Navigating my path

Most of my career has followed a traditional path—undergrad , grad school, post docs, faculty position–but as I reached the halfway point of my academic life, I realized that I wanted something more…unfortunately, I had no idea what direction to go. At about the same time, I developed an interest in triathlons…the problem was, I was a horrible swimmer and had never even tried to really swim in open water. At that point, I spent a winter in the pool practicing, taking lessons, getting advice from my friends, all with the hope of having the physical ability to swim the distances necessary for a triathlon. Even with all that preparation, I was still petrified the first time I stood on the dock of the lake where my triathlon club held group swims. I looked at this lake–a half mile across–deep, dark, and containing who knows what…I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move out of my comfort zone. I couldn’t take a risk.

I realized, though, that if I really wanted to accomplish my goal—participating in triathlons—I had to jump in. So, I did…I didn’t swim very far at first, just about a hundred yards, then turned around and came back. I jumped back in and went a little farther the next time. Each week, I went a little farther, buoyed by the confidence that came with expanding my boundaries, pushing myself a little bit more, and becoming more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Eventually, I could make it back and forth across the lake (and then some). What kept me going was the encouragement and fellowship of my clubmates…we swam from the lake house of one of the club members, and each week we would end by sitting on his deck, telling stories, having some beverages, eating pizza, and watching the sun set. It turned out to be one of my favorite things to do…and I wouldn’t have known it unless I had jumped in. Since then, I’ve participated in too many sprint and Olympic distance triathlons to count, and 8 half Ironman distance races (70.3 miles)…not bad for a horrible swimmer.

That experience became a metaphor for all that I have gone through in my life since then, both professionally and personally. It has taught me to embrace the importance of expanding my comfort zone, becoming comfortable with discomfort, and being more willing to take risks. I better understand the importance of finding the opportunities that are out there when there only appear to be obstacles. I’ve also learned the value of seeking help and support from others—I am more open to identifying and accepting my limitations and utilize the expertise of others often to help me grow. I still find my own path, at my own pace, and I also cherish the opportunity to connect with others to navigate that path. I would be grateful to be part of your journey to find and navigate your path.

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