I was in the middle of Pemuteran Bay, Bali and almost in tears. 45 minutes into my first Advanced Open Water Dive scuba certification training and I was completely losing it.
After all, I had 40 some years experience as a competitive swimmer and another 20 years’ experience as a yoga therapist specializing in breath awareness. I figured Scuba diving would be the best of both worlds. I’d nailed my Open Water certification in a matter of days; surely training would be a continued cakewalk into underwater bliss.
Ha! That would be called unconscious expectation.
The problem started with a flooded mask, then sunscreen in my eyes, then a snotty nose which prevented clearing my mask. I was a flailing ball of mucus when I was supposed to be all Zen and floaty. Not fun.
As a mindfulness consultant and generally awake woman, I’m always surprised to catch myself out on stealth mind trip aimed at my own sweet self. And this was a classic -- somehow, I had expected easy success with this new skillset.
When I finally made my way back to shore, I realized what a number I’d done on myself. With an unconscious expectation of instant mastery, any struggle with learning was] therefor a “failure” on my part. And nobody likes to feel like a failure. Talk about throwing salt in the wound!
The fact is that struggle is a natural part of learning. First you don’t know what you don’t know. Then you know what you need to know but can’t execute. Then you know what to execute, and can do so with concentrated effort. Finally, with repeated practice, the new skill becomes readily accessible and turns to mastery.
Nobody gets to skip the steps in the learning curve. Not even the mermaid lady learning buoyancy control.
I had a good laugh at myself two days later. After fine tuning my sunscreen and mask situation, I was on a deep reef dive -- blissfully buoyant as I drifted past a spectacular, sun dappled coral teeming with reef fish. It was the art of drift, and it was magical.
The input from my Spanish speaking Dive Master had finally landed in my brain and turned into a tangible technique that I could work with. In my language, I’d say it was a light Kumbhaka inhalation and a long Ujjayii exhalation. Whatever it was, I got two thumbs up from the dive crew and a morning off to rest the day after.
The big takeaway was the realization that I am (still) a complete nut. From the pits of despair to the hallowed halls of victory, with a dose of self-inflicted suffering along, all within a span of days. Definitely not a helpful pattern.
Which doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to expect to rock the world. I’m a hard charging Virgo achiever, after all. Whether tackling the currents off Komodo Island or adjusting to the challenges of global nomadic living, I’ll surely bring the same unconscious expectation of excellence.
But I swear I’ve got a brand-new appreciation for learning. Truly. And an increased appreciation for the gift of self-compassion when the going gets tough. Struggle is a part of the package, after all.
What I know for today, with absolutely certainty, is that the art of the drift was worth every single moment of learning.
So. Breathe deep. Be kind to yourself. Know that learning is hard, whether stepping into a new leadership role within your team or tackling a fancy new recipe.
Because learning isn’t perfect, and struggle isn’t failure.