Lessons from the Sea

One of my great privileges is living in Los Angeles, close to the Pacific Ocean. I often swim in the ocean, and thanks to the amazing California weather, I get to do this year-round. The physicality of the practice is one thing, but reflecting on my life, I think I am infinitely more grateful for the lessons it teaches me about perseverance and mental strength.

I have swum competitively throughout my life, but turned to the ocean full-time when the lockdown happened and pools were shut down. At first, the experience was awful - my heart rate spiked from the cold-response and the fear of seeing the sandy bottom drop-off into a gaping abyss.

But the people I swam with - all more experienced in open water than myself - pushed me to keep going.

Frankly, I don’t think I ever openly expressed that my heart was about to explode from fear, but they probably noticed that I swam pretty much on top of them the entire time (I still do this at times).

Almost two years later, the fear has not completely gone away, but I’ve learned to live with it. I wish I could say there was a “moment” when the fear dissipated, but the answer is a lot less sexy - it simply reduced over time, with a lot of consistent, dedicated effort.

I think about this mechanism often - slow, persistent, and disciplined effort - and how it can lead to incredible results.

I use this to ground me when I think about behemoths of companies, industries, or people who I simply admire and feel as if what they have is unattainable. Starting in a new industry, as I did with Collaborative Fund in July, has been a monster of a challenge.

But I think of just two years ago, when I could barely survive what now has become routine, and remind myself that there is nothing more important than simply showing up and doing the work, every single day. It’s hard to see what the future holds, but I know that there is no mechanism more powerful than persistence. This gives me comfort in the old adage, “just keep swimming.”

Another insight I gain is not from the swimming itself, but from the remarkable people I have around me. They are remarkable because they remind me of how accessible success and mastery are, if only we choose to put in the effort. In the beginning, I used to look at my swim pod in a sense of wonder and awe. How do they do this? (I still feel this way).

Being with my remarkable pod nearly every day shows me the nitty gritty of the human condition - there is no hiding in an endeavor as raw as swimming day in, day out, in the ocean. My friends all have bad days, bad weeks, and injuries. We all keep going anyway, and this is the most important action we can choose to take in swimming, as in life.

I’ve learned, through a lot of fear, shivering, pain, and swimming through it anyway, that “greatness” is not a permanent state, but an action we can all choose to do. To me, this is welcome news. Thanksgiving just passed, but I’ll say it anyway - I’m grateful to be surrounded by remarkable people in the ocean and at work, who give me an opportunity to show up and do the work. One stroke at a time.

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A morning swim in Santa Monica