I had just turned 40 and thought that competing in an Olympic-length triathlon was the perfect way to celebrate. Having never participated in a triathalon, I spent months training: running, biking and swimming.
My swim practice was always in a pool, so on the day of the event, I was unprepared for the early-morning dark, cold water of the lake that was to be the first event. Unlike most of the other participants I had not thought to prepare by wearing a wetsuit.
As I plunged into the inky black water, weeds grabbing at my flailing arms, unable to see in the water that was being churned into a froth by 500 other swimmers, I momentarily panicked. My mind went to places as dark as the water I was surrounded by: drowning; snapping turtles as big as buses lurking beneath me; and, most of all, failure.
I treaded water, gasping and choking with terror and watching helplessly as courageous triathletes swam by. A safety guide in a kayak eyed me with concern, wondering if he should intervene.
It was a pivotal moment. Every fiber in my being wanted to cry out to him to snatch me from this watery hell and put me back on dry land. But when I lifted my hand to wave him over, something else happened: I gave him the most confident smile I could muster, and my wave became one of assurance. “I’m fine!” I yelled, surprising even myself. And I was.
In that split second, I had decided to face down my dark, cold fears and move forward. And though I came in 499 out of 500 racers, I had won. I have never felt more empowered.
When I was younger, I was very shy around women. When I was in law school, I became friends with a neighbor of some of my classmates who was about 15 to 20 years older than I was.
One nightat a bar, I talked, at length, to my friend about how beautiful I thought a woman nearby was. He told me to shut up and go talk to her.
When I said I was too shy, he told me to do it or he would do it for me. Knowing he would, I walked over to her. I had no idea what I was going to do until I heard myself saying: “Hi, my name’s Jeff. Do you see that guy over there? That’s my friend. I’ve been talking his ear off about how beautiful I think you are and how much I’d like to meet you. When I said that I was too shy to do that, he told me to do it or he would do it for me. Since I thought that would be really embarrassing, here I am, talking to you.”
She stared at me for an eternity of about 10 seconds, then broke into a huge grin and said: “That’s the best one I’ve ever heard. Sit down.”
We ended up talking for about half an hour. I never saw her again, but it was a great half-hour, and taught me something about talking to women.
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