Great Things Happen in the Deep End of the Pool

One of my favorite movie scenes is from The Sandlot, when Squints pulls one over on Wendy Peffercorn, his lifeguard crush. The reason this worked out so well for Squints is that he was brave enough to jump into the deep end of the pool.

Do you ever feel you are in over your head? Like you have been thrown into deep waters before you’ve learned to swim? You are in good company (and I’m not talking about Squints). History is full of men and women who were thrown into the same proverbial waters. Certainly some have sunk to the bottom or had to be rescued. Others however, learned to swim in a hurry and are now household names because they accomplished much more in the challenging waters than they ever would have had they simply waded in the shallow end.

There have been many times I’ve felt I was in over my head - from my early years on the athletic fields to the college physics classroom to figuring out how to change that first diaper to sitting in meetings across the table from much more accomplished leaders. In some cases I failed miserably and embarrassingly; in others I got by, and over time there became occasions where I soared to new heights I did not know I was capable of.

That’s what happens when you get in over your head. Sometimes you do things you never had to do before and realize potential you never saw.

The funny thing is, even though the deep end of the pool is where growth happens, we spend a lot of time trying to avoid it. For much of my life I have chosen to play in the shallow end. Because of my own choices, I didn’t really learn what I could have or should have.

In October of last year I willingly jumped into the deep end when I went into business for myself. My primary client / boss is a good friend who doesn’t seem to want to let me move back to safety. He has given me some pretty tough assignments (I won’t mention names, because some of you might be reading this :)). He will sometimes ask me to lead a meeting or facilitate a discussion without advance notice. I don’t much like it at the time but I know he wouldn’t do it if he didn’t believe in me. And these challenges are things that make me better.

Here are a couple of things I am learning to say to myself from the deep end.

You got this!

I am a planner, and I like to rehearse. When I am well prepared, I bring a lot of confidence to my game. But there are instances where there’s no time to rehearse and planning must be done on the fly. In such cases, I am learning after the initial panic to adopt a “Bring it on!” attitude.  Most people actually work with greater efficiency with a deadline looming. There is a lot more urgency to learn to swim when the only other option is to sink. I am figuring out that even if I don’t feel I’ve had time to prepare, my whole life has prepared me for the moment I am in. When I don’t have time to rehearse, I’m forced to listen more intently, and I often respond more genuinely. Prepare and rehearse when you are able, but trust who you are when you are in the deep. You got this!

Know When It’s Time to Get Out / Don’t Be Cocky

The deep end is fun but also dangerous. The more you venture in the more comfortable and confident you become, but the longer you stay in the more weary you grow. It doesn’t take long to move from comfort to weariness, and there is a fine line between confidence and cockiness. The deep end will make you better if you don’t swim to the side too soon, but it will do you harm if you stay in too long. The challenge is knowing when it’s time to get out and what to do while you are out.

When you are not in the deep end, you should be preparing for it. This happens through the daily disciplines and routines of life. Sometimes they may seem boring and overused but they are preparing you for something great. These daily activities may include reading, writing, prayer or meditation Other disciplines like healthy eating and exercise will strengthen you as well. The months spent living a disciplined life prepare you for the moments in the deep end. That's where exciting things happen. Just ask Squints.

Where do you feel overwhelmed today? See it as a challenge and jump right into the water. You might just surprise yourself at how well you can swim.