Mr Toth, the swimming instructor at the USAF Academy in 1964 looked down at me shaking his head. I was gasping for breath and spitting water, thinking to myself how glad I was to being alive. He then said to me in broken English, "Cadet Roberts, you will have to take remedial swimming." My euphoria from still being alive quickly turned to humiliation, as I realized I had just failed one of the earliest of many tests at the Academy. Here I was, a fresh graduate and valedictorian from the small high school I attended. I was the first ever appointee to an military academy recruited to become an Air Force officer and gentleman from our community. I could not swim! Was this going to be the first of many experiencs where the harsh reality that I was a poor performer would show? All I had to do was swim the 25 meter length some 5 times in a given timeframe, and I'd have passed.
Growing up in the middle of Nebraska I never took swimming lessons, It was not part of our high school curriculum. It was, football, basketball, and track and field in those days. Certainly not swimming. We did not even have a local pool until I was a teen ager to go swimming. Yet I did swim a bit at our local river nearby to our ranch. It was a fast flowing stream that had one place about 10 feet wide where the water was over 6 feet deep. All the rest we could walk in or simply lay on our back and float. You can imagine when told to swim 75 feet 5 times without stopping how shocked I was when, having completed one and 1/2 laps in the middle of water well over my head, I was literally exhausted! My lungs were crying out for air and every muscle in my body was shouting, "STOP!" So I did. I simply let my feet sink so I could stand up for a minute and catch my breath. That is when the panic swept over me. I could not touch the bottom! I swallowed at least a gallon of chlorinated pool water and thought, "This is it! I'm gonna die!" Luckily I did know how to dog paddle enough to come back up to the surface. I quickly scanned the horizon to see the closest bulkhead I could swim to, and then splashed my way over to the side. My comfort zone had truly been expanded into the panic zone! Guess what that experience did to me? Did it make me want to go swimming again, or did it make me want to never go near that pool?
Because I was told to, I gutted my way through the remedial swimming, and even became proficient enough I passed all the other water based elements to life at the Academy and beyond in my military career. Yet I never enjoyed it much. Going to the pool or beach, even with my family was just something I tolerated, but I never really looked forward to it. Even today, it is probably my least favorite form of exercise. I have "trapped" myself in a comfort zone which says, "I tried it once, and I didn't like it." Can you identify with similar comfort zones in your own life that have become comfort traps? How do these impact you?
In our next blog we'll explore reasons why habitually staying in our comfort zones can be harmful or limiting to us.