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I never learned to swim.
Looking back, I suppose it seems odd. I grew up in Maryland, but we didn’t live on or even near the water.
That was the fancy side of town, and I wasn’t from it.
And to be honest, I didn’t really know the difference. I made it all the way to my 30s without feeling like I was missing out.
Until one day, my business coach convinced me to sign up for a triathlon.
I could bike and I could run. But what possessed me to sign up for an open water swimming competition, I still don’t know.
I told him I couldn’t swim, and he assured me that I’d be fine. I just needed some training to get up to speed.
When I said “I don’t know how to swim,” he heard “I’m not a very good swimmer (which I later learned is what every triathlete thinks when someone says that).”
He thought maybe my stroke form was off—or worst case scenario, that I would just get in the water and doggie paddle around.
He was so confident that I believed him.
But the first time I jumped in the water . . . I sank like a stone.
As my friends around me helped pull me out, they looked at me and said, “You really can’t swim!”
There were only a few weeks until the big race, and I didn’t want to back out.
So I made a plan.
I would hire a professional to teach me how to swim (starting, literally, with learning to float on my back, just like a little kid).
I would train every single week at the local YMCA.
I would keep my long-term focus on the race date. But in the short-term, I focused on taking one action, then another. Instead of panicking about how far I still had to go, I only thought about what I needed to do next.
Here’s how the story ends.
I finished the race—it was a sprint triathlon with a ¼ mile swim, but I got it done..
I was dead last out of the water. The kayakers kept asking me if I wanted to be pulled out, but I wasn’t having it.
And then I got out of the water and did the bike and then the run. It wasn’t pretty, but I crossed that finish line.
And then I signed up for another race. And another one. And eventually, I completed an Ironman triathlon, which includes a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride and then a 26.2 mile run (which I did with my business coach in Zurich, Switzerland—what a day that was).
And then I completed three more Ironman races, and many other half-Ironmans, marathons, etc. in the years to come.
One of the main reasons I love coaching other business owners is to help them learn from my experiences (and avoid mistakes when they can).
So what are the takeaways from this story?
1. You can do absolutely anything in life if you put your mind to it. Yes, I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true. Those are words I’ve lived by my whole life, and you can too. Just start by taking that first step—it all follows from there.
2. The value of working your plan. Every goal requires a series of steps to get there. Developing, and then following your plan, does wonders for your execution. That’s why “Work the Plan” is a core value in every business I own.
3. Get help from an expert. I still remember that first swim lesson with my instructor at the Y. She, too, was surprised by my lack of ability to literally keep my head above water. But not only was she a great swimmer, she was also great at teaching others how to swim.
4. Hard things are always hardest the first time you do them. Whatever challenge you’re facing in your business now it’s probably not the last time you’ll come up against it. But each time, you’ll be wiser, and tackling those obstacles will get a little bit easier.