Have you ever noticed that when you return to a place from your distant past, it shrunk? Go back to your old elementary school. It shrunk, right? It feels like a set from a bad show called The Land of the Giants, and you’re the giant. Technology from the past never feels as cool as it did “back then.” Go play a round of “Asteroids” on an Atari, and you’ll see what I mean. Google it, young people . . . it was a thing.
In the first grade, we were allowed to go on a bus to the Boys Club on Tuesdays after school. School buses would pick us up at Haywood Elementary and take us five miles to the Boys Club off Thompson Lane. The Boys Club was very cool. Pool tables, every kind of ball game, a TV room, a refreshment stand, and the coolest of all—an indoor pool. Swimming in a pool was a big deal for a little burr-headed kid from my proud hillbilly culture, but swimming in an indoor pool was the stuff of rich people in the movies.
Somehow, I got signed up for swimming lessons at the Boys Club. We swam in the lake with life jackets all the time, so I didn’t think I needed these extra lessons, but there I was. We were taught all the moves. The dog paddle was first, then freestyle, then the breaststroke, and even the backstroke. And we were taught to jump off the side of the pool to execute our new moves. This was 1966, and I think I weighed about 45 pounds. Skinny, burr-headed little kid in the big indoor pool.
My family and all the other swimmers’ families were invited to graduation from Beginner Swim Class. We were to demonstrate our vast swimming skills while our parents took pictures with Kodak cameras and smiled with swelled chests at their future Olympians. With great pride I jumped on cue from the side of the pool and showed off my great skills that would make Michael Phelps jealous. But that is when it happened. That is when they sprung the surprise on the class of unsuspecting young guppies. The final test to graduate was . . . climb to the top of the big diving board, jump in and swim to the side. Oh no.
So, 11 shivering, skinny (well, most) little boys lined up at the bottom of the ladder to the tallest diving board ever known to civilized man. 57,000 feet tall. One at a time the terrified guppies dutifully climbed to the top and jumped in. And those that didn’t die, swam to the side. Parents and swim teachers were all beaming at the untold courage of the Boys Club Beginner Swim Class of 1966. Until little David.
Every rung of the ladder increased my heart rate. After what seemed like a two-year climb, I finally reached the top. I walked out on the end of that board. Flash bulbs popped. Mom was smiling and nodding. But I couldn’t do it. I chickened out. I brought great shame on the House of Ramsey. I turned and cried all the way back down the ladder of condemnation. That’s right, I am a Beginner Swim Class Drop Out. Cue song “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease and change the words.
That memory is a little too vivid 52 years later. Interestingly enough, Sharon and I dropped in on the old Boys Club right after we were married so I could show her my place of shame. I was flabbergasted at the new diving board—how it had been lowered to only four feet. I asked the new manager why they lowered it, and he laughed and said, “That is the original diving board from the 1960s.” You mean I flunked Beginner Swim Class over a four-foot jump? Ouch, that really hurts. But man, I was so scared.
Some mornings on the lake I think about fear like that. My son, Daniel, and I are Barefoot Water Skiers. To ride on the water with no skis at 40 mph is an intense sensation. The tolerance on body position, foot position, and water conditions is close to zero. One tiny mistake and you fall for days, rolling and rolling and rolling. And it HURTS, so you don’t want to fall. You want water that is like glass, which is best found at sunrise when no one is out.
At 58 years old I get out there and suit up with my son at sunrise. It’s always a glorious morning. It’s very cool that I get to do this, and even cooler that I get to do this with my son at sunrise on the water. Life is great. The paradox is that our extremely cool moment is a cocktail of future success (an exhilarating ride) and the simultaneous dread of failure (falling). So, we get the mixed sensation of lying on our backs in the warm water with everything calm and right in the world mixed with the fear of falling and the anticipation of the fabulous ride. Daniel and I have named that moment: The Glorious Dread.
So many times in life, Fear raises its ugly head, and we have the choice to quit or the choice to embrace The Glorious Dread and live life big. If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you will keep getting what you’ve been getting. I think you can do that thing you aren’t sure of. I think you should go big! I think you should embrace The Glorious Dread and do that thing that will change your life and change your family tree. I believe in you. You got this. Jump. Cue Van Halen.
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