Why “Can You Swim?” Is The Wrong Question

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I was passing by a pool, when I noticed a friend giving a couple people an impromptu swim lesson. I decided to hop in and help out! I had never given a swim lesson before, and didn’t have any real business even doing so, but I’m comfortable in the water and figured I might be able to offer a helpful tip or two.

What I quickly realized with the girl I started helping, was that the problem wasn’t really on the surface. Hah! That’s a swimming pun…

Sure, some people honestly can’t swim… or more likely, they think they can’t. But I think it’s less about developing the ability, and more about overcoming the fear. That is, the fear of going under.Drowning is the number one fear of all non-swimmers, and that fear is what holds them back from trying.

Fear is what hold us all back from trying, and this lesson in overcoming that fear of going under I found extended far beyond swimming.

With this lesson, rather than trying to teach her freestyle technique, or even working on a doggy paddle, we spent the time working on staying under water. I would have her hold her breath, and go down as long as she felt comfortable. And then, even tell her to let all her breath out, and let herself sink down to the bottom and sit there until she felt she needed to come up. Don’t worry, it was the shallow end!

You can surprisingly stay under water for a decent amount of time without any air in your lungs, and getting comfortable with that feeling, I believe is crucial to overcoming the fear of going under. Spend some time testing and stretching your survival instincts with tests of willpower like this and you’ll be amazed at the confidence you’ll gain!

She had a great attitude and was willing to push herself and her comfort zone. As a result, she quickly became much more comfortable in the water, under water, and then ultimately, with trying to swim.

This was a totally unplanned thing, and a tactic I had never used, nor even thought about before, but it’s what came to mind in the moment and it worked! It also got me thinking…

How many times in life do we limit our true potential because we’re afraid of going under?

How many times have you not asked someone out because you were afraid of getting shot down? How many times have you think about quitting your job and starting down the entrepreneurial road but then backed off the ledge because you were afraid of failing?

We have to start pushing ourselves by asking honestly, “what’s the worst that could happen?”

Yeah, in the case of swimming, you could drown. That would suck for sure! But you can start slow and stay in the shallow end until you’re comfortable giving it a shot and know that you can handle going under. In the case of the girl at the bar or quitting your job to travel and work on a startup? There’s always a way to bounce back from rejection and failures make you stronger. It’s fear, not ability, that holds us all back from chasing our big dreams.

So I would argue that the real question isn’t, “can you swim?” The real question you need to confront and answer for yourself is, “can you handle going under?”

Now, I thought a fitting way to end this post would be by sharing a song that’s given me inspiration for many years. This is the music video to Jack’s Mannequin’s Swim – a song about pushing yourself to face and overcome the challenges life throws our way. Like swimming. Enjoy!

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Jonathan Ronzio

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Jonathan Ronzio
Jonathan Ronzio

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Adventure filmmaker/photographer, outdoor athlete, & speaker. Director, Between The Peaks. Founder & Chief Editor, Explore Inspired

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Inspiration & advice for outdoor athletes, travelers, volunteers & vagabonds. Created by Jonathan Ronzio.

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