Find A Way
Yesterday 64-year-old endurance swimmer Diana Nyad became the first person to swim the 100+ mile passage between Cuba and Florida without a shark cage.
She'd tried it -- and failed -- four times before, once in 1978, and then three more times between 2011 and 2012.
And then yesterday, 53 hours after jumping into the ocean in Cuba, she staggered up a Florida beach, horribly sunburned, dehydrated, her lips swollen from seawater and the insides of her mouth lacerated from a special anti-jellyfish mouth guard.
You can watch the video here and I encourage you not just to watch it, but to savour it.
Because that, ladies and gentlemen, is what triumph really looks like: wearied, tattered and absolutely glorious.
Here are five life lessons I'm taking from the life and extraordinary triumph of Diana Nyad.
1. Never give up.
Winston Churchill said, "Never, never, never give up." You could argue that one "never" was more than enough to get his point across, but Churchill knew better.
Because anyone who has ever pursued a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) knows that there will be times that you will absolutely want to give up. You will want to give up with every fibre of your being. You will tell yourself that you've grown up, moved on, and that the goal you once strived for isn't that important to you anymore.
There are a hundred ways to give up on any resolution. You have to say no to all of them.
2. You are never too old.
Some facts bear repeating: Diana Nyad is the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. She is 64 years old. Until she rekindled her desire to complete the swim in 2011, she hadn't swum a stroke in 30 years.
If you catch the I'm-too-old mental tape playing in your head next time you start daydreaming about some long put off goal, do yourself a favour. Think about Diana Nyad, call your own B.S. and get back to work.
3. If Amazonian super-goddesses need help to make their dreams a reality, so do you.
In order to complete her goal, Diana would have had to swim two days and two nights. Straight. Through a shark and jellyfish infested ocean.
It's the night part that really gets me. Imagine swimming in the pitch black with lethal jelly fish and Great Whites lurking in the depths. How scary and impossible would that have been had she not been doing it with a boat sailing beside her and a team of kayakers surrounding her? (She also had gear that sent out electrical currents to keep the jellyfish away, apparently.)
I've heard Diana speak and let me tell you, this lady is larger than life. Her lips start moving and you just sit there and listen. Her energy and charisma are remarkable. She freely admits to having the "invincibility" complex that many endurance athletes need to push themselves beyond normal human limits. But even this goddess admits that she couldn't do what she does without a team. Her team was comprised of more than 50 people - international experts in jellyfish, sharks, and ocean currents. Doctors, sailors, logistics people.
No matter how introverted, expert or invincible you may feel, success takes a lot of backup. Brainstorm with friends, find a strategy group, start your own mastermind. Involving people in your dream holds you accountable and helps you navigate the inevitable fears of going it alone and in the dark.
4. Develop strategies for dealing with negativity.
Diana was no rookie. She knew it would take about 200,000 strokes to cross the open ocean, and she knew she'd be tempted to give up. And because her bathing cap was pulled down over her ears and her goggles were fogged up most of the time, she couldn't see or hear much. So she spent the vast majority of those 53 hours in her own head. She knew she'd have to develop strategies to deal with negative thinking. So she created elaborate counting systems - in English, German, Spanish and French to distract her from the pain. She had a playlist of songs she sang to herself to stave off dark thoughts. And when the counting and songs were done, she had a mantra: Find a way. Find a way through the physical agony, the fatigue, the hunger and the thirst. Just find a way.
Yes, waiting is hard. Yes, the work is excruciating. Don't give up. Find a way.
5. Let your passion push you forward.
When Diana was 60, her mother died. The loss got Diana thinking about all the years she'd wasted by beating herself up about relationships she'd screwed up, mistakes she'd made, things she'd failed to do. She went through a period of crisis, where she was caught in that horrible space of regretting her past yet not knowing how to move forward.
In other words, she was stuck and drifting off course.
Her solution was to uncover a passion that was so consuming it would take everything she had and then some to achieve it. She wanted a goal so immense that pursuing it would give her no opportunity to look back, only forward. And so she resurrected her abandoned dream of making the Cuba-Florida swim.
Sometimes, when we're looking to get unstuck, we try to think our way out of it. Diana's lesson demonstrates that thinking doesn't bring clarity. Action and engagement do.
Congratulations Diana on your epic swim. Courage like that makes us all better.
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