You're Doing Just Fine.
Read Time: 5 Minutes
I’ve never been much of an athlete. Maybe it had something to do with my performance anxiety or the fact that I was chubby for most of my childhood years.
This made me hate any kind of group competitive activities — P.E. throughout every year of school, or the summer camp games we were made to play to pass the time.
Summer camp was my favorite time of the year, but those afternoon competitions filled me with dread. We were separated into teams full of strangers and then expected to compete in various games throughout the afternoon, the hottest time of the day in muggy Illinois. I suppose it was an attempt to encourage camaraderie, to force us to connect in hopes that we would form lasting friendships over intense games of wiffle ball and tug-of-war.
To me, it felt patronizing.
I remember one game required us to get into the lake. We started at the beach, had to swim to a designated spot, and swim back. Despite having an excuse to jump in the water on a hot day, the anxiety began to creep in. Most games make it easy to blend in, not be noticed. This one, though, we were going one at a time. All eyes on you.
One girl opted out because “it’s that time of the month.” Darn it, why didn’t I think of that? I couldn’t give the same excuse. I must have pumped myself up, knowing I had no option. It would be fine, I thought. I spent my summers swimming in our backyard pool. This will be no big deal.
I watched as my teammates jumped in one by one, swam to the point and back. There was a lifeguard with us on the shore in case things got hairy out there. It didn’t.
They made it look easy, fun even. This will be a breeze. When it was finally my time, jumped in and began to swim. Okay, this isn’t so bad. It’s not so far. I can do this. I’m doing this.
I’m doing this!
Arm out, up, over, one stroke at a time. I propelled myself forward. Why did I doubt?
I reached the point — halfway! It was going by so quickly. I swam around it, rounded the corner to face my “team” on the shore.
The lifeguard who had been standing nonchalantly on the shore before was now standing out in the water, watching me intently. Her posture and concern was mirrored in my teammates.
My heart stopped a little. I didn’t understand. I wanted to turn around to see what they were all staring at, but then I knew.
It was me.
The performance anxiety raised a notch.
Are they really staring that hard at me? I kept swimming. The lifeguard took another step forward.
It hit me then. I must be doing so much more terribly than I thought. They’re all worried I’m going to disappear under water any minute now.
Am I really that slow? Am I really that bad at this?
I don’t remember if my teammates cheered me on as I made my way back to the beach. All I remember is emerging from the water, soaking wet, and feeling exposed, ashamed, embarrassed by my lack of skill.
I don’t know why, but I felt betrayed, in some way. I’d somehow mustered the courage to jump into that water and do the thing I never signed up for. I thought I was being brave. I felt good about gritting my teeth and doing the hard thing. I thought I’d made the best out of it. And the only thing I remember is 20 sets of eyes watching, worried I might slip under any minute, reminding me I wasn’t cut out for any of it.
Fifteen years later, I still feel that way from time to time. Life can be unexpected, but I trudge along at my own pace, proud of myself for jumping in rather than finding excuses to stay on dry land.
And it can feel like there’s a secret rescue team watching from a distance, ready for the moment I lose my grip. They shake their heads, what a shame that she just doesn’t have what it takes. I feel it, their words, their judgements, their pity.
And maybe it’s people or maybe it’s just characters I’ve imagined in my head, but the outcome is the same. I feel unqualified.
Maybe I am drowning. Maybe I am in way over my head. Maybe I need feet ready to move through the waters to pull me out.
But what I really need is a real team on the shore, cheering me on. Not a group of strangers that have to tolerate me, not a group of people that feel like I'm dragging them down or lowering their score. I need people that actually, 100% believe in me.
If you’ve ever felt like that, just know: I’m on your team baby, and I know that the point is to have fun and make it back alive. I know it doesn’t matter how fast you get there or how elegant your movements are. It doesn't matter how high the score is or even if you win. I know the point of this whole thing is to enjoy the ride and join the dreamers back on the shore.
Don't let them make you feel like you are drowning when you're not.
You’re doing better than you think. You’re doing better than they think. You know it. You dove in. You did the hard thing. So put your head down and keep swimming.
Cheering you on.