Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Woman in her Thirties Equinox

Yesterday I turned 35.  WOWZA.  Thirty-five is... well, it's a lot older than I was when I thought I was 'getting sooooooo old' in my twenties.  I'm not a big birthday person, and I'm not sad in the least about getting older.  But I do think birthdays are a time of reflection, and yesterday I found myself reflecting on the best advice I ever received.  Here goes:

I swam on a swim team for ten years.  Despite being a strong swimmer, I was never a fast one.  Actually, I was almost always the slowest in my age group.  For ten years.  That's a long time to be the slowest at anything.  I have memories of it bothering me when I was very young, but as I got older I accepted it for what it was.  I had lots of friends, lots of fun, and WAY too much sun for my years:

Take a moment and soak in this picture.  Just soak it all in.  

We used to do these drills in swim practice called 'hypoxics'.  Basically, it was controlled breathing.  Lap one you would take five breaths, then four, then three, etc., until you got to the final lap where you didn't take any breaths at all.  Like I said, I was never awesome at swimming.  But I ruled those hypoxics.  

Until it got to the final lap.  

For some reason, that last lap with no breaths was too daunting for me. I couldn't do it.  I'd get within a few strokes of the wall and take a breath, telling myself I just couldn't do it.  It was too hard.

One morning, my swim coach, JR, pulled me aside.  JR must have been about nineteen years old, but to me he seemed ancient.  He was also an incredibly fast swimmer, and we all admired him.  (I wonder whatever happened to him?)  He was not interested in hearing me complain about not being able to make my last hypoxic drill.  At all.

'Why did you breathe?!'  I remember him demanding.

'I... I just...couldn't do it...' I said as I adjusted my swim cap.

He rolled his eyes and knelt down next to the wall.  'Yes,' he said sternly. 'You can.'

'I can't,' I repeated.  Everyone else can, I could have continued.  But I can't.

'Of course you can,' he said.  'Just don't breathe!'

Something clicked within me in that moment.  I can't say what.  Something very primal.  I think about that moment all the time, considering I am a woman in her thirties who tends to oversimplify things.  I think this was the moment when I realized (most) things really are that simple.  

Do it.  Or in this case, don't do it.  Make a choice and make it happen.  

I have used this advice in thousands of ways throughout my thirty-five years.  Quit my job?  Write a book?  Move to China?  Move again?  And again?  Take a chance?  Take a risk?  Don't breathe.  

Now, more than ever, this advice sticks with me.  A woman in her thirties at the middle of her decade takes a moment to consider how far she's come and how far she's still going to go.  I might be thirty-five, but I'm still that swimmer in the pool, still questioning my next steps, still forming a picture of what I want the future to look like.

And choosing to make it happen.  Choosing not to breathe.  


  1. I think every comment I make is, "This is my favorite post ever." This is. I could not agree more. It's not 100% guaranteed to come out the way you think it should, or hope it will, but it is always worth it.

  2. I love this post. SO. Much. Especially during this time in my life where I want to take that quick breath. You are so stinkin talented.

  3. I see alot of 'I can' in your future. Love ya!

  4. I was the slowest swimmer on my swim team, too! My brother (one year younger than me) was the fastest. My parents still talk about w a i t i n g for me to finish my races - but they were so proud I always finished. Almost a reverse compliment, but I'll take it!

    I'm not sure why I'm so excited about having this in common with you - but I totally get what you're saying here!

  5. That PHOTO! Love!!!

    This post explains to me how you do all those things that you do that leave me thinking, "How the heck does she do all that?!?" You just do. You make it happen. I have a feeling that this post is going to stick with me. Sometimes, I need a 19-year-old swim coach to kick me in the pants a little.

  6. First, happy birthday to second, yep, I agree whole-heartedly that I feel like I say this is my favorite post from you and then you do another post... man, you are a great writer. I love this post.

    I'm not big on birthdays either, but it honestly feels pretty good to be (nearly) 37!