I think I took the idea of challenging oneself and changing in college a tad too far. I joined the University of Florida Women’s Rowing team.
I still remember the first time we went out on the water.
It was about six in the morning, and a quiet fog creeped over the glassy lake. The sun was nowhere to be seen. That day was the first time I was behind a microphone for longer than two minutes. It was terrifying.
Every command was followed with a quiet “Does this sound right?” or a shy “Are you guys okay?” Drills were lead hesitantly and every instruction dripped with self doubt. What if I accidentally gave the wrong advice to my rowers? What if I stumbled over my words? What if I messed up so spectacularly that we crash the boat, everyone winds up in the water and I have to explain why my crew took a swim alongside those alligators we grew a bit too familiar with?
I shouldn’t have worried so much about making mistakes. The truth is, when I’m the coxswain, they’re inevitable. I’ll miss-time strokes and I’ll even give the wrong direction.
I’ve had my girls sink our lane number with an oar as we line up for a race and I’ve also lead my team to a last-place finish.
But I’ve also lead them to a first place win.
I used to be so caught up in potential mistakes that I’d lose the courage to try. I was scared of discomfort. That was a mistake. But when it comes to crew, people get pushed around in different ways. You can reach the brink of death out on the water, sweating bullets and begging to reach the finish line, and you can grit your teeth as you develop a thick skin, moving past the critiques and judgments that itch for a seat in your head when you’re in the ninth seat of a rowboat.
I push my team to make themselves proud. I make them uncomfortable, and they do the same for me.
Failure is subjective to me now. It’s okay to stumble over a call. It’s okay to bump into an alligator on the water. Joining crew was my way of testing myself. I get on the water to make mistakes and learn from them. Learning to lead takes time and practice. Split second decisions and quick judgements don’t always come naturally. I know I can’t always be perfect, and I’m okay with that. When I direct a boat, I let my girls know that all I need from them is effort. Not perfection. The same goes for me.
My flirty relationship with failure is still one I’m getting used to. Ups and downs come and go. I’m just happy to give crew my all. My experience on the rowing team has expanded my comfort zone and forced me to learn more about myself. It can get tough out on the water, but that doesn’t scare me. And hey, I’m still yet to have a catastrophic, boat wrecking collision (but don’t worry, I still have plenty of time for that.)