Last week, I voluntarily jumped off a perfectly good raft into freezing cold water, just because I could. And that felt like a pretty apt metaphor for my life.
I was on a whitewater rafting trip in the Canadian Rockies, getting ready to face down Class 4 rapids swollen with snow melt. It was about 70 degrees out, but the water was only 42 degrees, colder than any water I’d ever gotten in. The guide asked us if we wanted to get in the water to feel the cold, so we’d be more prepared if one of us involuntarily ended up in the drink. Never one to pass up an experience, I held my nose and cannonballed off the side of the boat.
What I didn’t know was that water that cold knocks the air, and the sense, right out of you. Plus, my helmet wasn’t on tight and it slipped over my eyes. I was in deep, freezing cold water in a spray jacket so loose that it immediately filled up with water, leaving me blind and gasping.
And I loved it.
So much of what I do in my life involves leaps like that. I see an opportunity, and I jump. Usually, as was the case with the rafting trip, I make sure all my safety gear is on, even if it isn’t on perfectly, but there are times when I jump without the safety net, too.
Legion was a total jump into the cold water of entrepreneurship. More than once, my metaphorical helmet has slipped over my eyes, and I’ve been waterlogged, flailing, struggling to breathe, hoping that the direction I’m swimming takes me back to the raft.
Teaching was another cold plunge. I accepted my position at UC just weeks before the semester started. I had no idea what I was doing and that first night was a lesson in how to float. Hell, the whole first semester was.
My personal life is a series of unassisted dunks into the freezing water of interpersonal relationships. Usually, I go under a lot. Sometimes, I make it back to the raft pretty quickly.
And that’s the secret, right? I’ve always made it back to the raft. Jumping in the water is scary, and being in the river can be terrifying. There are times when I lose sight of the raft and wonder if I’ll ever make it back. The water seems too strong, and I seem too weak. But just when things seem desperate, my hand touches the rubber of the raft, and I realize there are folks up there who will pull me to safety. And I realize that the scary thing would be to stay in the raft forever and never know if I could survive the cold, or the rocks, or the swim.
Last week, after the shock of the water receded, and I was able to push my helmet up far enough to see, I swam in my ungainly spray-jacket-hindered stroke back to the side of the raft. It took the couple “rescuing” me two tries to get me back in, because the first time, my life jacket buckles got caught in the rope around the outside of the raft. But we did it. They hauled me in, and I lay for a moment, gasping and in shock, before bursting into laughter and whooping with the sheer joy of being alive.
In that moment, I knew that given the opportunity, I’d jump in the river every time.