Years ago, when I was just a kid, I remember television coverage of someone finishing the swim across the English Channel. I remember the swimmer completing her singular feat, then wobbily stepping out of the water, still covered in lard, or whatever open-water swimmers wore in that long-ago era, to insulate themselves. A robe or towel was immediately wrapped around the swimmer’s slumped shoulders by attendants.
As far as I was concerned, it might as well have been someone walking on the moon, which I would, funny enough, watch on television but a few years later. Felt the same way about that, too. I knew in my bones I’d never actually accomplish either. Pretty much accepted I’d never even know anyone personally who would. Both feats seemed just that other-worldly to me, relative to my life expectations and experience.
When I was young, my own and my family’s life expectations for me were pretty, um, realistic. For the most part, my grandparents were dirt-poor immigrants when they came to America. My parents, although born here in the US, grew up during the Great Depression and had pie-in-the-sky life dreams wrung out of them early. Their guidance to me was to keep one’s life plans real.
This was not so much by the issuance of fiats but by the setting of expectations [dialogs below from real life]:
- Purposeful education at elite academic institutions? “Sure.”
- Playing in the NFL? “That’s for guys much bigger and better than you.”
- Becoming an actor? “Wanna starve?”
- Olympic bobsled trials? “Grow up, already.”
Life, however, is a funny thing. Sometimes it surprises you.
I still don’t know anyone who’s walked on the moon (although I did just meet the brilliant director of NASA’s amazing Voyager program) but just last month, a pal of mine by the name of Arnie Oji swam the English Channel, together with some mates from San Francisco’s historic Dolphin Club.
Although, without question, an awesome accomplishment, it wasn’t, of course, an out-of-the-blue miracle, any more than playing professional-caliber sports is. Arnie and the other Dolphins had been open-water swimming and training for years in preparation for this Channel crossing.
The difference between my young and ‘realistic’ conception of possible and Arnie’s adult one is all in the mind; we do, as it turns out, make many of our own barriers.
Thanks so much, Arnie, for your recent real-world demonstration of that life principle.