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Summer Swimming Lessons

By Victoria Plettner-Saunders

Summer is here and the water is ready for your favorite hydro-activities.

In the last two weeks I’ve read two books by Dominique Browning, the former editor-in-chief of House and Garden Magazine. I should say she’s the former editor-in-chief of the former House and Garden Magazine, as Browning lost her job when the magazine folded during the recession. With no warning she was suddenly out of work.

Her most recent book Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas & Found Happiness, recounts the year she spent reinventing her “life after layoff.”

I highly recommend Slow Love and her other work to anyone looking for a new friend in the literary world. Her style is funny, vulnerable, and real.

Browning quotes her swim instructor who helps retrain her stroke after years of disuse:

When you pull through the water, you must reach your arm down low. The water around your body is already moving. You are moving. When you make a shallow stroke, you are only pulling through moving water. Your are just pulling through your own motion. You must reach deeper. You must reach to where the water is still. Then you will move faster.

You must reach to where the water is still. Then you will move faster. This sentence reminded me of the business concept of finding “blue ocean”. You’re in red ocean with your business model if you are doing something that everyone else is doing. Red ocean is red because of the blood letting of all those fish fighting in the turbulent seas of your competitive market.

In red ocean you feel vulnerable, competitive, anxious about the competition, and fearful of getting towed under. You don’t want to be there. You want to be in the calm, clear, still waters of blue ocean where you dominate an untapped place in the market, have a better chance of thinking clearly, and can work your plan without having to fight off those other fish. Oh and in blue water… there are no rip currents.

You want to maximize your stroke. Reach as far as you can. Your body should never be flat on the water – always on one side or the other. You roll. You reach.

You roll. You reach. Oh how lovely to have someone remind me to roll, reach, reach down, reach deeper into that cool still blue water.

Earlier this year I shared my a-ha moments with Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly in which she writes about the role shame and vulnerability play in our daily lives. I think it’s much easier to be influenced by shame and the fear of failure when you’re in that red ocean. If instead you can reach deep within and reflect fully on what you’re feeling and find the courage to choose a different path using deep strokes to swim out of the red ocean and towards the blue ocean you can begin to clear your head of the chatter and chart a new course. Brown says:

The key to transforming [feelings of vulnerability] into courage instead is learning how recognize them, feel them and ultimately make the choice to simply be there, with that horrible tangle of uncertainty and risk. When you know what you’re feeling and why, you can slow down, breathe, pray, ask for support—and make choices that reflect who you are and what you believe.

My advice? This summer whether you’re looking for work, working too hard, or starting a new business… take a moment to slow down, breathe, roll, find the still water, extend your arms and reach deep.