Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Swim with the Sharks

When I was young, I was afraid of the water.  Perhaps it was because I saw the movie JAWS when I was 10 years old. It scared me so much that I couldn’t even walk into a bathroom without wondering if a shark might come up through the plumbing to attack me.  As you can imagine, the thought of going swimming in the ocean was out of the question.

That same summer, my aunt took my younger cousin and me to a beach in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. I worked up the courage to wade into the water.  There was a sandbar that allowed me to walk out about 37 yards from shore and still only be knee deep in the water.  I was talking to a few of the local kids about my fear of sharks when one of them told me that JAWS was filmed in the very waters we were standing in.  Fear filled my chest and, in my head, it was as if I could actually hear the theme music from JAWS playing.  I couldn’t move.

At that moment, I saw a school of fish swimming by and my heart began to race.  As I tried to run back towards the beach, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, because it looked like the fish were miniature sharks circling all around me.  It turned out they were sand sharks, which are basically harmless, but the memory kept me out of the water for years.

A few years ago, I was giving a speech at the Iacocca Institute at Lehigh University and met a young man from Egypt who also had a fear of the water – although his story is very different from mine.  His name is Mahmoud, and he grew up in a small town about four hours from Cairo.  As a child, Mahmoud’s parents had warned him about the dangers of the water, and that he should stay away from it.  This message was tragically embedded in his head when his cousin died in a drowning accident.  But Mahmoud was not going to let any of this deter him. Instead, he decided that he needed to learn to swim.

At 15, Mahmoud got the opportunity to travel to America and enroll in High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Although he had never been in a swimming pool, he asked the swim coach to teach him how to swim.  Within weeks, he was on the team and had started to believe he could accomplish anything. It took seven weeks before he learned to do a flip-turn without swallowing water, but Mahmoud found a new passion in swimming.

After graduation, Mahmoud returned to Cairo to attend college and immediately joined the varsity swim team. Over the years he became a very strong swimmer, and even helped his team win the league championship.  But overcoming his fear of swimming would prove to have an even higher purpose.  One day, while Mahmoud was walking along the shore of the Nile River, he saw a little boy who had wandered too far into the water and was drowning.  Without any hesitation, Mahmoud dove in, fully clothed, and saved the boy’s life.  Afterward, he cried actual tears of joy as he realized the true power of overcoming his fears.

Last week, my wife and I went to hear Dr. Wayne Dyer give a talk. Before he began, he greeted several people standing in front of us.  A woman with cancer approached and asked Dr. Dyer how he had gotten through his own battle with cancer.  He said, “They didn’t cure me of my cancer, they cured me of my fear.  Where there is fear, there is no love.  Where there is love, there is no fear.  There is only love or fear, and it’s up to each of us to choose wisely.”

What fears are holding you back from living your dreams?  Stop thinking about how things are and start imagining how they could be.  As Walt Disney once said, “All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them.”  Sometimes all it takes is dipping your foot in the pool, and sometimes you have to dive in.  Either way, it’s time to realize that every dream you have resides on the other side of fear.  Now turn off the JAWS theme playing in your head; it’s safe to get back in the water.

Until Next Week…

Live Your Dreams!

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