advice. You might just be drowning in resources that you never knew were available to you.

Sometimes a near-death experience is a good thing.

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