As a kid, I took swimming lessons at one of the town pools where I learned the basics of the sport. I passed Beginners with flying colors and moved on to something called Advanced Beginners—a level for those who had mastered the fundamentals and were ready to prepare for the Big Kid stuff: diving.
By the end of Advanced Beginner’s Swimming class, I was supposed to be dive-ready. In practical terms that meant squatting on the edge of the deep end of the pool, with my arms raised by my ears, hands outstretched, like the tip of a spear, over my head. And then I was mean to topple into the water, head-first.
Only, I couldn’t do it.
I squatted for many minutes, week after week. I stared at the turquoise water below and listened to the sound of other kids plunking successfully into the pool.
But I never got there.
And so, at Advanced Beginners’ I stayed. Because you couldn’t get to Intermediate until you mastered the pool-side tumbly-dive thingy. I stagnated at that level of lesson for a couple of summers before my mom mercifully pulled the plug on my formal swimming career. In the car on the way home from my final swimming lesson, she smiled at me in the rear-view mirror and said “You know how not to drown. That’s all that really matters.”
Now in my 40’s, swimming is just one of several activities that I want a second chance at as an adult. The chance to be a beginner, but with the wisdom and perspective I have picked up with life experience.
And so, this past weekend I made my way back to the pool for my first swimming lesson in over 35 years.
It was a thrill! I hadn’t submerged my whole body and looked around underwater in a swimming pool in years.
It was humbling! There were flippers involved. And a small foam board that I held onto while flutter-kicking my way across the pool.
It was…annoying…Towards the end of my lesson, a petite figure climbed down the ladder into the pool and hovered in my peripheral view. I tried to focus on the instructor’s words of supportive encouragement, but all the while I was thinking “Hey. Lady. Will you just swim away and get on with it? Honestly, who does that?”
Finally, my instructor nodded towards the hovering figure in my periphery and as I turned to look, she said “that’s my next student”. I had been missing the cues to wrap things up. The figure wasn’t a woman at all but a 6-year-old girl in a banana-yellow bathing suit and goggles. She smiled the respectful and awkward smile of a child who doesn’t want to call out the grown-up who is hogging her lesson time–patiently waiting for me to figure out it was time to make my exit.
“Sorry,” I said, and bobbed away to remove my flippers and get out of the pool.
Did I mention “humbling”? Yes, that’s right, I guess I did say that already.
Maybe you have heard of a beginner’s mindset, a Buddhist concept where we bring an open mind and eagerness of a beginner to the task at hand.
At the risk of disrespecting the wisdom that has literally withstood millennia, may I propose that we consider adding an Advanced Beginner’s mindset to our repertoire? If you’ll indulge me in a shout-out to 10-year-old Wendy…
I define an Advanced Beginner’s mindset as going into something with an open mind, but also with the wisdom that your life has gifted you to this point, and the humility to try again. What would you like to have another stab at with your older, wiser self? Let’s see what an Advanced Beginner’s mindset can do for you in 2022!
Wendy Hultmark, CPC, ACC, is a coach who helps executive women get what they want from a career they love, so they can make their greatest impact on the world.