Defining fearless: A lesson in swimming

The question was rather innocuous. On Twitter, the feed for elite swimmer Diana Nyad asked:

“What’s the longest distance you ever swam? It can be in a pool or open-water swimming.”

And so to take part in the social aspect of social media, I answered:

“2.4 miles in an Iron Distance event. I was terrified that I wouldn’t finish in time, but I managed 2 hours. Confidence gained!”

And the Diana Nyad account replied back to me:

“Congrats! It’s inspiring to see someone who is #fearless.”

Whoa. Wait. What? Me? Fearless? Diana Nyad was calling me fearless? (Granted, I am fairly certain that it’s not actually Diana Nyad on the other end of Twitter but one of her trusted crew taking care of her social media accounts. I have no problem with this.) So the team around Diana Nyad, the woman who holds open water swimming records and now at age 61 is waiting for a break in the weather to begin her swim from Cuba to Florida, called me inspiring and fearless?

Less than thrilled for my Iron Distance swim.

What I didn’t get to say in my 140 characters on Twitter was how many times I cried just thinking about the 2.4-mile swim of Esprit Montreal; how I wanted to throw up when I looked at the Olympic rowing basin; how I was the last swimmer out of the water. When it was done, I smiled broadly and felt immense relief and the beginnings of joy. But before, and at times during, the swim I was crippled by fear and doubt I wondered just how far off the charts on the “suck-o-meter” I really was. This was fearless? Who am I to be fearless?¬†And then I laughed. Right there at home, all alone, in front of my laptop, I laughed out loud. Because who am I not to be fearless? Because maybe what makes us fearless isn’t the absence of fear, but the ability to be strong in ourselves and and dive into live despite our fears.

Then came another post on a different Twitter feed which highlighted the notion that the harder you work and the more you struggle, the more you appreciate what you’re working toward. And the fearless woman in me said aloud HOGWASH! (Apparently, sometimes my fearless woman has the vocabulary choice of my grandmother.) And it actually felt good to call it hogwash. Because I absolutely believe the opposite. And I learned that from swimming. See, the more I try to fight against the water, to be aggressive, to see it as something to conquer, the more difficult my swim becomes. I end up going slower because I’m wasting energy. This is the exact opposite of what I’m looking to achieve. But if I work with the water, let it pull me along, play with the waves, my swim is smoother, more enjoyable and in the end, more productive.

Being fearless doesn’t have to look like stereotypical aggression. It’s not about the struggle, about forcing your view on life, but on being open to where life is leading you that brings joy and success. So maybe I am fearless. Thanks not just for the compliment @DianaNyad but for helping me shift my perspective.

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