Know When to Swim (or Walk) Away

I used to have the most coveted summer job. I was a lifeguard, at a lake-slash-campground-slash-waterpark. Not only that, but we had concerts on occasion. Lyle Lovett came to play, just after marrying Julia Roberts, and yes, he brought her. We all fought over who would bring stuff to her trailer. I ended up getting my turn. I also saw her tiny feet backstage, from underneath whatever partition was put up, as I hauled trash or some such thing. And I saw her come out and sing her duet.

Okay, that’s off subject. I really meant to talk about lifeguarding. I had been petrified to be a lifeguard, because I dropped out of swimming lessons at age 5, when they made me jump in the deep end before knowing how to swim (what kind of a teacher does that anyway?). I wanted the job, but because of my childhood wounding in the pool, was afraid I’d fail the test.

In the lifeguarding class, they taught us how to save a resistant drowner. This is the type of person who would rather drown the rescuer than be saved. I recall having to use my 5-foot 4-inch, 123-pound frame to wrestle our 200-pound plus, jock-like teacher to the edge of the pool. I managed to “save” him, and I passed the class.

Over the next five summers, I saved hundreds of children, all of whom WANTED to be saved, yourself before you drown

Sometimes in life or business, we see people drowning. They may be our colleagues, our friends, or even our family members. We want to swim out and rescue them, but we only end up getting dunked in the process. We may have even learned some pretzel-like maneuvers for getting away, and they may work, most of the time. But at what expense? After a while, we grow tired.

Now I’m not suggesting that we should habitually let people drown, but I do believe there is a time when it is either “them or us.” Personally, I’ve learned (from some near misses) that I’d rather stay alive, and save hundreds of children who want to be saved (including my own), than die trying to save the one person who would rather kick at my knees like a wild pony. I’d rather help the people who want my help, then have to explain Ethics 101 to the person who refuses to report their sales to the IRS. I’d rather be in relationships with people who value me, than try to explain to the person who steals apples from me why it might not be a good idea for him, the relationship, or any future pastry business. I’d rather do business with organizations I trust and respect, than injure my neck while trying to look the other way.

We’ve all heard the well-used phrase, “Character is who you are when no one is watching.” The question is, who do you want watching you? Wouldn’t you rather it be the same person who you are watching, and who lives her life by this phrase?

If you are swimming with people who want to flail, or drown you, will you swim away?

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