I used to work as a lifeguard at a swimming pool. One day, a small kid, maybe five or six years old, ran off straight into the deep end without a life jacket. He didn’t know how to swim, so one of the lifeguards had to dive in and scoop him up. No harm was done, although the event startled a few of the lifeguards working that day.
I wonder whether this reckless child, who jumped into waters far over his head, became a better swimmer than the saner children who waited patiently on the deck?
Diving into Deeper Waters
Obviously, had the lifeguards not rescued the child, he probably would have drowned. But usually, the metaphorical deep-end isn’t life threatening. Going in over your head may be frustrating, exhausting or terrifying, but it usually wont kill you.
Unfortunately, I think most people view life like they do the waters, where an inability to swim can be deadly. So they patiently wait on the side of the deck, while the people who realize there is no real harm get to have all the fun in the pool.
I’ve met many people who label themselves as shy or introverted. At one time, I probably was one of those people. Diving into a new social situation can be awkward or daunting. But, if you get used to doing it, you realize that there is no real lasting harm. Rejection and humiliation can sting if you don’t dive in properly, but they won’t kill you.
Many people confuse social confidence with social courage. I’m often not completely confident entering a group of people. Depending on the situation, I may feel I’m totally out of my league. But even when you lack confidence, you can still jump into the deep end. You may get a little wet, but it’s the fastest way you will learn how to swim.
I was recently at a black-tie event where most of the crowd were successful business men and women. As a student, I didn’t feel especially confident breaking into conversations with people who weren’t in my peer group, and who felt no obligation to talk to me. But I still took the initiative to meet people, and I actually had a few great conversations.
When I first moved to the city I’m attending university, I had the same feeling about dating. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other. Introducing myself to a complete stranger wasn’t a regular activity. Now I’m comfortable introducing myself to new people in most situations.
When I started this business, I had no idea how to do anything. I had read from a few websites the absolute basics of starting a blog. I didn’t know how to write articles, get traffic or make money. What little I thought I knew was mostly incorrect superstitions. I was 17, and I had a lot to learn.
Three years later, I’ve had many comments from friends asking how I set up this business. Many of them seem to assume I simply miraculously set up this blog in its current status: with products, sales and hundreds of articles.
In reality, starting this business was simply diving into the deep end and learning how to swim before I reached the bottom.
The motivation to swim is greatest when you’re a few meters beneath the surface. If you want to learn something quickly and deeply, you need to immerse yourself in it completely. Wading in can help, especially if you’re unable to take a bigger jump, but it is also much slower and less effective.
I’m not a fan of halfway goals. If you’re driven by something more than just as a hobby, you need to develop an obsession for it. A short-lived obsession will teach you far more than a long-term interest. The most efficient use of your resources comes when you’re completely committed to learning, with a single goal in mind.
When I started this website, it was an obsession. I spent most of my available time working towards it and a great deal of my free thoughts. I read every possible article and book I could find, and I experimented frequently. I still come back to it as an obsession if I want to make progress to the next level.
Similarly, when I first moved to Winnipeg, I was concentrated on building friends and meeting people. A very different goal than building a website, but the principle is the same. Complete immersion allows you to learn rapidly, because every bit of brainpower is assembled to processing feedback you receive.
Now, when I leave for Europe and live in a new culture and language, I’ll completely immerse myself in that as well.
The Dangers of Shallow Waters
There is nothing wrong with swimming in shallow water. I’ve mentioned before, having spontaneous and half-interested activities is a good way to explore. I never would have joined Toastmasters or learned to salsa if I didn’t.
But, at some point, you need to recognize that wading in the shallow-end isn’t going to teach you how to swim. Only diving into deeper waters can you struggle back up to the surface. It’s only when your feet don’t touch the ground, that you bother to kick.