Stop flailing. You’ll draw too much attention. Start failing.

July 30, 2014

As every scuba diver knows, panic is your worst enemy: when it hits, your mind starts to thrash and you are likely to do something really stupid and self-destructive. – Daniel Dennett, Philosopher

To a lesser extent, it’s like that feeling I get walking through a store full of crystal and china. I think suddenly I’ll start flailing my arms around and break everything. Aaahhhh what have I done!

Story time.

Over 15 years ago (!!!) I developed a fear of running out of air after losing the ability to breath during a supposedly simple, yet botched, routine medical procedure. This fear essentially put the kabbash on scuba diving for me, something I enjoyed doing.

End of story time (it was a short story).

So, naturally we planned yet another vacation to Grand Cayman, a popular scuba destination. Hmmm. I wrote about failed scuba training  three years ago yet here I was again.What to do?

In preparation I tried to put on scuba gear again – in the safety of a 12-foot pool at the YMCA. But I couldn’t do it. I was irrational and freaked out just by the very act of putting a breathing regulator in my mouth and sticking my head under water. I felt like a failure. I could swim, why not scuba dive? What the hell?

DSC01270 - CopyWell, I realized the only way I was going to get over this was to actually expose myself to real-life diving again. I had to build resilience. Luckily my husband was thinking this too and eased me into it. He’s a gem and apparently has little regard for his own underwater safety. Either that or he has tremendous confidence in his ability to save me from self-destructing in 20 feet of water near the shore.

We went for dinner at a popular shore dive spot and saw people that looked just like me diving all smiles and thumbs up. The next night we went for drinks at the same spot and watched the sunset and people night diving. After we got home that night I mentioned that it might be fun to go to that spot early in the morning and I could try to dive while it was really quiet. We wouldn’t tell the kids…just go. It felt safe to fail.

That’s me in the picture up above. Thumbs up. Smiling-ish. I was so nervous I forgot to take my shirt off. Luckily it was not dry clean only.

Lacking resiliency can be a problem at work too. Especially when learning something new. Today, resilience seems to be a necessity for us to do our jobs well. It seems people question their methods and approaches continually. Things are changing too fast. Failure lurks around every corner.

The ability to see failure as a form of feedback is one factor that makes someone resilient. I think we should make a point to expose ourselves – and others – to potential failure. It’s OK to fail. We’ll learn something in the process.

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