Breaking Through Barriers

When I was in college I took an intensive semester-long SCUBA diving course. Part of the final exam was to complete several exercises in the water, passing each in the pool first and the ocean last.

One of the exercises was called the ‘doff and don’. In it you begin on the pool or ocean floor, in full gear and breathing normally from your regulator. Then you unbuckle your tank (which was separate from the buoyancy compensator for you divers), remove your mask/snorkel and attach it to the tank, signal to your buddy that you were going up to the surface, take a final breath, take the mouthpiece out and place it carefully on the tank, then roll out of your weight belt, laying it across your tank, and proceed at a safe pace to the surface.

Once on the surface (and now about 20 – 25 lbs. buoyant from your quarter-inch wetsuit), you essentially do the reverse: signal to your buddy that you are going down, take a deeeep breath, do a surface dive and kick hard toward the bottom, locate your tank, roll into your weight belt, get control of the tank and mouthpiece, signal to your buddy that you have control, wait for his return ‘OK’ signal, and then you could put the mouthpiece in your mouth and take a breath.

It’s telling that I remember this so vividly, isn’t it? Well, of course first you do it in the pool where the bottom is maybe 12 feet, the water is clear, and there aren’t any swells to throw you off. But you have to hold your breath for a looong time to complete this exercise, maybe 30 seconds of intense physical activity, and that isn’t easy. And when you aren’t certain that you can do it, well I always like to err on the side of caution too. So there was my gear, sitting on the bottom of the pool, me at the surface. I would take a breath, kick down, get close to the tank and weight belt, imagine how long it was going to take to roll into that weight belt and get control of the tank, and turn back toward the surface. I did this quite a few times. And of course this was a class of 30 or more people, each facing the same challenge. I had a couple of successes, and several failures.

Until at one point I finally realized, or perhaps internalized, two things about this particular exercise: First, I was capable of doing it. And second, by the time I had reached the tank, it took no longer to roll into the weight belt, get control of the tank and regulator, wait for my buddy’s OK, and start breathing than it did to head back to the surface.

I still remember that moment, in the pool. And I completed the exercise on the first try every time I did it in the pool after that, with just one blip in the ocean when I didn’t immediately locate my tank from the surface.

Every story of success includes that ‘Aha moment’, when you finally realize the truth, and that informs you as to what you need to do to realize success. The question is not one of whether you will reach that moment but of when. In my SCUBA story I was in a classroom setting (in a pool), and I had others urging me forward. I knew that hundreds of others had succeeded in doing this exercise, and that I would be able too as well – I just needed to get over the hurdle.

In other challenges, whether work, physical, or anything else, you may be the pioneer or you may not be aware that others have succeeded with this specific task. You may be so close that it would be easier to complete it than to quit. But you will never know, until you have pushed yourself to try something you have never done before.

Take that step. Make the extra effort. You may find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And at worst you will have proven that you can go further, that you have the strength to carry a challenge through to the end. And next time you will succeed, because of what you did this time.

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